Brad Underwood says the new Nittany Lions (Jim Ferry’s squad) press their opponents more than the old Nittany Lions (Pat Chambers’ squad) and that does not bode well for this Illini team in its second B1G road adventure. So far, Penn State has beaten VMI, VCU and VT. Non-Virgina Schools fared better. Seton Hall and Michigan aren’t as great as they were in 1989, but they had enough to manhandle this year’s Lions.
Bright siding tonight’s game, Underwood likes fake crowd noise. Penn State invented fake noise.
The Bryce Jordan Center was sold out when Lucas Johnson, or maybe it was Brian Johnson, and his Big Ten Champion teammates rolled into University Park, PA.
As far as I know, that was the last BJC sellout. Or at least, that was the last time the upper deck was filled with actual people.
Apart from the piped lion, it’s sedate.
The media workroom sits across the hall. In past years, you’d find Steven Bardo serving himself from the steamtable buffet. But recently, PSU stopped catering to its guests, choosing to follow Iowa’s lead by providing $10 food vouchers for use at BJC concessions stands. Or maybe it’s “stand.” I’ve seen only the one.
No, I’m not complaining about free food. A ten dollar voucher got me a ten dollar hamburger, and it was okay.
The BJC sits on the edge of town, like the State Farm Center. A massive football stadium is nearby, and then there’s pasture, also like the SFC, but without all the people that you’d find at an SFC basketball game. It feels like a glacier. Serene, and slightly windblown.
It’s not that PSU fans don’t care about sports, of course. Across the street, on the campus side (as opposed to the pasture side) an ice hockey rink bustles with fans. When the team isn’t playing, it bustles with community skaters (in non-Covid times). The Nittany Lacrosse Team practices nearby. Its stadium reminds B1G visitors that PSU has an athletics program.
Just look at all their sports!
But they don’t care about basketball.
State College is arguably my favorite place to cover B1G basketball. But it’s not because of the crowd, the team or the game.
I know how to get & stay there, cheap. I thrive on reports of its inaccessibility and cost. I’m usually the only Illini reporter, which affords me more interaction with the team and coaches. The Hotel State College has three restaurants and two bars in the building, and I can walk to the arena. Vicky Lumpkin hooks me up with my favorite room. Dave Staab awaits in the basement, and draws fresh ideas from the Zeno’s tap when I need inspiration.
To me, State College is about individual people I can get to know, with whom I work.
Most importantly, since the Sandusky scandal, PSU hired PR staff who connect with people on a human level. That sounds like corporate speak, but it’s not.
A lot of SIDs are self-satisfied assholes. They think/know that you need them more than they need you. It heightens one’s appreciation for guys like Patrick Herb (Wisconsin) and Tom Wyrot (Michigan) who remain down-to-earth and accessible, despite their teams’ enormous success.
When the old PSU staff bailed (tired of scandal) PSU brought in the relatable Alissa Clendenen, who wore Chuck Taylors at the end of her black hose. Punk rock, not business casual. When she left for Pitt, the boisterous Rose Carter took over. She’s a force of nature, passionate and compassionate. That’s her voice encouraging John Harrar when he says he wants “peace” for Christmas.
When the News-Gazette scrambled to locate a photographer a couple of years ago, Rose found me in the media lounge, and asked if I’d like to help them. I emailed a couple of pics to Matt Daniels, for the Sunday Sports Section. Everybody wins!
She’s not a pushover, though. When Myreon Jones struggled with “illness” last season, Rose made it clear that undisclosed would not be disclosed.
I thought I might play it cool. “Do we know the nature of this Myles Dread ‘illness?'” I asked, having gleaned from the TV commentary that “illness” was the company line.
“Illness!” she answered, smiling brightly.
BJC is an intimate setting. A couple of old guys wait at the media door, just off the loading dock. There’s another pair of guys down the hallway, sitting outside the visitor’s locker room. Last year, erstwhile Champaign County Sheriff candidate Allen Jones was also there, having been hired as Underwood’s body man.
Yes, there’s a student section. Yes, there’s a mascot. Yes, four thousand people show up to watch. There’s nothing like it anywhere in the B1G.
So tonight’s game will feel just like a Penn State home game. The fake lion growl will be no more audible. Unfortunately, it will be no less audible. The fake crowd noise might not sound like the usual fake enthusiasm of the student section, but its insincerity will come across. And Brad Underwood will enjoy it.
Tune in at 5:30 on the BTN.