Pat Chambers finally secured his “breakthrough” recruiting class last season, adding three players from Philadelphia powerhouse Roman Catholic to a redshirt freshman big man in Mike Watkins in order to form the most highly regarded group he’s ever brought to Happy Valley. While the Nits had their moments (including beating MSU at the Palestra in January), overall it was a par for the course season for PSU in the Chambers era, as they went 15-18 overall and just 6-12 in the conference. The extreme youth of their playing group certainly was a factor, but Chambers is fast running out of excuses. He’s unquestionably got talent on the roster now, a group which looks the part of a legit Big Ten team physically and athletically. Now they have to actually PLAY like said type of team.
Payton Banks – Banks surprised many around the program by opting to leave and grad transfer to South Florida to play for Brian Gregory. The 6’5” wing started 13 games last year and was PSU’s 4th leading scorer at 10.4ppg. He was also their top 3 point shooter at 36% on the season, with about 2/3 of his attempts coming from outside the arc. At a minimum, Banks would have been a key reserve and likely would have played somewhere near the same 27mpg he did last season. He’ll be missed.
Terrence Samuel – Samuel was another surprising departure, as he’d sat out a year after transferring in from Uconn. Samuel gave this team a veteran presence with real defensive bite off the bench. He didn’t shoot particularly well but had a better than 2:1 assist to TO ratio as a backup point and provided a needed 17mpg of bench playing time.
Isaiah Washington – Washington was the 3rd Nit to transfer out after last season, though his departure was far less surprising. Washington only played in 18 games last season and with the influx of talent on the roster had seen his role and minutes decline substantially from the previous season. The irony is that with the two departures above, if he’d stayed, he’d likely be in line for a regular rotation spot.
Tony Carr – Carr pretty much lived up to advance billing as a freshman point guard last season, leading PSU in scoring and assists. He’s a very athletic, long 6’3” point guard who averaged 13.2 ppg and more than 4 assists per contest, while also grabbing 4.8 rpg. Carr has all the physical tools and competitiveness you could ask for…he drew a lot of fouls and generally plays an aggressive style. What he needs is refinement of his shot and his overall decision making, as he was as mistake prone as one typically expects freshmen point guards to be. He shot 38/32% from the floor and that’s got to improve if he’s going to become an elite Big Ten player, but there’s little reason to think he can’t do it. His taking a leap forward in consistency overall might be the single biggest need for the Nits as a team. If it happens, they become much better.
Lamar Stevens – Stevens was another freshman who matched the hype for the most part. He was second in scoring and rebounding and like Carr, played aggressively throughout the season. Stevens has a face up/perimeter game but probably needs to more consistently utilize it to take the next step up as a player. When he’s rolling, he’s an extremely difficult cover.
Shep Garner – Garner is the veteran of this group. The 6’3” senior moved off the ball with the arrival of Carr and had a solid season, averaging 12 ppg. He shot 35.7% from deep and while that number isn’t bad, it needs to rise for this team to move upward in the conference standings. Especially with Banks having moved on, Garner is the top jumpshooting threat for PSU and they need him to be a true sniper.
Mike Watkins – I love Watkins’ potential. As a redshirt freshman, the 6’10” center averaged 9.7ppg and 8.1 rpg while blocking 2.73 shots per game. Watkins is a strong and athletic big man who knows what he is, plays within himself on offense and provides serious rim protection defensively. With him, it’s simply about getting more experience and developing a little better judgment defensively, in order to avoid fouls and stay on the court. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him take a big step forward as a sophomore. On a team with a couple of other guys who have tons of potential to grow into all conference level players, Watkins has the biggest ceiling. I can see him as an NBA player in time if his development continues to head in the right direction.
