JoePa cheers on Penn St. hoops, waxes about NYC Print
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Thursday, 02 April 2009 10:15
NCAAB Headline News


 STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) -Penn State's run to the NIT championship game conjures up old-school basketball memories for Joe Paterno.
The Hall of Fame football coach planned Thursday to join a bevy of Nittany Lions fans - including 33 busloads of students - traveling to Madison Square Garden in his native New York to root on Penn State against Baylor.
Ever the storyteller, the 82-year-old Paterno can spin some yarns about hoops, which he calls his second-favorite sport.
``Now that I'm coaching, I better say I like football better,'' he joked Thursday morning.
Taking advantage of a brief break in the busy spring practice schedule, Paterno has turned into the basketball team's cheerleader-in-chief.
ament, Penn State hopes its NIT success establishes a foundation for the future.
``We're on the verge,'' Paterno said. ``Look out for us, we're coming!''
Born in Brooklyn, Paterno spent many a summer day playing hoops growing up in the 1940s.
There were pickup games at Marine Park with Andrew ``Fuzzy'' Levane, who went on to win the 1943 NIT tournament with St. John's, and play and coach in the NBA.
Frank Torre, the older brother of Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre, played there at times, too.
``I'd get on the bike, go to Marine Park, get there at 6 or 7 o'clock,'' Paterno said. ``Mom packed me a lunch. I'd be there all day.''
Paterno played college basketball at Brown, too, where he said he thought he was a good defender and ballhandler until he played against Bob Cousy at Holy Cross. He got outclassed by the Boston Celtics star and basketball Hall of Famer, who also grew up in New York.
But it's remembering the subway rides into the city - back when a train trip cost a dime - to watch games at the old Madison Square Garden that especially made JoePa nostalgic. Today's Garden is about 15 blocks south of where the old structure sat.
Upper-deck seats in the early 1940s cost 25 cents. A ``hot beef'' sandwich at an eatery around the corner cost 50 cents.
Mikan play there when Mikan was in college. Back then, local fans thought he ``looked like a freak,'' Paterno said.
At Penn State, Paterno said he used to attend basketball games regularly, but he hasn't gone consistently in recent years in part because the attention from fans at the Jordan Center turns a night out into ``a little bit of a circus.'' He did watch the NIT wins a couple weeks ago versus George Mason and Rhode Island.
Penn State's 26 wins going into Thursday is one better than the previous single-season school record set in 1989-90, and 2008-09 is the first season Penn State will have finished over .500 in basketball coach Ed DeChellis' six-year tenure.
``Ed's had a lot of poise,'' Paterno said. ``He's worked hard to get where he is.''
Still, getting a program that can win consistently - and get to the NCAAs - has proven tough to build at Penn State, a Big Ten school that draws much of its fan base from Big East-dominated Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.
The popular football program regularly recruits from the region, though it can be a tougher sell for basketball, especially in the talent-rich Philadelphia area. There, Big Five schools such as NCAA Final Four-bound Villanova hog the headlines.
The Big Ten Network has helped in getting more TV exposure, Paterno said.
``We're in a tough area, and that's why this NIT thing has been so important,'' Paterno said. ``We just have not had the visibility or the location so that we can compete with some of these (schools), but we are starting to get that now.''
 

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