Coach Patrick Chambers admitted D.J. Newbill is being placed in a tough spot, transitioning into the point guard role for injured star Tim Frazier.
Yet, he didn’t stop there.
“He’s not a point guard,” Chambers said bluntly of Newbill. “We’re throwing him into the furnace. He’s going to turn the ball over. He’s not used to playing point. He’s not used to having it for 40 minutes in its hands.”
Newbill will look to fill the rather large shoes of Frazier, the first-team all-Big Ten senior who will miss the rest of the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Newbill, the 6-foot-4 guard, has rarely played the ball-handling role in his career, but in his first full game at the point against Bucknell on Friday, he tallied seven assists in a 60-57 win.
However, the redshirt sophomore countered this with four turnovers against the Bison and has the most giveaways of the Nittany Lions with 20 this season, versus just 17 assists.
Chambers said the scenario is almost “unfair” for Newbill, but he expects the guard’s ball handling to improve.
“He’s going to have his ups and downs,” Chambers said. “[But] we all have to be patient with him, and I thought for the most part he’s done a very good job.”
The adjustment is not going to happen for the offense overnight, of course, as Frazier not only accounted for 6.2 assists per game last season — best in the Big Ten — but also started out this season averaging 16.3 points per game in four contests.
Chambers said Newbill, despite not having Frazier’s experience, is developing a similar knowledge of when to take the open shot versus when to distribute to his teammates.
While Newbill was ineligible to play last season after transferring from Southern Mississippi, Frazier took him under his wing. Frazier said his new teammate picked up the offense quickly and often helped him during games.
“I was joking around with Tim, like, ‘We just changed roles,’ ” Newbill said. “ ‘Last year, I used to sit and watch you and help out on the sideline.’ And now he’s doing the same thing [for me].”
Meanwhile, forward Ross Travis said the rest of the roster is starting to get comfortable with the new ball-handler as well.
“He’s definitely still learning,” Travis said. “Against Bucknell, you saw double teams [on Newbill] so we’ve been working on moving without the ball just to open up space.”
Newbill, becoming the new focal point of opposing defenses, will likely need an occasional breather in future games. Chambers said redshirt junior Jermaine Marshall, who played point guard sparingly on Friday, will be the next option moving forward.
The coach said he understands these players will be playing out of position, so sticking to the basics will be key for his point guards throughout the season.
“We don’t need SportsCenter Top 10 plays,” Chambers said. “We just need simple, solid basketball. If we do that, we’ll make good decisions.”