Coach Patrick Chambers has handed D.J. Newbill the baton as floor general for the Nittany Lions.
In his first year of eligibility at Penn State, the redshirt sophomore has adjusted to a number of new roles in the wake of Tim Frazier’s season ending injury, first as the go-to option, then as point guard and now as play caller.
“When I first started it was kind of like I was doing whatever coach wanted me to do,” Newbill said. “But now, I’ve been around him more, I’ve been watching film, I’ve been breaking a lot of stuff down working on new offenses. He’s like ‘you’re my point guard, so you have to be that guy on the court.’ ”
Newbill joined the Lions as a wing player who was expected to complement Frazier as another scoring threat, but when the All-Big Ten senior went down with a ruptured Achilles, the Philadelphia native was forced to embrace a whole new role at the point guard position.
Growing pains have come with the change.
Though Newbill leads the team in assists (80) his assist-to-turnover margin has been very slim (1.05) with 75 turnovers on the season. In an 18 turnover debacle by the Lions against Indiana on Jan. 23, Newbill tried to force things on offense, resulting in eight turnovers of his own compared to just one assist.
After the 72-49 loss, Chambers cited turnovers as the key problem and his players reflected his message.
“Coach really preached that we have to take care of the ball,” Newbill said. “Especially going on the road, 18 turnovers, you can’t win that way.”
Newbill bounced back to play one of his best floor games of the season in a 65-51 loss to Ohio State on Saturday. Matched up against scrappy defender Aaron Craft, Newbill posted six assists compared to just one turnover and orchestrated the offense, finding teammates both inside and out for scoring opportunities.
Chambers was impressed with his guard’s response.
“D.J. played against [Indiana’s] Victor [Oladipo] and Aaron, two of the best defenders in the Big Ten if not the country,” Chambers said after the game. “I thought he did great, you know why? Because he’s strong. Not saying he’s a point guard, he’s becoming one.”
Newbill calling plays, during in-game situations is the next step in the maturation process as he continues to learn the position.
Chambers said that he has picked out three plays that Newbill feels comfortable with and has given him the green-light in terms of evaluating situations on the floor and calling plays at the right moments.
He will have to continue to grow as a facilitator as the Lions continue to look for their first conference win heading into the second half of their Big Ten schedule.
“I told him you don’t always have to look at me,” Chambers said. “You know what you’re doing by now, you know who’s got the hot hand. You know where to go, whether we need a post touch or you need to get yourself a ball screen.”