Eight years ago, Nittany Lions assistant basketball coach Jerry
Dunn walked into the office of head football coach Joe Paterno.
The then 35-year-old Dunn needed some advice from the sage of
State College. Dunn had been an assistant for 10 years, six at
George Mason and four at Penn State, and he was tired of making
suggestions instead of decisions. He was being considered for a
head coaching job at a smaller school, and though it wasn't the
best opportunity, it would at least let him run his own program.
"So I sat down in front of Coach Paterno and half asked for
advice and half asked for a recommendation for this job," Dunn
recalls. "He said he'd help. But he also told me that it doesn't
matter if you're the head coach, it just matters that you're
coaching. Basically he said, Be patient."
Dunn took Paterno's advice and stayed on as Bruce Parkhill's
assistant. His patience finally paid off in September 1995, when
he was promoted in the wake of Parkhill's resignation. Dunn
inherited a solid program in a major conference and led it to a
21-7 record, a second-place finish in the Big Ten and an
invitation to the NCAA tournament. But with two starters having
graduated, this season will be a better indication of how much
Dunn learned during his lengthy apprenticeship.
Dunn can rely on a backcourt that has more experience in the
spotlight than he does. Senior Dan Earl and junior Pete Lisicky
are the leaders of the team. Last season Earl was first in the
Big Ten in steals (1.8 per game), second in assists (5.3 per
game) and third in three-point shooting (42.6%). Going into the
NCAA tournament, some sportswriters were calling him one of the
country's most underrated point guards. Lisicky attracted some
national exposure too. His prolific three-point shooting--he led
the conference with 47.7%--landed him on SportsCenter so often
that Chris Berman gave him a nickname: Pete Li (He's Going to
Make You) Sicky.
"Both guys are unselfish and are on the same page on the court,"
Dunn says of Earl and Lisicky, who are roommates. "They know
each other and are very efficient with the ball."
Unlike the backcourt, the frontcourt is going to experience some
growing pains with two new starting forwards. Gone are Matt
Gaudio and Glenn Sekunda, who combined for 26.1 points and 12.4
rebounds per game last year. They'll be replaced by senior
Rahsaan Carlton, who missed all of last season with arthritis in
his right knee, and 6'8", 265-pound senior Phil Williams. That
duo will be bolstered by sophomore center Calvin Booth, a campus
hero thanks to his Big Ten-best 3.7 blocks per game last season.
"When you lose two starters, that's a big chunk to replace,"
says Dunn. "Mostly it will be the mental toughness we're missing
because the two starters were seniors. We've got upperclassmen,
but they're young in terms of experience, and that might show."
More likely, it won't. Penn State is ready now. For Dunn the
waiting is over.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Lisicky will be the Lions' long-ball threat. [Pete Lisicky in game]
THE DATA BOX
Coach: Jerry Dunn
Career record: 21-7 (one season)
Record at Penn State: 21-7 (one season)
1995-96 record: 21-7 (final ranking: none)
Big Ten record: 12-6 (tied for second)
PG *Dan Earl, 6'4", Sr.
Fourth year running the offense
SG *Pete Lisicky, 6'4", Jr.
School-record 84 treys last season
SF Rahsaan Carlton, 6'6", Sr.
Solid starter of '94-95 returns to lineup
PF Phil Williams, 6'8", Sr.
Averaged 5.1 boards, 17 minutes per game
C *Calvin Booth, 6'11", Soph.
More O needed from Big Ten's top swatter
Nov. 25 at North Carolina State
Nittany Lions are 1-13 alltime against Wolfpack
Jan. 26 vs. Indiana
First matchup of last season's Big Ten runners-up
Feb. 1 vs. Purdue
Only meeting against defending league champs
Feb. 5 at Minnesota
Booth was blockless only once--against Gophers
Feb. 25 vs. Illinois
Could determine which team gets higher NCAA seed