All through warmups, Nicole Arcidiacono can't stop smiling.
Her hard work has finally paid off. She is starting for the Penn State women's basketball team against Michigan State. She grins through the player introductions and slaps everyone's hand as the public address announcer calls her name.
Arcidiacono, a walk-on for the Lady Lions, has finally gotten a chance to play with her father and sister in the stands watching.
Then the game starts, and the smile fades.
Her time on the Bryce Jordan Center floor doesn't last long. Three minutes into the game, Mashea Williams replaces her, and she waits.
She waits and she waits and she waits.
But her chance never comes.
The final scoreboard reads Michigan State 66, Penn State 50. She doesn't know when she'll play again this season.
Still, she doesn't care. She's just happy to be on the team and having a chance she thought she'd never get.
"It was very cool," Arcidiacono said after the game, the smile returning for her first trip to the media room. "I wanna do for my team whatever I can do, and if that's starting and just trying to get everyone pumped up in the beginning, giving that first couple of minutes effort, then that's what I'm gonna do. I hope I accomplished that tonight."
Arcidiacono's played only seven games this season as a guard despite being the leading scorer on the Penn State women's club team -- as a forward. But those who know Arcidiacono know it's no problem.
"All the other girls on the team have a scholarship," former club teammate Kate Wiedie said. "Nicole's just doing it because she loves basketball."
She didn't have to be a walk-on. Arcidiacono could've played at a number of Division II and III schools. But she was drawn to Penn State, mostly because she remembers watching the famous White Out during the Penn State-Ohio State football game in 2005.
After that, she was intent on trying out for the club team at Penn State. Justin Sandherr, the club coach last year, remembers watching Arcidiacono during her tryout. She walked in with a smile on her face, and then on the court, inadvertently elbowed another prospective player in the face.
Right away, she grabbed her coach's attention. She was tough and intimidating on the court, but off the court and even on the bench, she couldn't stop smiling and encouraging her teammates -- a practice she's continued with the Lady Lions.
"You have a player like that, that's a player that everyone wants to coach," Sandherr said. "I was clearly shocked that she wasn't recruited by a higher program."
It's no surprise she could play. She's been around sports her whole life. Her father, Joe, was an offensive tackle for Villanova from1976-1980, serving as a team captain in 1980, when he was named a first-team All-ECAC (Eastern College Athletic Conference) choice. So, right away, Arcidiacono was an athlete, and it was basketball that would become her sport of choice.
"I just liked it a lot better," Arcidiacono said. "It's such a sport. I love the team aspect. I was just better at it and people pursue the things they're better at. I can't say I was too good at soccer."
She took that love of basketball to Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster, where she was a three-time All-Catholic League selection and a team captain herself in her senior season.
Her next step was the Penn State club team. And it wasn't long before her enthusiasm and passion for the game made an impression on the rest of her teammates.
"She was the ideal teammate," Sandherr said. "She was a great person."
She started all but one game for the club team last season and quickly drew the admiration of her friends and teammates for her team-first mentality.
The more she played, the more she appealed to her teammates. Wiedie recalled one example in particular. During an overtime game against Villanova, the team was exhausted, but Arcidiacono took it upon herself to put the team on her back and lead them to victory.
It became clear that Arcidiacono had the skill and determination to possibly make the Lady Lions.
"Out of all the club people," Wiedie said, "she had the best chance to make the team."
And once Arcidiacono had heard about the Lady Lions tryout, she was on board.
She trained during the offseason, as well as worked out every morning when she came back to State College this year with Andrew Smith, Sandherr's assistant coach last year and the club team's head coach this season.
Smith played on the Lady Lion practice squad last year, and after a few conversations between Smith and Mike Miller, the Lady Lion video coordinator, Arcidiacono and a few others had their shot.
"She showed up every single morning, even when we weren't getting feedback whether there would be a tryout or there wouldn't be a tryout," Smith said. "She showed up every morning to work out for that month-and-a-half after school started with a great attitude."
And so, finally, her chance came.
"She came into the tryouts, and she was a post player," Penn State coach Coquese Washington said. "And I looked at her and I said, 'The last thing we need is a 5-foot-10, 5-foot-11 post player.'"
But something stuck when the Lady Lions coaching staff saw Arcidiacono, and eventually it was enough for them to take a chance on the forward from Langhorne, provided she move to guard.
And so she did, and now here she is.
"That willingness to do whatever we need her to do, whatever the team needs, is one of those traits that really adds a lot to our team," Washington said.
And last Sunday, her team needed her.
Washington was looking to do anything to end a six-game losing streak. She decided to make a bold move, starting Arcidiacono and freshman forward Julia Trogele instead of regular starters Mashea Williams and Tyra Grant.
Arcidiacono quickly got a taste of Division I basketball. She had a chance to score underneath the basket, but ran into the Spartans' 6-foot-9 center, Allyssa Dehaan, and lost the ball. Arcidiacono got her revenge at the other end of the floor, when she was matched up against Dehaan and forced a turnover.
That was the highlight of her afternoon.
She played three minutes before Williams replaced her and never re-entered the game. She just sat on the bench. Her presence didn't help the rest of her Lady Lion teammates, as Penn State went on to lose its seventh straight game.
"It's going to be bittersweet," Arcidiacono said of her first start coming in a loss. "It's so exciting to be able to walk-on and start; I don't think I've ever heard of that, ever.
"But when it comes down to it, it's all about the team. This small victory for myself doesn't even phase me anymore, because I want the team to do well."
Not playing as much as she would like doesn't bother Arcidiacono. In fact, she feels quite fortunate to have the opportunity to play Division I basketball, a mindset that made the transition from the club team to the Lady Lions a little easier.
"I decided last year that if they were ever going to have open tryouts, I was gonna come and try out," Arcidiacono said. "I was so ecstatic when I made it, but I also knew that if I made the team, I wasn't gonna start during our games. I kind of had already prepared myself a little bit for that and I just knew that it wasn't gonna be the same as it had always been."
Washington saw enough from her Sunday to give Arcidiacono her second consecutive start last night against Illinois.
But when Arcidiacono will play again after last night is unknown, especially with only three games left in the regular season and the Big Ten Tournament coming up, her time is probably limited.
That's fine. Arcidiacono will be content waiting.
She's waited all season.