Penn State looking for more consistency
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Patrick Chambers watched as his best group of recruits started to blossom last season. Now he wants to see those young players hit their stride together.
“I want to see the development of these players,” Chambers said. “Obviously, having your starting five back is something we’re not used to. A lot of excitement around here, we’re climbing. I know you guys have seen that.”
Chambers’ positive outlook is based mostly on the raw talent and flashes of success his youngsters showed last season. Sophomores Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins return after finishing at or near the top of all the team’s major statistical categories. They’ll join veterans Shep Garner and Julian Moore to give the Nittany Lions a starting group Chambers believes can take the next step.
For a team that hasn’t won more than seven conference games since Chambers arrived in 2011, that next step has to be a big one if the Nittany Lions are to make the kind of progress they expect.
They believe they have the skills to be playing well into March.
“It’s definitely a goal of ours,” Stevens said. “We have to focus on the small things and not take anything for granted. We focus one practice at a time, one game at a time, and hopefully if we do that, then that dream and goal of ours will come true.”
The program has endured most of its struggles down the stretch, where it’s 29-74 in regular -season games after Dec. 31 under Chambers. Two of those wins came last year against ranked teams, and the Nittany Lions pushed then-No. 14 Purdue in an overtime loss that gave Chambers reason to be hopeful.
“It’s really more about consistency,” Chambers said. “That’s why we’re climbing. The climb’s never straightforward. It’s left, right, it could go back, but that’s a great tagline for what we’re trying to do. So as long as they’re consistent and bring a great approach and they stick together and stay connected and there’s a lot of love in the room, we’ve got a great chance to have a really successful year.”
CARR-YING THE OFFENSE
Carr led the team with 13.2 points and 4.2 assists per game and reported to preseason practice with nearly 30 more pounds of muscle on what was a wiry 6-foot-5 frame.
He also believes he’s better prepared mentally for his sophomore year.
“There were definitely some times where I kind of lost my cool last year, and let my emotions get the best of me out there on the court,” Carr said. “So I definitely made that a key point, just keeping myself under the wraps out there and just trying to be the best player and the best teammate that I can.”
HELP ON THE GLASS
Penn State often lost rebounding contests last season, and its deficiencies on the glass were notable nearly every time Watkins was on the bench.
Chambers added a player he thinks will complement Watkins, Stevens and Moore down low. Virginia Tech transfer Satchel Pierce is the team’s tallest player at 7 feet, and Chambers described him as “really skilled.”
“He’s going to add a dimension where those 8-0 (scoring) runs, those 10-0 runs, if Mike (Watkins) is not in the game, I’m very confident he can get us an easy one,” Chambers said.
Garner possesses the team’s best long shot, making 36 percent of his 3-pointers last season. He was often complemented by Payton Banks, who left the program in the offseason.
So far, Carr and Josh Reaves look to be the next best options if the team needs a shot from beyond the arc. Stevens made it a goal to improve his 3-point shot in the offseason, too.
Nazeer Bostick didn’t see a lot of action last winter mainly because a hand injury limited him to 18 games. When he did play, Bostick proved himself a reliable spell in the guard rotation.
He played double-digit minutes in the team’s win over then-No. 24 Maryland and in two other games before his injury. Considering he was part of back-to-back PIAA Championship teams with Stevens and Carr at Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic High, Bostick is itching to get more minutes alongside his longtime teammates.
“With so many transfers at the end of the season, he could have been one of those guys,” Chambers said. “He didn’t get the minutes that he wanted throughout the season. It’s very easy to change your attitude and do something different and fight the system. Instead, he embraced it, and I think that’s why he’s going to have such a breakout year.”