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Newbill raising profile of Penn State hoops

Strawberry Mansion grad is ninth in nation in scoring

Penn State Nittany Lions guard D.J. Newbill (2) dribbles the ball down the court during the first half against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State wins 61-58. (Brett Carlsen/USA Today)
Penn State Nittany Lions guard D.J. Newbill (2) dribbles the ball down the court during the first half against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State wins 61-58. (Brett Carlsen/USA Today)Read more

STATE COLLEGE - For the first time in quite some time, Penn State basketball has more than just a pulse; it's an able-bodied citizen in the college basketball community.

The Nittany Lions are 10-1, heading into Saturday's 2 p.m. game with Drexel at Allentown's PPL Center.

Their outstanding record wouldn't be that way without one man lifting the Lions into college-hoops relevancy.

A veteran, crafty guard from Strawberry Mansion High, senior D.J. Newbill has given a success-starved fan base hope. And he's doing that on a nightly basis after wrestling with years of adversity.

Newbill has been lights out this year. Currently, the 6-4, slashing ball-handler is averaging 21.9 points per game, good for ninth nationally. Earlier in the season, Newbill ranked as high as third.

That, for the most part, is unheard of for a Penn State basketball player. But is Newbill checking the national scoring ranks?

"Nah," Newbill said. "I'm more focused on getting wins."

And with him playing a Big Ten-leading 38.3 minutes per game, it's an understatement to say he's a major factor in those wins.

It's not even just the scoring; Newbill also is averaging 5.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.

"He's got to continue doing it all," said head coach Patrick Chambers, a Newtown Square native. "That's what this team needs from him."

This isn't the first successful season for Newbill, but the journey to get here hasn't been the easiest.

Coming out of high school, the Philly guard was supposed to play at Marquette; that is, until then-coach Buzz Williams pulled his scholarship in the 11th hour, forcing Newbill to look for other options.

He went to play for a different set of Golden Eagles at Southern Miss, where he earned Conference USA All-Freshman honors.

But Newbill wanted to play closer to home, which is why he transferred to Penn State. After sitting out a year per NCAA rules, he was eager to start the 2012-13 season.

Then, on Sept. 15, 2012, Newbill's mother, Tawanda Roach, passed away after a short battle with cancer.

Newbill fought throughout the year - a campaign that saw fellow star guard Tim Frazier suffer a season-ending injury in the opening weeks.

In Frazier's absence, the tattooed, hard-nosed guard had to make a leap, both on the court and personally. And he did.

Newbill led the Lions in scoring and leadership, and the ups-and-downs of that season have primed him for the present and what's ahead.

"I'm older, wiser and better," Newbill said.

Newbill's prolific scoring is being met with added defensive pressure. But compared to his past, the increased attention on him, filled with high traps and double-teams, seems like nothing.

Chambers said Newbill is handling the success "like a mature man."

"You can see, he's getting a little frustrated," Chambers said. "But he's holding it together."

It's not just Chambers who sees what Newbill has accomplished in spite of a mounting offensive burden.

Junior forward Brandon Taylor, a Tabernacle, N.J., native, is one of Newbill's roommates and closest friends. Taylor, who spent the offseason with Newbill coming to the gym early and staying late, said he isn't surprised at all by his teammate's surge of productivity.

"He's pretty much unguardable," Taylor said. "Even if he starts with two points in the first half, he'll finish with 25. He's playing at an unbelievable level."

Newbill said it feels good to know that the hard work put in with Taylor and others over the past few months has paid off.

But the seasoned senior knows there's still plenty of games left on this year's slate. The Lions have the entire Big Ten conference schedule ahead of them, along with two more nonconference contests.

Newbill's rise into the upper echelon of players nationally undoubtedly has been an extraordinary way to start the season.

But for the Lions to keep winning, and raising the profile of Penn State basketball, Newbill must carry on with what he's been doing non-stop in recent years: persevering.