Before Talor Battle arrived in Happy Valley, Geary Claxton was the best player Penn State fans had seen this side of Joe Crispin. Over four seasons beginning in 2004-2005, the forward averaged 15.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. He was a bright spot on some pretty terrible teams, as the Lions went 7-23 during his freshman season and never finished above .500 in his first three campaigns in blue and white.
Midway through his senior season in 2007-2008, though, things appeared to be turning around as Claxton, joined by Battle and Jamelle Cornley, led Penn State to a 10-5 start. By the time the Lions faced Wisconsin at home on Jan. 15, they'd won seven of eight and had the look of a team that'd be in the mix for at least a winning season and perhaps a postseason berth.
Those hopes were shattered in an instant, however, when Claxton tore his ACL against the Badgers, ending his season and career at Penn State. Battle led a youthful team to upsets of No. 7 Michigan State and No. 17 Indiana at home later in Big Ten play, but Penn State lose 11 of 16 games to end the year and was effectively lost without Claxton.
It's through that prism that Penn State fans should view the loss of All-Big Ten point guard Tim Frazier for the rest of this season to a ruptured Achillies. Sure, his injury is catastrophic for this 2012-2013 team. He was the group's unquestioned leader and biggest threat on the offensive end of the floor after averaging 18.8 points and 6.2 assists per game a year ago.
But unlike Claxton, he's eligible for a medical redshirt that would allow him to compete next year. His season-ending injury came early enough that he could avoid it becoming an career-ender. For that, everyone should be thankful.
And with Penn State set to return everyone but guard Nick Colella next season, Frazier's presence could give those Lions a look of an NCAA Tournament-caliber squad while his absence this season gives his younger teammates plenty of room to grow.
No, Penn State probably won't be playing for much this winter. But Frazier's fellow starters Ross Travis, Jonathan Graham, Jermaine Marshall and D.J. Newbill will now have to learn how to shoulder more of the offensive load. Where they may have deferred to Frazier's play-making ability, now they'll have to find shots of their own more often. This should make them more confident, independent players once Frazier returns.
Frazier's injury also opens the door for reserves to grow with extra playing time. That was made clear on Friday when Brandon Taylor, a bench option who otherwise would not have seen the floor much, came on to score 16 points in Penn State's 60-57 win against Bucknell.
These factors point to a stronger, more balanced team taking the floor in the fall of 2013.
No one wants to see a player suffer a devastating injury like Frazier's. He has months of rigorous rehabilitation ahead of him if he wants to return to the elite level he was playing at before the injury. But fortunately for Frazier, it appears he's avoided Claxton's fate and that his career still has the potential for a happy ending.