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Freshmen working to contribute

Penn State men's basketball coach Patrick Chambers isn't usually comfortable with the word or the concept of "patience." He wants to win now. He wants his players to improve now.

Patrick Chambers says he needs his freshmen to earn his trust on the defensive end.

Every once in a while, though, Chambers reminds himself that a little patience can go a long way, especially when you're dealing with so many underclassmen.

"You have to know when to put the pedal down, know when to pull it back," Chambers said Friday. "It's a fine line. They're freshmen, they don't understand. Sophomores start to get it a little bit. By the time you're a junior, you totally get it."

Chambers' team, which hosts Delaware State at 2 p.m. today, includes one senior -- reserve guard and former walk-on Nick Colella -- and two redshirt juniors, guard Jermaine Marshall and reserve big man Sasa Borovnjak. Everyone else on the team has sophomore or freshman eligibility.

With just three games left before Big Ten play begins, Chambers wants to expand his seven-man rotation, both to keep his starters fresh and to help develop seldom-used freshmen Akosa Maduegbunam and Donovon Jack.

Both players might be able to give Penn State's sagging offense -- the Nittany Lions are last in the conference in scoring at 61.0 points per game -- a boost; Maduegbunam has shown a solid 3-point stroke in practice and Jack, who once made 10 straight shots in a high school game, has touch around the hoop. To get chances to take those shots, though, the rookies must prove themselves on the defensive end first.

"For me it's about trust," Chambers said. "I've got to put guys on the floor I know will rotate, will be there, step up, make the right plays and the right decisions."

Penn State's youngsters understand they have to earn that trust in practice before they can earn it on game days. Right now they're simply trying to absorb what they can while adjusting to a higher level of play. And the transition has been tougher on defense.

"For me it's staying low on defense," said the 6-foot-9 Jack. "In high school I got away with staying up."

Chambers often says he wants his players to take the court with "a clear head." The challenge for Maduegbunam, a 6-foot-3 guard, has been learning to let the game come naturally to him.

"I didn't have so much structure in high school," Maduegbunam said. "And I have a lot of structure here, and I appreciate that, because now I'm a student of the game. The more that I take in, the more that I learn, the more I'll be able to play with a clear head without thinking 'I gotta be here, I gotta be there.'"

Jack has averaged just 3.7 minutes in six games this season; Maduegbunam 3.2 in five games. Their freshman classmate, Brandon Taylor, has played a much bigger role, starting five of nine games and averaging 7.0 points in 19 minutes per game. He would likely see even more minutes, Chambers said, if he could avoid early foul trouble.

Taylor has had an adjustment period of his own, though. As with his fellow freshmen, it's been at the defensive end.

"Mainly for me it's my habits defensively," Taylor said. "Staying in my stance the whole time, watching the ball, head-turning, doing little things that will help the team."

Taylor has logged more minutes, and thus compiled more game tape, than Jack or Maduegbunam, which has aided his development.

"The film doesn't lie," Taylor said. "When we watch the film I see the things that I do wrong. It doesn't feel like I'm doing them in a game but when I see it on film, I see the things I gotta work on."

The Nittany Lions (5-4) will take on New Hampshire on Dec. 23 and host Duquesne on Dec. 29. The more contributions they're able to get from their freshmen -- on both ends of the floor -- during the rest of the non-conference slate will help determine their roles when conference play begins Jan. 3 at Wisconsin. They're ready to expand those roles.

"That's what we're here for," Maduegbunam said.

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