I have to be honest with you first, a week ago or so I was all set to roll out the first real preview of Penn State basketball after a couple early season wins with life after Tony Carr. An exhibition victory over preseason Top-15 West Virginia on their home court showed promise, especially from our true freshmen Myles Dread and Rasir Bolton, as they both took turns lighting up the scoreboard. A 2-0 start to the season had me all ready to go, even as the crowned King, Nittany Lion Football, was still plodding along and then the shots stopped falling as we lost in overtime to DePaul, and two games later lost a close one to Bradley in the Cancun Classic Championship.
There’s no mistaking either of those squads for say, Duke, or anyone in the Big Ten for that matter. Hopefully, by now, you can see my conundrum as to exactly when and where might be the best time to roll out the goods. On a national stage, basketball is a distant second only to king football, but at Penn State, it just doesn’t have the following of women’s volleyball, men’s hockey, or wrestling once the twilight of football fades away. Well, now’s as good a time as any to dive into hoops with football taking a break until the New Year and the Nittany Lions taking on up-and-comer VA Tech in the ACC/B1G Challenge tonight at 7 p.m. inside the BJC.
To say this one’s a must-win this early in the season is probably overkill but for a team struggling to find its way after Tony, a win tonight over the No. 13 ranked Hokies would go a long way in changing our early fortune around. Elder statesman Lamar Stevens and Josh Reaves did all they could to keep Penn State competitive but once those freshman shots stopped falling, so did the wins. Tight-end lookalike, John Harrar, has picked up where he left off clogging up the middle with brute strength and the speedy sophomore, Jamari Wheeler, adds a presence on defense but is struggling to fill the shoes Carr left behind. All-in-all, they haven’t looked like the red-hot Nittany Lions that cut down nets in the Big Apple last March.
In steps Big Mike Watkins to potentially save the day. Maybe it’s just me, but speaking of Nittany Lion stars, does Manny Bowen ring a bell? I say that with total compassion and desire to see Success With Honor at work. Even if things didn’t exactly work out at PSU for Manny, by all accounts, he’s had tremendous success getting his life on track. I’m a sucker for stories like his and Mike Watkins has the potential to come to the rescue with the announcement that he is available to play after sitting out with an injury and a handful of questionable decisions since last February. Penn State doesn’t need Big Mike to win, but he definitely makes them a better team when he plays. His well-being is by far what’s most important but getting him back with his teammates just might be a step in the right direction…for everyone. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. tonight and ESPN2 will be televising from the BJC. With football on a lull, it’s as good a time as any for Nittany Nation to dive in and support Penn State hoops as they continue to climb!