TUCSON, Ariz. -- There are a lot of Talor Battles who never get this reward. You know the type: Gritty, talented player performing for a mediocre program overshadowed by football.
That was Battle, a senior Penn State guard, for the majority of his four seasons. A nice player, not a great one, but one who had to carry the Nittany Lions many miserable nights. Maybe the best thing that can be said is that he persevered. Battle recently became the third player in NCAA history to get 2,000 points, 600 rebounds and 500 assists in his career. Still, it looked like his career would in depression until a run to the Big Ten tournament championship game was enough to put Penn State into the bracket for the first time since 2001.
"It's definitely been an uphill climb," said the 6-foot, 170-pound guard from Albany, N.Y.
Penn State plays its first NCAA game in a decade here Thursday morning, against Temple. The Nittany Lions are a middling 72-61 during Battle's four years. An NIT championship two seasons ago was followed by an 11-20 stinker in 2009-10. The low point had to be an 0-12 start in the Big Ten.
"That," Battle said, "was a God-awful feeling ... What we did [this season] was jell together and mesh and play together as a team. We have to, we don't have the exceptional talent of a Duke."
Who knew his surname would also become an appropriate verb for his life. His stepfather is Dan Buie, a once-marvelous player who ended up at Division II Washburn in Topeka, Kan. It was there in the late 70s that an eight-year-old Talor would shoot around on the Ichabods' floor at halftime.
His AAU team, Albany City Rocks, featured another more-famous New Yorker, Jimmer Fredette.
"I wasn't shy about shooting it myself," Battle said. "We just kind of rotated, whoever was hot. I've been talking to Jimmer a lot of late. Everybody wants to talk to him now."
Battle? Not so much until recently. The season looked like another wash until Penn State beat Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State to get to the Big Ten title game on Sunday. Even then, the tournament wasn't a certainty with a 19-14 record. You have to feel good about a guy who took 130 career starts to get to this point, becoming the Big Ten's second-leading scorer this season (20.1 points) and the school's all-time scorer.
It's not clear if the NCAA selection committee actually knew, but the scheduled a "rematch" in Penn State's opening round NCAA game. According to Battle, the Lions were pummeled by Temple in a preseason scrimmage.
"The most important thing was they out-toughed us," Battle said.
Not anymore, at least not now. Penn State is back in basketball for this short, little while.
"This," Battle said, "is all new to us."