It is a small senior class that will be honored this evening, when Penn State plays host to No. 4 Michigan at 6:30 p.m. in the Bryce Jordan Center. Fourth-year junior forward Sasa Borovnjak and branch campus player-turned-women's practice player-turned walk-on-turned team captain Nick Colella are (as of now) the only departing Nittany Lions, but both players have embodied the work ethic Patrick Chambers is trying to instill in his program.
Borovnjak has been on fire during his last three games, averaging 16 points.
Colella, a 6-foot-3 guard from New Castle, Pa., played two seasons at Penn State-Behrend. That campus didn't offer the physical education program he wanted to join, so he transferred to University Park, hoping he could make it as a walk-on. He joined Ed DeChellis' program in the fall of 2010 and, after taking a redshirt season during Penn State's run to the NCAA tournament, made an early impression on the new coaching staff.
"He just tried to do everything as hard as he possibly could," Chambers said.
Colella wound up seeing action in 26 of Penn State's 32 games last season, averaging 15 minutes and 2.7 points per contest. With the injury to Tim Frazier, his role in the backcourt expanded even more. He has started eight of Penn State's 14 conference games and is fourth on the team in minutes per game, at 25.2.
Few Nittany Lions have been as consistently successful in Chambers' "Attitude Club," which awards points for dives, charges and loose balls gained, than Colella, who said he always played hard but really embraced going all-out once he started playing for Chambers. He hopes his younger teammates understand what he learned during his career, that steady improvement is the goal.
"Time flies," he said. "Every day try to get better, do something. Every day when you come to practice, just try to work hard at everything and get better."
Borovnjak, the 6-foot-9 Serbian who is just over two years removed from an ACL tear, has increased his production from 4.3 points and 3.1 rebounds per game in 2011-12 to 6.9 points and 3.4 boards per game this season, and he has averaged 16 points and 4.3 rebounds over his last three games. He went to Chambers early in this season and told him he had decided to forgo his final year of eligibility.
Like Colella, Borovnjak will leave Penn State without making any serious dent in the record books. But Chambers believes his contributions were nonetheless important.
"He's going to be a part of something for the rest of his life and a part of us beginning here and starting this and laying the bricks for something special," Chambers said.
Notes: The Nittany Lions will also honor senior managers Ryan Hughes, Brian Grossman, Raymar McClain and John Ball before the game. … Penn State's March 10 game with Wisconsin will be its final home game of the season. … Tonight marks the Nittany Lions' fifth game against a team ranked in the top six this season. … The Penn State Uplifting Athletes Push-Up Challenge, in which students will attempt to do a cumulative 7,000 push-ups for charity, will begin at 5:30 p.m. at Portal 31 of the Bryce Jordan Center. Student season ticket holders will be admitted at 5:15 p.m.
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