In case you're just tuning in, last week, Nate Bauer of Blue and White Illustrated wrote a piece on Penn State basketball's move from the Bryce Jordan Center to the University's run-down IM Building across Curtin Road. With events including a Bon Jovi concert and a career fair scheduled in the the BJC, the basketball team had nowhere to go but a converted volleyball gym.
The Penn State press corps almost universally slammed the athletic department for its commitment to the basketball program in the days after Bauer's piece ran.
That is, almost everyone except Chris Morelli of Gantdaily.com, who apparently woke up a week later and decided it was time to write something.
At his weekly news conference last week, Penn State men’s basketball coach Ed DeChellis publicly complained about his team being forced out of the Bryce Jordan Center and into the IM Building across the street. Why did the Nittany Lions need to vacate the BJC? Well, a couple of weeks ago, there was a Bon Jovi concert. Last week, there was a career fair and a little event called THON – you know, the student-run event that raised $9.5 million for children with cancer.
Basically, DeChellis’ gripe with the athletic department, the Jordan Center and the Penn State administration is that the university doesn’t take basketball seriously.
It shouldn’t be taken seriously.
In his eight seasons as head coach, the Nittany Lions have NEVER made the NCAA tournament. With just one road win this season, that’s unlikely to change. The last time the Lions made the big dance, Jerry Dunn was head coach. Yes, the same Jerry Dunn who was run out of town to make way for DeChellis. With Steve Lavin ready and waiting to come to Happy Valley, DeChellis was brought in. That decision has resulted in an NIT championship and zero tourney appearances.
Penn State basketball was not forced from the Bryce Jordan Center by THON for any length of time. This isn't Ed DeChellis and Penn State basketball versus kids with cancer, since that particular event didn't have much impact on the team. Penn State hosted Minnesota the night before THON. All set-ups for that event, other than the light standards which hung in the rafters during the game, were erected after the basketball team finished up last Thursday night. The only practice THON affected was the Lions scheduled Friday afternoon workout. Bon Jovi robbed the team of an entire week while practicing for his event and tour at the BJC.
Now, onto Morelli's bizarre logic.
When I was in elementary school at old St. Valentine's in Bethel Park, my teacher once gave me and a buddy a matchbox with a dead quail in it. A group of the birds had hatched from an incubator in our classroom a few days before and unfortunately for that little guy, he didn't make it. She told us to go out back and bury the bird next to the St. Francis statue in the back. When we asked her what were supposed to dig the hole with, though, she handed us a ruler. Dumbfounded, we walked down the hall and asked our math teacher if she had anything. She handed us a spoon.
At that point, we more or less said, "Screw it," and walked outside. It took us an hour, but we finally got that box in the ground. We were pretty proud of ourselves....until we saw the box float down the gutter the next day during a rain shower at recess.
The situation is little different for Ed DeChellis. He's been given a ruler and a spoon and is expected to compete with guys who have full-on backhoes. The facilities at places like Michigan State and Ohio State are far better than anything Penn State has, even in the Jordan Center, let alone the IM Building.
Despite all that, DeChellis still managed to get the bird in the ground two years ago when he led the Lions to an NIT Championship. Unfortunately, a year later, Penn State limped to a 3-15 conference record and last-place finish in the Big Ten, the proverbial box-in-drain performance.
What Morelli is essentially arguing is that DeChellis needs to successfully bury several birds with his ruler and spoon before he can earn a trowel. And anyone who disagrees with him?
The apologists for the basketball program will tell you that Ed and his squad should not be subjected to the horrendous conditions at the IM Building. Crooked hoops? A dangerous playing surface? Say it ain’t so, Ed, say it ain’t so.
It says here that DeChellis doesn’t have a leg to stand on. If his program were in the NCAAs year in and year out, he’d have a right to gripe about things like practice facilities and travel accommodations. Heck, he could even complain about the chicken fingers at training table and no one would bat an eye. But this is a losing program that has done very little in DeChellis’ eight seasons.
That's right. If you believe recruits looking at Penn State should expect straight backboards and safety at practice, you're an apologist and part of the problem. All Penn State to do is hire Steve Lavin, the same Steve Lavin who said the "going rate" for a college basketball coach these days is $1.5 to $2 million, or roughly $900,000-$1.4 million more than Ed DeChellis currently makes at Penn State, and the same Steve Lavin that actually makes between $1.6 and $1.8 million at St. John's right now. Then everything will be peachy in Happy Valley.
I'd like to welcome Chris Morelli to the world of Phil Knight, of Cam Newton, of Reggie Bush. This isn't 1978. You can't win basketball games with a good pep talk and a little moxie while operating in an office affixed to a locker room in a Rec Hall basement.
To win in this day and age, you not only need to have nice facilities, you need facilities that blow recruits away. Just take a quick tour of the Lasch building only a block from the IM Building. The football team has so much at its disposal there that it might not even need, but wealthy donors make it available so that little Mr. Five-Star will walk in on a recruiting visit and say "Man, that's awesome, I want to come to Penn State."
Ed DeChellis has none of that. In fact, this February, he hasn't even had a gym that most regular students want to use. Yes, he's being paid a lot of money (though not in comparison to his peers) to deal with stuff like that, but at some point, the athletic department has to share the responsibility for not showing a commitment to the program.
Folks like Morelli who expect DeChellis to work miracles and routinely succeed against schools with better budgets, better facilities and better committment from their athletic departments on a year in, year out basis are completely out of touch and the problem with Penn State basketball.
Almost 99 percent of the time, commitment comes before winning, and until guys like Morelli understand that, they'll see guys like Ed DeChellis fired and replaced by carbon copies, and the cycle will continue indefinitely.