Believe it or not, Penn State has become a basketball school, in addition to its football program.
Many people will read that sentence and laugh uncontrollably. Most people’s reactions will be something along the lines of this:
How can a program who hasn’t been to the NCAA in 8 seasons be a basketball school? You do realize that last year was just the NIT right? Besides, it was a one-hit wonder of a season. Penn State will go back to its usual suckiness.
Or will they? That has yet to be seen, but that’s not the point of this post. I’m talking about the culture of Penn State basketball off the hardwood.
When Ed DeChellis was hired all the way back in April 2003, he didn’t really talk about rebuilding in his opening press conference. He said he was focusing on getting the program as healthy as possible. And while his coaching record doesn’t say it, that mission has been accomplished.
Before ED arrived, there was absolutely no support for the program from the Athletic Department. All the game films were on VHS, and there was no video coordinator to edit them. There was no strength and conditioning coach. Director of Basketball Operations? There wasn’t one of those, either. A private plane for recruiting? Hah, that’s a good one. The school appeared to be more apathetic about the program than our youth generation is about politics. Without these valuable positions, our coaches had to allocate more time to completing every day non-basketball tasks. Keep in mind, this is back during the time where assistant coaches had to practice with the team because too many players were transferring out of the program. How they found time to recruit is beyond me. Now maybe you can understand a little why it took 6 seasons to just get to the NIT.
There’s been a common belief amongst Penn Staters about the basketball program ever since I’ve been alive, it seems. All PSU needed to do was suck it up and pay a big-name coach, and then Penn State basketball would become relevant. It sounded so simple. I was only 14 when DeChellis was hired, so I can’t act like I knew what the culture of college basketball was like back then. But what big-name coach would want to come to PSU at that time (especially when you saw the depleted roster)? Yeah, the right price could bring in some big names, but if they were truly ‘big-name coaches’, wouldn’t they be able to get that money somewhere else? There were rumors that when Tim Floyd was interviewed for the job, he demanded an 8-year, guaranteed contract. I’d say that Tim was a smart man if those rumors were true.
So Ed DeChellis was hired, and the apathetic fan base rolled their eyes. Another ‘hire from within’ a losing program. But looking back now, it was absolutely the right hire. We needed a coach who had the necessary passion for the school to persevere through those frustrating times, when the playing field was more than uneven. It was actually more like Mt. Everest. What big name coach would have the patience to deal with the situation at PSU? Probably no one. It would be an insult to any of those type of coaches to have to fly commercial on recruiting trips. They would just collect their paycheck and move on to a much more manageable position at another school who had the resources available to win.
But DeChellis persevered and the AD was patient and provided the resources the program needed. Today, Penn State basketball is as healthy as it has ever been. The renovated facilities at the BJC are as nice as they come. We have a DOBO, a S&C coach, a marketing director, and a Video Coordinator. Our Digital Media has been reviewed as the best in the Big Ten. All of these resources are necessary today to compete with the other juggernauts of major college basketball. DeChellis and his staff now have a program to showcase when he’s out recruiting, and it’s starting to pay benefits.
Now a lot of this is speculation. I don’t know who all is responsible for this transformation. There were probably many other factors that contributed to the advancement of the program. There’s no doubt Rene Portland and Title IX had an effect on holding the program back, and finding the money for all of this I’m sure was no cakewalk. But all I know is, Ed DeChellis arrived and eventually, a program was built. For that, I have an undying respect for him. Especially since it was built the right way, and he’s as classy a coach as there is in college basketball.
Now, it’s time to show some success on the court. There are no excuses anymore. I’m not sold if DeChellis can do that yet or not. I don’t like how he works his player rotations and how much freedom he gives his players. His teams’ defense also have left a lot to be desired. I still have doubts whether or not he can coach this team to where they need to go. But now he can just focus on coaching and recruiting, just like all of his colleagues in the business. It’s time to prove to us that we can dismiss those first 5 seasons and his significantly poor Big Ten record.
But even if DeChellis and PSU have to part ways in the future, there’s no doubt in my mind that PSU will be able to hire a proven coach. Winning is now possible at Penn State, and we have DeChellis to thank for that. You don’t have to like the guy, but he should be respected by all in the PSU family. Because of his dedication and passion for our beloved school, we’ll get to find out over the next decade if PSU really is a ‘sleeping giant’ in college basketball.