As the confetti fell at Madison Square Garden following Penn State's 69-63 victory against Baylor in the 2009 NIT Championship game, former Nittany Lion forward Jamelle Cornley embraced then-sophomore Talor Battle and told him "This is your team now." Battle, of course, went on to lead the 2010-2011 Lions to their first NCAA Tournament in a decade.
Now, as possibly the best player in the history of the Penn State program rides off into the sunset, the torch must be passed once again, and soon-to-be junior point guard Tim Frazier appears poised to fill Battle's role as cornerstone of the program.
The Houston, Texas native joined the Lions as a three-star rated prospect at the beginning of the 2009-2010 season and saw playing time quickly with mixed results. He went off for 19 points in only his second game wearing Blue and White against Robert Morris, but faded as the year went on, failing to notch double figures in any Big Ten games. He finished the season with averages of 5.0 points, 2.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game. Not bad, but a far cry from the player he'd become over the next year.
Frazier opened the 2010-2011 season as the starting point guard following the transfer of Chris Babb. With his jump shot still developing, most hoped he'd focus more on distributing the ball to the four seniors in the starting lineup with him, and he did just that. His assist rate doubled all the way up to 5.1 and he posted a solid 2.1 assist to turnover ratio, too.
The sophomore also did some great work on the boards despite his position and 6'1" frame, finishing with an average of 3.9 rebounds per game. Following in the foot steps of Battle, Frazier proved he could hold his own on the glass and take pressure off of his forwards down in the trenches.
Toward the end of the season, however, in some of Penn State's biggest games, Frazier showed he could score, too. In the Lions' crucial victory Big Ten Tournament victory against Michigan State March 12, Frazier shocked the CBS announcing crew of Jim Nantz, Steve Kerr and Clark Kellogg by going off for 22 points while dishing six assists and grabbing eight rebounds.
It was then that Frazier showed that not only can he distribute the basketball and grab rebounds, he can score in the big moments and pressure situations.
As Frazier prepares to lead a roster with 12 players of freshman and sophomore eligibility in 2011-2012, that's huge. Penn State has no consistent scorers returning, and if Frazier can grow into the scorer we saw in Indianapolis, he'll be a dangerous, dangerous player with solid rebounding and ball distribution skills already in his back pocket. His jumps shot still needs work, and there will likely be a bit of a learning curve as teams begin gameplanning to shut him down rather than some of his teammates, but he's shown what he can do. Next year will just be a matter of learning to do it consistently.
Yes, Penn State is losing quite a bit as seniors Battle, Jeff Brooks, David Jackson and Andrew Jones graduate this week in Happy Valley. If Frazier's growth in 2010-2011 is any indication of his potential, however, the Lions will have a dependable leader ready to go by the time November rolls around to kick off a new era of Nittany Lion basketball.