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PSU introduces Ferry as coach

Duquesne head coach Jim Ferry sets up a play during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against VCU in Pittsburgh, Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015. VCU won 70-64. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

UNIVERSITY PARK — After one of the most successful seasons in school history, the Penn State men’s basketball program finds itself at a crossroads leading into one of the more important years in team history.

The Nittany Lions went 21-10 and won 11 Big Ten conference games — its second-highest total since joining the Big Ten in the 1992-93 season — and will have to replace two of the school’s all-time greats in Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins.

Throw in a global pandemic and the resignation of coach Pat Chambers a month ago, and Penn State is tasked with continuing to build on the success of a year in which it was ranked in the Associated Press poll for the first time in 23 years and got into the Top 10 at one point.

Penn State is lucky in a sense that its interim, former Chambers’ assistant coach Jim Ferry, is a coach with a ton of coaching experience. Ferry boasts an impressive resume that includes 314 career victories, multiple tournament appearances and 19 years as a head coach.

Ferry, whose main responsibility was the Nittany Lions’ offense in his three years under Chambers, isn’t looking to change much. The culture is the same and ultimately, the same, up-tempo, spread the floor 3-point offense could explode as the Nittany Lions have a talented core of guards returning that includes Myreon Jones, Jamari Wheeler, Izaiah Brockington and Myles Dread, along with a talented sophomore Seth Lundy at the forward position.

“I think that we are going to play very, very similar to the way that we’ve played,” Ferry said in his introductory press conference during Penn State men’s basketball media day on Wednesday afternoon. “Our pace over the past couple of years has been outstanding, one of the tops in the Big Ten. I think that we have more 3-point shooting than we have had in the past. We may not have as much size, or post-up guys to go like Lamar or Mike, to get going on rolls. We still have that same system in place — i think you may see a little bit of a different shot selection — and not as many post ups with more drives and kicks to play off of each other.”

Ferry expects to play to his team’s personnel and hopes to use a talented back court to his advantage.

“We are a very unselfish team and will share the ball, we are very quick and athletic,” Ferry said. “We do have the ability to go small which can cause some problems (for opponents) as long, as we are able to compete and defend and rebound the basketball. You may see a little bit of change and the ability to go to a little bit of small ball.”

Chambers’ departure was perplexing for multiple players within the program, but Ferry said that the team’s culture has remained intact. Ferry said that the biggest thing in navigating the past month has been listening to the players and their feelings.

“The focus, from a staff standpoint was just listening,” Ferry said. “We sat down as a group and we listened. from there, we’ve kind of guided ourselves back to somewhat normalcy, if that’s the word you want to use.

“We’ve been a program built on that, we’re a relationship-based, family-based program,” Ferry said. “Talking to these guys about life is an everyday thing in our program. The relationship we have with these guys, whether it’s having lunch, having individual meetings, having group meetings with these guys, we’ve done that. We’ve always done that.”

Ferry’s coaching career as a head coach began during the 1998-99 season when he coached Plymouth State to a 22-8 record, before leading the Adelphi program to an 82-11 record over the course of three seasons.

From there, Ferry went to Long Island, where he was tasked with rebuilding the Blackbirds program, leaving with an overall record of 150-149, although he won 52 games in his final two seasons there. Ferry had less success in his final stop before Penn State where he coached at Duquesne and failed to record more than 17 wins in a season in his five years at the helm.

Ferry’s biggest challenge now stems from navigating Penn State in one of its most important seasons from a momentum standpoint in continuing the upward projection of the Nittany Lions’ team, while facing the Big Ten in perhaps its deepest season in memory. Seven teams in the Big Ten are ranked in the AP Preseason Poll, including Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois in the Top 10.

Ferry believes that the lessons that he has learned under Chambers as an assistant coach has helped him improve immensely to step back into a main coaching role at Penn State.

“I became a better coach over the past three years being an assistant here with the staff and working with (Chambers),” Ferry said. “I learned a lot. Everybody knows me as an offensive coach, but I do coach defense as well, but I learned a lot more.

“As you get older, I think I’m seeing the game a little bit differently being in this league,” he continued. “For the past three years, this is a big-time league, this is the best basketball in the country. You have to do things a little bit differently. I really felt like I became a better coach over the last three years being here.”

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges before the season even began was keeping the locker room. By keeping an open dialogue, Ferry has made it clear that he’s only focused on his players.

“The listening started the first day,” Ferry said. “You just had to listen. I mean, I think that’s one thing that we all learned through this pandemic and through the social injustice. I think the most important thing to do is listen before reacting. Obviously the stuff that’s said amongst our team, I’m keeping amongst our team. But there is great leadership in this program.”

The Nittany Lions will begin the 2020 season with a home non-conference match against Drexel on Nov. 25.

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