Josh Reaves – Reaves is a 6’4” junior who gives PSU a little bit of everything as an athletic wing with some length. He’s better attacking the rim than shooting jumpers (just 32% from 3) but his value is as a jack of all trades. He can defend at a high level. He gave the team 4 boards per game from the perimeter. He had more assists than turnovers as well, so he’s a good secondary ballhandling option for Chambers. If he can improve his consistency as a shooter, Reaves could be a serious offensive weapon as well as an all around impact guy.
Julian Moore – He’s a 6’10” senior who provides decent post reserve minutes behind Watkins. Moore is a solid offensive rebounder and he provides legitimate size off the PSU bench defensively. He’s never been a particularly strong offensive player and I wouldn’t expect that to change now, but as a reserve option for 15-18 mpg, he’s not bad.
Nazeer Bostick – Bostick is a 6’4” sophomore wing who was part of the same Roman Catholic high school program that Carr and Stevens played for. He didn’t see a ton of time as a freshman but after the departure of Banks and Samuel, he’s the most experienced perimeter reserve on the roster and a sure bet to see consistent minutes in this season’s rotation. Chambers likes his energy and toughness, so those would be positives. Whether he can display the necessary ball skills to be an impact player in a reserve role remains to be seen.
Davis Zemgulis – Zemgulis is a 6’6” junior forward who might also be in line for more consistent minutes this season after sparingly playing as a sophomore. He came to PSU with a rep as a perimeter shooter but hasn’t done that particularly well thus far in his college career (just 3-13 from 3 last season). If he could develop into even a mid 30s deep shooter, he could help a team which needs more production from outside the arc.
Jamari Wheeler – Wheeler is a 6’ point guard out of Florida who opted for PSU in late April and they’re very glad to have him, given their unexpected transfer departures. Wheeler has a rep as a fast point who also has some leadership traits. He needs to develop more consistency with his jumper but should factor into PSU’s rotation immediately, at least to give Carr some breathers at the lead guard.
John Harrar – Harrar is a 6’8” 230lbs forward who originally committed to Army to play football. Another late signee for the Nits, Harrar is a solid athlete who might need a year or so to really hone his game at this level. He played in a suburban league which isn’t reputed to have the best level of competition, so it’s tough to say how quickly he might be ready to help.
Trent Buttrick – Buttrick is a 6’8” 200lbs forward from Florida who also, like Harrar, arrives as a bit of a sleeper. They see him as a stretch 4 in time, and PSU definitely needs to upgrade its perimeter shooting.
Satchel Pierce – Pierce is a 6’11” 250lbs transfer from Virginia Tech who will have two years of eligibility remaining after sitting out last year. He didn’t put up much in the way of production for the Hokies but the expectation is that he can provide depth for this season and likely step into a larger rotation role as a senior when Julian Moore departs. I would expect him to see at least a limited role in the rotation this season.
Might be hard to believe, but this will be Chambers’ 7th season in Happy Valley. Even at a school like Penn State, where pressure on the basketball program is at a minimum, there comes a time when results have to begin to matter, and I think we’re at that moment with Chambers. He’s only had one winning season overall, has never won more than 7 conference games in a season, and hasn’t come close to an NCAA bid during his time at PSU.
The talent, at least in the starting lineup, is at a level where I think NCAA expectations are reasonable. This is still a young lineup, with 3 sophs, a junior and just 1 senior, but experience can’t be a complete excuse at this point, as Carr, Stevens and Watkins all gained a tremendous amount of it last year and should be improved as second year players. To me, the big question is what’s behind them. If Banks and Samuel had stuck around, I’d probably have been tempted to put PSU a couple of notches higher than I have them here, as I really believe in their young guys. However, as things stand, you have to wonder about where this team will be come the back end of February, as I think the starters are going to play big minutes and might be worn down eventually.
If Chambers can develop a couple of perimeter guys (Bostck and Wheeler seem the most obvious candidates) as reliable 15 mpg options off the bench, PSU has a shot to make the Tournament IMO. That’s a big “if,” however, and if it doesn’t happen, I think Chambers might be facing the end of his tenure. Even at PSU, you can’t go on forever without winning.