Just a month away from the 2017-18 season, head coach Pat Chambers and the Penn State men’s basketball team emerged for media day.
This year’s team will feature five newcomers — including junior big man Satchel Pierce, who is eligible after sitting out last year due to the transfer rules. Despite losing four players from last year’s team to various reasons, the Nittany Lions will return all five of their starters. That looks to bode well for allowing the team to get off to a fast start this season.
Penn State appears to have increased depth in certain areas — especially on the low post. With the additions of freshmen Trent Buttrick and John Harrar, Chambers has the opportunity to have a solid big man rotation that hasn’t been available recently.
With the first exhibition game against Bloomsburg University on November 5, here are some of the highlights from the day.
The head coach of the team talked about a numerous amount of different topics during his press conference. The overall message from Chambers is that his team is taking things step-by-step, and he even referenced a fellow Penn State coach.
“The guy across the street says 1-0. He never goes back, he never goes too far ahead,” Chambers said. “He’s always 1-0, and that’s our mantra.”
Mirroring similar concepts that James Franklin preaches for his football team, Chambers is taking a sound approach to keep everyone focused on the task at hand.
“We’re staying present, we’re staying here and now. I can’t worry about what’s going to happen in March,” Chambers said. “All I can worry about is today, and how we can get this team better today.”
He was very honest about some of the deficiencies that his team showed last year. He stressed that defense is going to have to be a strength for this team to be successful. “We gave up 72-plus points [last year], and rebounding we were one of the worst in the Big Ten. Can’t be more direct than that.”
When asked about a player that’s really improved his level of play during the offseason, Chambers referenced sophomore guard Nazeer Bostick.
“He’s one of those guys that I think might have a breakout year for us,” Chambers said. “I think he’s going to be right there with Josh as the guys that are going to do it all for us.”
Freshman Jamari Wheeler is going to be striving for minutes as the back up point guard behind Tony Carr. Chambers raved about the level of competitiveness and energy that he has immediately injected to this roster on a daily basis.
“He’s got the speed of Tim Frazier. He’s got toughness beyond his years. He’s not a typical freshman,” Chambers said. “And he competes. It’s the best thing that’s happened to Tony Carr. He gets after Tony Carr from the time he walks in to practice until the time it ends.”
Sophomore forward Stevens, who averaged the second-most points per game last year for the Nittany Lions, is currently on the sides watching practice after suffering an ankle injury recently.
“It definitely sucks watching on the sidelines, watching your teammates compete. You just wish you can be out there,” he said. He isn’t worried about his injury though as the sophomore forward said he should be back in a week or two.
An area that Stevens improved upon throughout the season was his ability to start shooting from the perimeter. Continuing that upwards trend was a point of emphasis for not only him, but the entire team.
“It [3-point shooting] was a focus for our team, losing some of the guys that we lost, that everybody worked on their three. I think it’s been improved by a lot of players on this team,” Stevens said. “It’s something that I really focused on in the offseason.”
Sophomore guard Carr, who led the team with 13.2 points and 4.2 assists per game in the 2016-17 slate, confirmed a tweet that was sent out by Penn State’s strength and conditioning coach Greg Miskinis about the point guard gaining more than 20 pounds this offseason. He made sure to point out that it was the good kind of weight.
“I added 28 pounds of muscle, not just 28 pounds,” Carr said. He mentioned that he was really pushed hard by Miskinis and the rest of his teammates to work hard every day.
Carr visited California for the first time when he was invited to the Nike Skills Academy this summer.
“I took a whole lot from that experience,” Carr said. “Just learning from all of those NBA guys and coaches out there. And just playing against the best players in college right now, it was great on a day-to-day basis competing and learning little tips here and there.”
Heading into his final season at Penn State, Garner wants to make this a great year. At this point, he’s not too worried about what his legacy at Penn State will be once he leaves.
“Right now, I’m focusing on what’s in front of me. I’m trying to make this season the best season it could possibly be,” Garner said. “We’re focusing on putting the work in every day, trying to get better every day and at the end of the season, hopefully we’re winners.”
With seven players hailing from the Philadelphia area, Garner believes this is one of the more tight-knit group that he’s ever been a part of.
“I think this team, because we’re all so close, it makes it much easier on the basketball court. We genuinely love each other. We genuinely want to see each other do great,” Garner said. “There’s no hiccups; everyone’s pulling in the same direction. We want to keep our team as connected as possible so we can win as many basketball games as we can.”