Editor's Note: Lions247, with the help of head coach Patrick Chambers, breaks down all of the Nittany Lions in a four-part series. Part I focused on Penn State's true freshmen and Part II on the team's bench. Today we look at the starting frontcourt.
The versatility of sophomore Ross Travis gives Penn State options in the frontcourt.
The Rewind: Another recruit with an injury history, Travis fractured the L-5 vertebrae on either side of his spine during his junior year, causing him to wear a plastic chest-to-waist back brace for seven months. Travis was able to play AAU that summer and was noticed by a number of schools, including Penn State. After an official visit and offer, Travis committed in September of 2010 as a part of Ed DeChellis’ final recruiting class. As a freshman, the Minnesota native played in all 32 games and started half of them, bringing lots of energy to his game on the court.
The Take: Earning himself the "Junkyard Dog" nickname from head coach Patrick Chambers, Travis became a favorite and worked his way into the starting lineup in his first year. Averaging over four points and four rebounds per game, Travis was evidently ready for the grind of a full Division I season. Standing at 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, the wing demonstrated his physical strength by spending time guarding other teams’ power forwards last year.
The Forecast: After crashing the boards for rebounds and diving all over the court for loose balls as a freshman, Travis will need to bring that same energy this season. In addition, the sophomore will need to develop more of a mid-range game to keep defenders honest. With more of the pieces in play to run Chambers’ “four out, one in” offense, fans will likely see Travis out on the wing playing what would traditionally be classified as the four spot, or power forward. Defending the opposition won’t be a problem, and if Travis improves his jumper he will be a viable option on offense.
Chambers’ Words: “I think the best rule the NCAA instituted is the rule allowing us to work with the guys during the summer, and I think Ross really benefitted from that. His mid-range jumper is really good, his three ball is getting more consistent, I think you’re going to see a more complete Ross Travis.
“We have three guys who can really score here, so if Ross can get that eight or 10 points a game, we’re really going to do some damage offensively.”
The Rewind: Coming out of Calvert Hall in 2010, Graham - then 215 pounds - took a redshirt his freshman year, watching the team make the NCAA tournament from the bench. Early in the 2011-12 season as a redshirt freshman Graham was battling mononucleosis and missed out on six non-conference contests. The 6-foot-8 forward battled back to earn a starting spot in the final 17 games of the season, averaging 3.9 points and 3.7 boards during over 17 minutes a game throughout the course of the yeare.
The Take: Graham earned the team’s Most Improved Player Award after his redshirt freshman campaign, one which saw him develop into a more dominant player in the post. Taking those late season successes into the off-season, Graham - who had gained 25 pounds since arriving at Penn State - rededicated himself and lost 15 pounds, down to a playing weight of 225. The new-look Graham added four inches to his vertical leap by doing so, but still maintained the strength to bench 185 pounds a team-high 24 times, besting the NBA Combine best by four reps.
The Forecast: At his height, Graham wouldn’t play down low in the paint for many Big Ten schools. In head coach Patrick Chambers’ “four-out, one-in” offense at Penn State, however, that is exactly where the Maryland product will be playing his ball. More athletic than most bigs in the conference, Graham will be using his recently improved bounce to create mismatches on the offensive end, while still being able to hang on defense. As the lone big man with most of the ball movement flowing through the guards this season, Graham will have to up those rebound totals on both ends of the court.
Chambers’ Words: “Jon Graham is chiseled. He’s got four inches on his vertical. He’s as light on his feet as he’s ever been, he’s moving laterally as fast as I’ve ever seen him. I’m looking for Jon to build off the strong play from the end of last season. He’s got to be our anchor on defense and capitalize on his opportunities on offense.
“Be confident from the foul line - knock those down - he’s going to be put in that situation more often and he’s got to come through.”