D.J. Newbill last played in the Palestra as a 14-year-old, in a summer league game a few years back. Penn State's Philadelphia-bred guard is excited to play there again tonight, when the Nittany Lions visit LaSalle at 9 p.m., in front of what will assuredly be some old friends.
D.J. Newbill leads the Nittany Lions in scoring, assists and turnovers.
Not that Newbill will know who exactly is watching him until after the game.
"Game days, I'm just dialed in on the game," he said. "I don't know who's there."
Newbill has a lot to dial in on these days. Since Tim Frazier went down with a season-ending Achilles injury early in Penn State's loss to Akron in the Puerto Rico Tip Off last month, the 6-foot-4 sophomore has been Penn State's point guard.
It's been a whole new set of responsibilities for someone who rarely played the point even in high school, but Newbill has embraced the challenge.
"I think I'm just constantly working on it," Newbill said. "Every day in practice is helping me grow. But it's not really about me becoming a point guard, it's just about me playing basketball. What I've been doing my whole life. It's about making smarter decisions and just playing basketball."
Newbill has been Penn State's most consistent scorer, reaching double figures in six of seven games, and has grabbed at least five rebounds in six of seven contests as well. Since Frazier's injury, he has averaged just under five assists per game, though he's had nearly four turnovers per game during that span as well.
"We'll continue to teach him," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said last week. "This is what we're in for four a little bit here. I think this is going to make him a whole lot better once it's done."
Newbill has daily chats with Frazier, both to keep the senior's spirits up and to pick up little tidbits about running the offense or what to expect from opposing defenses, who have begun to apply full-court pressure on Newbill and fellow guard Jermaine Marshall.
"I try not to bombard him about his injury, just keep his mind relax and keep talking to him, like he wasn't injured," he said. "As far as on the court, just keep getting advice and getting tips from him. He's obviously more experienced than me, and he can help me out with his knowledge. He understands the stuff I'm going through now."
Any struggles Newbill will have at the point this season will pale in comparison to what he has dealt with since before the season started. His mother, Tawanda, died of cancer in early September.
As they do what they can to help Newbill adjust to his new position, his teammates are also doing what they can to be there for him between games and practices.
"D.J. knows that I'm going to be there for him regardless, 24-7, whenever he needs me," forward Jon Graham said. "That's just a matter of going and talking to him, hanging out with him, just letting him know that his brothers are here."
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