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Paper Lions No More
Penn State proves that it's for real
Maybe Penn State a for real. The Nittany Lions gave every indication of that last week with easy victories over Purdue and Indiana. The 82-68 defeat of the Hoosiers last Saturday, in Penn State's new, 14,400-seat Bryce Jordan Center, left the 15-1 Lions in first place in the Big Ten with a 6-1 conference record. Clearly Penn State is no longer just Linebacker U.
The transformation didn't happen overnight. Former coach Bruce Parkhill laid the groundwork for the Nittany Lions' success, taking them to the NCAA tournament in 1991, when Penn State was still a member of the Atlantic 10, and shepherding them through the first difficult seasons after joining the Big Ten in the 1992-93 season. Then Parkhill suddenly resigned in early September—he cited burnout as the reason—leaving the Lions in the unlikely hands of Jerry Dunn, one of his former assistants.
Dunn, 42, whose twin brother, Terry, is an assistant at Colorado State, grew up in Raleigh, N.C., where he picked tobacco and cotton starting at the age of five. He played a year of junior college ball in 1973-74 at Casper (Wyo.) College, but bad knees kept him from going on to Division I. A few years later he was working for the federal government in Washington, D.C., and taking classes at nearby George Mason University, where he volunteered to help out with the basketball team. Eventually he was promoted to full-time assistant by Joe Harrington, and from there he went to work for Parkhill.
Dunn knew he had a solid team returning this season, led by senior forward Glenn Sekunda, sophomore shooting guard Pete Lisicky and junior point guard Dan Earl. Those three are the main reasons that Penn State is the nation's best three-point-shooting team. After last week's victories, the Nittany Lions were making 47.3% of their shots from beyond the arc. Their perimeter shooting has been complemented by the inside play of 6'11" redshirt freshman center Calvin Booth, who was averaging 11.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.6 blocks (third best in the nation).
Perhaps the biggest question coming into the season concerned the comeback of senior forward Matt Gaudio, whose career appeared over when he underwent back surgery in May 1994. Last season Gaudio served as a student-assistant coach, but after last week's win over Indiana he was averaging 13.0 points and, according to Dunn, was giving the Lions "a mental toughness that infiltrates the rest of the team."
At week's end Penn State's only loss had been a 67-66 heartbreaker at Michigan in which Lisicky played only nine minutes because of a sprained foot. Maybe soon the school will need a new nickname. How about Three-Point U?
Going into last Saturday's game against UCLA, there wasn't a single reason to think that Louisville had a shot to knock off the defending champs. After all, during his previous 24 seasons at Louisville, coach Denny Crum had an 0-6 record against his alma mater in Pauley Pavilion.