STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Talor Battle let out a little grunt each time he stopped and popped a mid-range jumper. Back and forth, from the foul line to the baseline.
Just another recent practice for the hardest-working player at Penn State. Battle has a slew of school and Big Ten records to show for his efforts — but no NCAA tournament appearance.
The senior's last, and best, shot to end that streak starts Thursday, when the sixth-seeded Nittany Lions (16-13, 9-9) face No. 11 seed Indiana (12-19, 3-15) in the first round Thursday of the conference tournament.
Battle is brutally honest about what needs to happen for Penn State to finally end a decadelong NCAA tourney drought.
"No way, we're not going to fool ourselves," he said Tuesday before practice when asked if he thought the Nittany Lions had enough of a resume to get in the tournament before Big Ten tourney play begins. "We know we've got some work to do."
And he knows about work. After all, he seemingly scratched and clawed his way through adversity his whole life — whether on the court or off.
Like at age 6, when Battle joined his first basketball team. It was at a YMCA.
"He was so little, he looked like he was 4," said his mother, Denise Murphy. "Everybody looked at him like he had eight heads."
Murphy proudly boasts that Battle only scored 56 points in his first game — in a jersey so large she had to tie it in a knot to make it fit.
His stepfather, Dan Buie, is known around Harrisburg circles as one of the most talented players to emerge from that area. Buie is the only father that Battle has ever known, but someone who has drifted in and out of his life.
Battle's oldest brother, Tracy, has spent time in prison, but is now free and works in the Albany, N.Y., area as a counselor.
Two years ago, in the middle of the season that ended with Penn State's NIT championship, Battle traveled extensively between Happy Valley and the family's home in Albany after Murphy was hospitalized with what she called a "cardiac event."
Murphy said she's fine now, and moved to the State College area nearly two years ago to be closer to Battle and another son, Taran Buie, who had committed to Penn State. Battle was born in Harrisburg, and Murphy's family still lives in the Harrisburg area.
Through it all, Battle has assumed a non-assuming personality, confident in his abilities, but modest enough to not flaunt an attitude off the court. Taking care of the family — he is the third-oldest among nine siblings — is always on his mind, Murphy said.
"No one prepares you to be thrust into the limelight and be the star ... he has the utmost confidence in his ability," said Terry Resnick, a family friend who has known Battle since he was 6. "When he's off the court, he's just a nice kid, who's turned into a nice young man."
On the court, his accomplishments can get overshadowed in Happy Valley, where football is king. Nationally, Battle doesn't draw the spotlight he would have if he were playing at a program that wins consistently, or one in a major media market.
Still, it's hard to ignore his impressive career statistics: only the third Division I player after Maryland's Grevis Vasquez and Duke's Danny Ferry to eclipse 2,000 points, 600 rebounds and 500 assists. He's just 19 points shy of setting the Penn State scoring record of 2,138 set in 1955 by Jesse Arnelle.
And, perhaps representative of Battle's career, Penn State shook off a lethargic 20-point loss to top-ranked Ohio State last week on Senior Night with a 66-63 victory at Minnesota for a confidence boost heading into Indianapolis. Battle scored 22 points.
"Everyone wants to talk about his basketball, and that's his craft and his stage," coach Ed DeChellis said. "But what I am so proud of him about is the person that he is. Whatever he decides he wants to do in life — if it's basketball — he'll be successful."
Though it would sure give Battle a big smile if the Nittany Lions can get to the NCAA tournament.