D.J. Newbill would man the sideline in a dark-toned suit, occasionally whispering a word of advice in the ear of an exhausted player while sitting on the bench.
No, he wasn’t an assistant coach — Newbill was just a young man waiting for his time to shine.
The highly-touted redshirt sophomore was not eligible to suit up last season after transferring from Southern Mississippi following his freshman season, but the academic year certainly was not wasted. Newbill took advantage of the chance to internalize coach Pat Chambers’ hard-nosed coaching style, and the guard said he is now ready to put it into motion himself.
“Just being able to watch him every day at practice, sometimes stand by his side and just be kind of like his assistant,” Newbill said. “I just learned how hard you have to work to be competitive in the Big Ten. I’m sitting on the sideline and we’re playing five games straight, Top 25 teams. I’m like, ‘This is real basketball.’ ”
Newbill’s previous experience occurred in the Conference USA, where the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder averaged 9.2 points per game and was named to the all-conference freshman team.
Amid talk of his previous coach, Larry Eustachy, leaving the Golden Eagles, the Philly native said he wanted to move closer to home and Chambers’ Philly ties made Penn State an easy choice.
Newbill quickly caught up to speed with the new coaching strategy, so much so that guard Tim Frazier said his new teammate became a vocal leader from the sideline.
“I do remember certain games where D.J. was on the bench and he would come and give me some pointers and I would relay those [to my teammates] in the game,” Frazier said. “And I’m thinking, ‘Man, why didn’t I see that?’ And it shows the type of player that he is.”
Newbill strutted his stuff for the first time in a Nittany Lion uniform in Saturday’s exhibition game against Philadelphia University, when he dropped 15 points and gelled well with Frazier, who added 17.
Chambers said Newbill’s transition into the starting lineup offers Frazier an additional scoring threat from the backcourt, something the Lions were blatantly missing last season. Throughout last season into preseason practice, the coach said he has pinned the two guards on opposite sides so they can benefit from defending each other.
However, Chambers said he recently brought the two together in practice to prep for the regular season and the results have been promising, yet leave room for improvement.
“[Newbill] is very unselfish,” Chambers said. “He’s a lot like Tim in that regard. He’s looking to make plays for others first and than making his shot. And I’ve been telling him we need him to be a little bit more selfish.”
Although Newbill admitted he is a bit rusty after sitting out a season, he is looking forward to his first regular season action against Saint Francis on Friday.
And as Frazier puts it, Newbill’s “Philly swagger” is readily apparent at first glance, simply due to his toughness.
“When you get to meet him, and you get to see him, he has a chip on his shoulder,” Frazier said. “He’s a hard-nosed player, really competitive, wants to win at everything.”