2016/17 Penn State Men’s Basketball Preview
By: Matt Bortner – ESPN Radio 1450 Reporter
It has been quite some time since Penn State has had a group of players as talented as the one’s they have heading in to this season. To be frank, Penn State may have never seen a team as talented and athletic.
The state of the Nittany Lions program has not looked this good since the Nittany Lions won the NIT in 2010 followed by a NCAA Tournament berth in 2011. The 2011 season was the last of the Ed Dechellis tenure and the end of Penn State’s all-time leading scorer Talor Battle. A large part of their success came from a freshman class that was able to grow together until their senior years.
Like the Battle led Nittany Lions, Pat Chambers brings in a crop of freshman that will be able to share the court for the next four years. Touted as the best recruiting class in Penn State history, the basketball program has created some positive vibes in Happy Valley.
ESPN ranked Penn State’s recruiting class the 25th best in the nation. Four-star power forward Joe Hampton has since transferred out of Penn State to a community college for personal reasons.
Mike Watkins, F, 6-9/246, 4 Star, Phelps School, Philadelphia, PA
Watkins is actually a member of the 2015 recruiting class. To get more acquainted to the college lifestyle, he was redshirted last season and still has four years of eligibility left. Having a guy like Watkins softens the blow of losing Hampton. Watkins did not start playing basketball until high school and still has some ways to go, but the potential is limitless. Chambers and the other players have raved about the Philly native since day one. As part of the scout team, Watkins provided a tough matchup for teammates and improved on a daily basis. He brings a unique set of skills for a big man. Most talked about has been his ability to share the rock and find open teammates. He is figured to contribute from the start of the season but a learning curve should be expected. As the season progresses expect to see more and more of Watkins, he could be a key piece to the future of the program.
Tony Carr, PG, 6-3/198, 4 Star, Roman Catholic, Philadelphia, PA
Another key piece to the future of the program. Carr gives Penn State a true point guard for the next four years. While Shep Garner and Josh Reaves have done a serviceable job bringing the ball up the court, Carr will allow them to more naturally play off the ball. Carr is regarded as the highest ranked recruit for Chambers. ESPN ranks him as the 10th best point guard and the number one player in the state. One of three Roman Catholic grads in the recruiting class, Carr uses his height to see the floor over smaller defenders. Carr is not overly fast but seems to always be under control. Almost DJ Newbill like in his ability to beat defenders without exceptional quickness.
Lamar Stevens, SF, 6-7/218, 4 Star, Roman Catholic, Philadelphia, PA
The first thing that initially pops out is Stevens’ stature. Stevens is 218 pounds of pure muscle and explosiveness. He also brings a lot of versatility to the floor. Stevens is capable of playing either forward position and in a pinch can switch over to center. He should also add some much needed physicality. Offensively Stevens has a good mid-range game from the elbow extended and can get to the rim.
Nazeer Bostick, SG, 6-4/187, 3 Star, Roman Catholic, Philadelphia, PA
The last of the three Roman Catholic products. For one, it shouldn’t take the freshmen long to find chemistry. Watkins has already spent a year with the program and the other three played on the same team in high school. Bostick, like Stevens, is a leaper and plays around the rim. Nicknamed “horse,” Bostick is a fierce competitor and has knack for pulling down offense rebounds and finishing in traffic. He will probably see the least playing time of all the freshman but could become a big contributor down the stretch. Bostick needs to work on his outside shooting and maybe add some more pounds.
The Other Guys
Penn State does not have any seniors on their roster. That’s good news for a future of a program when they know what they will be returning. Despite their youth, the core group of players have plenty of experience. Junior Shep Garner returns as the team’s leading scorer at 14.8 points per game and has started all but one game is his collegiate career. Terrance Samuel also enters the mix at point guard. The transfer from Uconn has two years of eligibility left. As a freshman, Samuel provided key minutes in the Huskies run to a national championship. He brings a winning attitude to the squad. Along with Carr, Garner will be able to play at his more natural position off the ball.
Not lost in the wash is sophomore Oak Hill product Josh Reaves. Reaves is another guy where the sky is the limit. The team’s offseason MVP has put on 20 plus pounds (210 pounds) to his lanky frame which is much needed to adapt to physical Big Ten Play. Reaves missed six games last season due to mono. When Reaves played with energy, so did the Nittany Lions. An improved jump shot could really up his game.
With as much talent as Chambers squad has, he would like to score 80 or more points a game. He promises that will mean a much faster and up tempo offense. Chambers has lauded his team’s ability to share the ball. All those factors come at price and could mean a higher turnover rate, especially to start the year. It also could open up better three point opportunities for a team that has struggled in that department in recent years. Payton Banks, Isaiah Washington, and Davis Zemgulis are all capable of cashing in from beyond the arc. That’s what was hoped for out of Zemgulis in high school, but he struggled to keep his feet underneath of him. Zemgulis says he is now in the best shape of his life and Chambers believes he is much improved.
Lastly, the Nittany Lions desperately need junior center Julian Moore to break out of his shell. Moore has shown flashes, but at times looks lost on the court. At 6 foot and 10 inches Moore has a soft touch around the rim and an above average jumper. With a guy of his length, he is a naturally gifted shot blocker. Moore’s issue has been his strength and physicality. If Moore can learn to bang with the big boys, Penn State will be a much better team.
Chambers announced the starting lineup for their exhibition game against Lock Haven on Friday. It will Look like this: PG- Tony Carr SG- Shep Garner SF- Josh Reaves PF- Lamar Stevens C- Julian Moore. Payton Banks will sit out due to a lingering hamstring injury. Chambers hopes to get him back for the season opener.
A trip to the NIT and the outside looking in of the NCAA Tournament bid would be a win for the Nittany Lions this season. Best case scenario, the freshman grow into their roles quickly and earn one of the last spots to the dance. The biggest question will be how quickly the young talent adapts to the college game. Even if Chambers’ teams score 80 or so points a game, will the defense be able to hold their side of the bargain.