After a busy summer in which Penn State guard D.J. Newbill attended the Kevin Durant Skills Academy as well as the LeBron James Skills Academy, the Philadelphia native finds himself entering this season as the main guy for the Nittany Lions both on and off the court.
While it may come as a surprise to many Nittany Lion fans, Newbill is already entering his senior season. After spending his freshman year at Southern Mississippi, he transferred to Penn State prior to the start of the 2011-2012 season, which forced him to sit out that season as a redshirt-freshman due to NCAA transfer guidelines.
His career as a Nittany Lion has not been as long as fans may have hoped, but there’s no doubt that he has been nothing short of fantastic since the moment he first donned blue and white.
In just two seasons, Newbill ranks 21st in career scoring at Penn State with 1,108 points, becoming the fourth Nittany Lion player to reach 500-plus points in multiple campaigns (504 in 2012, 604 in 2013). He joins Talor Battle, Jesse Arnelle, and Joe Crispin on that list.
Heading into this season, Newbill is one of the elder statesman on the team, along with fellow senior forwards Alan Wisniewski, Ross Travis, and guard Kevin Montminy. He’ll be leaned on to score, rebound, and set up his teammates, but more importantly, head coach Patrick Chambers also wants him to lead by example off the court as well.
This year, Newbill will spend his first season as a Nittany Lion without Penn State great and backcourt mate Tim Frazier, who is currently working on his transition into professional basketball. For the past five years, Frazier has been the voice and face of Penn State basketball. With Frazier gone, it’s Newbill’s turn to take over.
The 22-year-old is expected to be the team’s starting point guard when the season opens, as the Lions must replace Frazier, who graduated from Penn State as its all-time leader in assists. This will be the second time in three years that Newbill finds himself in this position.
In 2012, he was thrown into the starting point guard role after Frazier ruptured his Achilles tendon four games into the season. As he learned to play the position on the fly, Newbill found himself having to create his own shots, while finding efficient ways to get his teammates involved without a natural point guard on the floor. He also struggled with turnovers (3.9 per game), although he steadily improved throughout the year.
Back then, he was forced to play a position he was unfamiliar with. Now two years later, the senior has one year of experience playing point guard under his belt and was named second team All-Big Ten as a shooting guard last year. It’s safe to say that he’s ready to resume the ball-handling duties for a second time.
Coach Chambers has recently stated that Newbill is the team’s first option at point guard, but he also made it clear that he will play both on and off the ball during the season. The 6-foot-4 guard is one of the best offensive players in the Big Ten. Last season, he finished second in the conference in scoring average with 17.8 points per game and has led the Nittany Lions in scoring the past two seasons.
Scoring the ball will continue to be one of Newbill’s primary duties, however, the key for him this year will be increasing his assist total. He averaged four assists while running the point two years ago but that number decreased to just 1.7 while playing shooting guard last year.
Newbill’s off the court leadership will involve him helping Travis, Montminy and junior forward Brandon Taylor grow into leaders as well. All four have been named team captains and are part of the team’s leadership council group, which includes Wisniewski.
During his time spent at the LeBron James camp, Newbill got the opportunity to share the court with college players of historically successful programs, such as Arizona and Kansas. The culture of winning associated with these programs is something that he will try to bring to a Nittany Lions squad that has gone 38-59 in three seasons under Chambers and 12-42 in Big Ten play.
Beyond bringing a commitment to a winning attitude, being more vocal, talking up his teammates and building camaraderie amongst his team are also aspects of his leadership abilities that he looks to improve. The Lions have several new guards for him for mentor, which is something he could use as a start for building team camaraderie.
Sophomore guard Geno Thorpe, Vincennes transfer Devin Foster, and true freshmen Shep Garner and Isaiah Washington are all in contention for playing time along Newbill in the backcourt, and are among the players who he will mentor. The development of these players is key, as their growth will determine Chambers’ flexibility to play Newbill at both guard spots.
Regardless of the position he plays, the work that Newbill has put in leading up to the season has him prepared for anything. During media day, he expressed his desire to do what’s best for team and to hold himself and his teammates more accountable than he has in the past.
Not only does that sound like a player who’s ready to win, but it also sounds like a senior who’s ready to demonstrate his polished leadership capabilities.
*Section Photo credit to Jamie Sabau,Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Charles LeClaire, USA Today Sports.