Penn State’s backcourt is its strength, but it’s not what Pat Chambers said he thinks will put his squad over the top in the approaching season.
For Chambers, the Nittany Lions’ x-factor rests in the paint.
“I told them if we’re going to be really good this year. It’s going to be because of our big guys,” Chambers said. “Because we know what we’re going to get from our guards.”
Penn State’s big men had more downs than ups last season. Jon Graham and Sasa Borovnjak were the Nittany Lions’ two primary post players a season ago, and that appears to be the case again the upcoming campaign.
Graham posted 3.9 points and 3.7 rebounds in 26 games last season, while Borovnjak had similar stats with 4.3 points and 3.1 boards in 32 games. The Lions’ top three scorers a season ago were all guards, and Tim Frazier led the team with 18.8 points per contest.
Chambers said the struggles of Penn State’s forwards in 2011-12 were due to inexperience — Graham will be a redshirt sophomore this season and Borovnjak a redshirt junior. The second-year head coach said both players made physical changes over the summer, and Graham looked slimmer at practice last Thursday.
“These guys have it in them,” Chambers said. “They’ve had a very good offseason. They’ve changed their body. Their feet are quicker. They’re dunking every chance they get now, where last year, maybe they didn’t do that.”
Graham’s best basketball was played near the end of last season. In a three-game stretch during February, the 6-foot-8 Baltimore native posted 29 points and 19 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Borovnjak was up-and-down all season. The forward scored 15 points in a December contest against Mississippi but accounted for less than four points per game in conference play.
Borovnjak was playing with a large brace on his knee for all of last season after he tore his right anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in the fall of 2010. Chambers said he can tell Borovnjak trusts his knee more now than he did at any point last season and said people should expect to see a “different Sasa.”
“Last year he had a huge brace on. It was like a robot. He couldn’t move,” Chambers said. “And this year in the spring, he took it off, and I’m like: ‘Wait a second, timeout. You’ve played with it all year, and now you’re going to take it off?’ He just trusted it.”
Chambers himself had knee surgery over the summer and noted he can relate to the 6-foot-9 Serbian big man.
“I can tell you right now, I don’t trust [my knee] at all,” Chambers said. “And that’s me. I’m 41. I should be able to trust it a little bit because our trainer did a good job. But [Sasa] didn’t trust it for a year. Now, I’m telling you, he’s getting up. He’s jumping higher. It’s good stuff.”
The season was still more than three weeks away when Chambers spoke, and he said he wasn’t exactly sure what combinations he would use in his frontcourt this season. He did mention Ross Travis or some newcomers, as well as Borovnjak could play at the power forward position.
But Chambers sounded confident Penn State’s frontcourt will be more productive in the upcoming campaign.
“They were hesitant. They didn’t know our rotations [last season],” Chambers said. “Our guys, our guards need to be able to trust them, too. So they’re trusting them more, and because of that trust, [the big men are] playing better.”