After an 11-20 season that included many hard-luck moments and near misses, it wouldn't be strange for Penn State's men's basketball players must feel like things can only get better.
That's not what the Nittany Lions are saying, however. Instead, they're preaching the mantra of "One More."
"So many times last year, we lost a game in the final seconds, or it came down to one play," senior point guard Talor Battle said on Monday at Penn State basketball media day. "We've just been trying to do the little things. All summer long, that's just been the goal: everyone coming early and staying late and I think that just sums up what it means to get one more."
Nine of Penn State's 20 losses last season came by five points or less, including losses to NCAA tournament teams Purdue, Michigan State, Minnesota, and Temple. That total excludes other late losses in which separation was only achieved late at the foul line, including an overtime loss at Wisconsin.
Coach Ed DeChellis thinks those losses allow room for growth.
"I think we need to find a positive end to those," DeChellis said. "What does that mean? It means let's make it one more play. That's been our theme throughout the summer and the fall- we have to do one more play. Whether it's get the rebound, someone has to make a big basket, get a big defensive stop at a crucial time to win those games."
DeChellis said he expects the Big Ten Conference to be "the best in the country" this season, with many teams including Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State returning many key contributors from last season.
Penn State is also preparing to play a non-conference slate that includes trips to Mississippi and Virginia Tech and an anticipated home tilt with defending ACC co-champion Maryland in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Students are already calling for a "whiteout" against the Terrapins as the Lions look to extend their Big Ten-record three-game winning streak in the Challenge.
It's a game sophomore guard Tim Frazier is already looking forward to.
"Last year I had a big game in the Big Ten/ACC challenge, so I enjoy it," Frazier said. "Maryland is a great team."
Frazier, a Texas native, is also excited for Penn State's trip to Mississippi to get a chance to play in front of his friends and family in the South. The sophomore averaged 5.0 points per game in his freshman season as well as 2.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds. With the departure of guards Chris Babb and Adam Highberger, Frazier should see an increased role in 2010-2011.
Some players cited a lack of leadership for some of last year's struggles, but with five seniors on the roster this season, the team could have more of what it needs, from the on-court impact of guys like Battle and forwards DJ Jackson and Andrew Jones right down to walk-on Steve Kirkpatrick, who was flattered by the praise of his teammates, who see him as a leader.
"That is one of the best titles I could have, especially as a senior walk on," Kirkpatrick said. "I love that that's how I'm described."
Many players noted Kirkpatrick's contributions, including freshman Jonathan Graham, who said Kirkpatrick has been instrumental in helping the young forward learn Penn State's offense. Graham is also encouraged by the work that he and his freshman teammates Taran Buie (Battle's half brother) and York-area native Tre Bowman have done.
"They're both great players," Graham said. "They've been doing great over the summer as far as practice."
Penn State opens its season on November 12 against Patriot League favorite Lehigh at the Bryce Jordan Center.