Penn State's D.J. Newbill concedes that the game against Drexel on Saturday has special meaning. Drexel will be the only Philadelphia school that the 6-foot-4 Strawberry Mansion standout will face this season.
Newbill, a senior guard, will be familiar with his opponent in the game at the PPL Center in Allentown. During the summer, Drexel often held open-gym workouts in which some of the top college basketball players in the city, including Newbill, competed.
"It's always good playing against a Philadelphia school," Newbill said in a recent telephone interview. "I know [Drexel coach Bruiser Flint] really well and he has those guys playing tough and physical, and it's going to be a battle."
Newbill is the leader of a Penn State team that is 10-1, its best start since beginning 13-0 in the 1995-96 season, which ended in an NCAA tournament berth.
He is averaging 21.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 38 percent from beyond the arc.
The statistic that shows his true importance is minutes played: Newbill is averaging 38.27 (fourth nationally).
"He's a thoroughbred and is in great physical condition," said fourth-year coach Pat Chambers, a former Villanova assistant and Philadelphia University graduate. "He does the little things a grown man does - cold tubs, ice, eating the right things, getting sleep."
Having a heavy workload is nothing new for Newbill, who averaged 34.4 minutes and 17.8 points last season for a 16-18 team.
Newbill transferred to Penn State after being a starter at Southern Mississippi as a freshman, where he averaged 30.5 minutes and 9.2 points.
After sitting out a season because of NCAA transfer rules, Newbill averaged 36.6 minutes and 16.3 points in his first Penn State season, 2012-2013.
Throughout his career, Newbill says he has been ready for the extended minutes.
"It's been good," said Newbill, whose starting backcourt mate is Shep Garner (10.5 ppg.), a freshman from Roman Catholic. "Coach has done a good job mixing practice reps so I can be fresh, and the training staff has been great with massages, ice, hot tubs and everything."
Penn State has needed Newbill on the court as much as possible. The Nittany Lions have won five games by four points or fewer.
"Last year we struggled in late-game situations and this year we have been in a lot of close games and have been able to come through," Newbill said.
Drexel (2-7) is coming off an 80-70 loss at Buffalo on Tuesday. Damion Lee, Drexel's 6-6 redshirt junior, leads the Dragons with a 20.7 scoring average.