Before there was All-Big Ten guard, academic all-world and certified Mathlete John Urschel, Penn State had John Amaechi. He was not only arguably the one of the top five Nittany Lions basketball players of the past 30 years (OK, not exactly a storied history there to contend with — but still), he also was given a national academic award for men’s basketball players. Now a psychologist in London, Amaechi remains a very proud public Penn Stater.
I spoke to him this week in preparation for a story I’m doing on The Return to Rec game this Saturday. As the centerpiece of the final teams to play at Rec Hall, I figured he was as good as any to talk about the old barn. Look for that story to run Saturday in The Trib.
While I had him on the phone from across the proverbial pond, I figured I’d also kind of catch up with him. Amaechi loves Penn State enough that he says he rarely misses an annual trip back to State College — even from London. This past Homecoming in October, Amaechi was the Grand Marshall of the parade.
Amaechi keeps up with the Nittany Lions’ football and men’s basketball teams (the former mostly via Twitter; the latter enough so that he has developed a relationship with coach Pat Chambers). He is staging a “Big Man” camp at his youth/sports charitable center in Great Brittan, and Amaechi said he is inviting all of the PSU forwards/centers to attend.
An occupational psychologist by trade (Amaechi also frequently does public speaking, is an author and runs his foundation), Amaechi keeps in touch with the Penn State psychology department, particularly “frequently”speaking with Dr. Rick Jacobs.
“I think I always have thought that Penn State was the place that gave me my opportunity, it was the place that despite all we have heard negatively about the Second Mile and… Penn State was the place that told me I had a responsibility as an athlete to be a role model. And that has stuck with me.”
It’s obvious Amaechi has an affinity for Chambers, whom he likens to his former coach at Penn State, Bruce Parkhill:
“He’s one of those type of people who’s a taskmaster, who demanded that you brought your ‘A’ game every moment: In the gym, in the classroom and at all times. And I just lament, why aren’t there young people who want that challenge? Why don’t they, instead of wanting to sit in the program where they can mature gently over four years and take the easy road, instead have to step up and contribute that first year. Because that’s the opportunity that’s available at Penn State. To come in, step up and contribute. The young people that have stepped in right now, that is the effort they are making.”
Like any other Penn State alumnus, Amaechi has his thoughts on the Nittany Lions’ football program. In the past, he has not been shy in saying things that have gotten him into some hot water with alumni concerning the Jerry Sandusky scandal. He had nothing but good things to say about second-year football coach Bill O’Brien, with whom he recently appeared on a radio show with:
“I think to my mind Bill seems to be a very principled guy and very focused on getting the program not back to where it was – rather reasserting some values that he holds very closely in discipline and teamwork and representing yourselves as individuals. It seems to me that’s what he’s trying to get back to. Instead of looking back, he’s looking to what Penn State can be in the next 10 years.”
Amaechi says he regularly attends Penn State Alumni Association events in London — many of which involve watching the football team. He intends on attending next season’s opener against Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland.