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Notebook: PSU needs to get feel of ball

| Friday, March 16, 2001

NEW ORLEANS - The most difficult adjustment Penn State will have to make for the NCAA Tournament won't involve the Superdome, the huge crowd, Providence's press defense or the live-or-die pressure.

It will be the basketball.

The NCAA uses a leather ball made by Rawlings for the Tournament. During the season, the Nittany Lions play and practice with a composite ball made by Spalding.

Lions guard Joe Crispin prefers to sling the Spalding Top Flight.

'I can wheel that thing around like no other ball,' he said Thursday. 'I do moves with that thing, and I don't even know how I do 'em. It's like it sticks to you.'

For the past four days, Penn State has been working out with the NCAA's Rawlings ball. Crispin said it feels slightly larger and the seams are a bit different, but he has modified his shooting touch.

'I think we're all well adjusted now,' he said.

RIDERS ON THE STORM
Wednesday night, a severe thunderstorm pounded the area as Penn State flew into New Orleans. The pilot at one point considered turning back to Memphis, Tenn., where the chartered plane had stopped to refuel.

'A few of the guys were white-knuckled by the time we got off the flight,' Lions coach Jerry Dunn said. 'But I think it was a good flight, because any flight that lands is a good flight to me.'

Dunn paused and laughed.

'There are some guys on the team who don't like to fly, and I think it affected them more than anyone else. Especially when the pilot comes on and says, 'We're gonna try to land this thing. We don't know how safe it's gonna be, but we're low on fuel, so we don't have an option.' He did a good job getting us down.'

LOW SEED, HIGH EXPECTATIONS
Forget the lousy seed, ho-hum record and tumultuous season that was marked by a seven-game losing skid and the dismissal of two players. Everyone is wary of 11th-seeded Temple (21-12), which faces sixth-seeded Texas (25-8) today in the first round.

'I don't think anybody thinks we will win this game,' Texas coach Rick Barnes said. 'You might as well flip the uniforms.'

This is Temple's 12th consecutive NCAA appearance, and it has a habit of playing tough in the early rounds. Oddsmakers have made the Owls a one-point favorite against the Longhorns.

'It is kind of a surprise, but we have a reputation of being giant killers in the (NCAA) Tournament,' Temple center Kevin Lyde said. 'We've won a lot of big games, and we are not intimidated.'

'It has to do with our history,' guard Lynn Greer said. 'We play defense, and we come out hard. It says a lot about our tradition.'

NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY
At 7-foot-1, Western Kentucky center Chris Marcus is a tall guy with a short basketball resume.

Marcus never played organized ball until four years ago, when he joined an AAU team. He played just one season in high school and averaged eight points and nine rebounds.

'I never had a passion for the game in high school,' Marcus said. 'But I guess it kicked in once I got to college and sat down to talk with coach (Dennis) Felton.'

Whatever Felton said, it worked. In just his second season with the Hilltoppers, Marcus was named the Sun Belt Conference's player of the year and tournament most valuable player. He averaged 16.9 points, 11.9 rebounds (second-best in the nation), and 3.2 blocks this season.

'No one has seen how good he is yet,' Western Kentucky guard Nashon McPherson said. 'He gets better with every game, every minute.'

Not long ago, Marcus spent his summers selling fish food and kitty litter at a retail store. Now, basketball is his full-time job, and NBA scouts already are checking him out.

'I'm shocked,' Marcus said. 'But then again, there's been a lot of hard work for me to get here.'

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