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Shooting Guard Is Wide Open for Nittany Lions

For the second time in three years, D.J. Newbill will replace Tim Frazier at point guard.

The senior guard took over for Frazier in 2012, when Frazier ruptured his Achilles tendon early in the non-conference season. Now, with Frazier navigating the Boston Celtics’ preseason roster, Newbill will once again have the “opportunity” to run point, according to coach Patrick Chambers.

That leaves the shooting guard position, where Newbill scorched opponents for 17.8 points per game en route to a Second Team All-Big Ten selection last year, completely open.

The Nittany Lions, who return four of their five consistent starters from 2013, have plenty of options. “We’ve got some great competition at the two [position],” Chambers said at his media day press conference on Tuesday.

Chambers named sophomore Geno Thorpe, senior John Johnson, and redshirt freshman Payton Banks as the frontrunners for the starting job. “Those three guys are getting at it,” said Chambers.

Thorpe, who averaged 3.2 points per game in 32 appearances last year, won’t provide the offensive output of Newbill. But the 6-foot-3 Pittsburgh native is a stout defender, and by season’s end showed an ability to get to the rim.

Johnson transferred from Pittsburgh, and wasn’t eligible until Dec. 22 last season. That day, during his first game playing in a Penn State uniform, Johnson torched Mount Saint Mary’s for 20 points. It looked like Johnson was the plug the Nittany Lions needed to spark the 8-4 Lions, who had just collapsed against Princeton at Rec Hall.

But Johnson, who boasts tremendous speed, struggled through conference play, often hoisting contested three-pointers that seldom found the basket. Soon, he was hardly seeing playing time. But Johnson has proven basketball acumen — he started all 39 games at Pitt as a true freshman, and made All-State four times in high school.

While Johnson is six feet tall, Chambers also said he “could go really big” and start 6-foot-6 Payton Banks. Banks, who redshirted last year, looks like a Big Ten guard.

And there are the newcomers. Heavily recruited true freshmen Isaiah Washington and Shep Garner, and transfer junior Devin Foster, are all expected to compete for playing time.

Chambers lauded Washington’s basketball intelligence and curiosity. “He’s been to my office consistently and always asks questions,” he said. Chambers also said he’s one of the more athletic players on the team, and thinks the 6-foot-3 guard may be able to touch the top of the backboard.

“I think he’s going to be a great defender for us,” said Newbill. “He can really stroke the ball.”

Garner and Foster will primarily back up Newbill at point guard.

Newbill said Foster, a junior college transfer, is one of the best passers to come through Penn State in a long time, and is excellent in the pick and roll. Newbill praised Garner, also a Philly-based point guard, for his tenacity.

“They’re competing,” said Chambers. “They’re not taking a backseat to anybody.”

If the season started today, Chambers suggested Johnson, Thorpe, or Banks would start at the two spot. But the fourth-year coach has a month to make his decision before the Lions tip off their season against Morgan State on Nov. 14.

Regardless, he’ll have the luxury of a deep bench. Last year, Chambers often dipped four-deep into his reserve. This year, he has 10 players who could see playing time.

“I wouldn’t be opposed to [playing 10],” he said.

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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