Basketball Position Preview: Shep Garner Leads Young Guards
Following the loss of D.J. Newbill, one of the most prolific scorers in Penn State’s history, Pat Chambers has his work cut out for him. Things only became more difficult on the backcourt when former starter Geno Thorpe left the program and transferred to South Florida in June. The good news is that there is talent, it’s just young and unproven, and there doesn’t appear to be a ton of depth behind them.
No matter what you think of Chambers’ tenure in Happy Valley, he’s proven he can develop guards. Tim Frazier took a massive step in his first season under Chambers, and Newbill exceeded every imaginable expectation after transferring from Southern Miss. If the Nittany Lions expect to be competitive this season, they’ll need a couple of these young guys to take their games to next level, similar to what Frazier and Newbill did in years past.
Starters: Shep Garner and Josh Reaves
Shep Garner was the team’s second leading scorer, but not surprisingly, he struggled with consistency in his first season as a Nittany Lion. The sophomore has a sweet looking stroke and has deep range on his jump shot, but would far too often settle for a contested jumper rather than driving to the basket. For the upcoming season, Garner will need to learn how to balance being the No. 1 option offensively, while still understanding that he needs to keep his teammates involved. He’ll also want to get to the free throw line more often, as he averaged just 1.7 free throws per game in 2014-’15. Lastly, expect the Roman Catholic High School product to see an increased role in leadership now that Newbill has graduated.
Joining Garner will be freshman Josh Reaves, a super-talented swingman that played at high school basketball powerhouse Oak Hill Academy. Reaves is a high-level athlete, as he displayed in high school and on Penn State Athletics. The freshman is an aggressive player with a high motor that’s just fun to watch. He knows how to score in a variety of ways, whether it’s catching-and-shooting off of a screen or attacking the rim. There will be an adjustment period for sure, especially from a physicality standpoint, but he’s a kid who will see major minutes from day one at Penn State.
Bench: Devin Foster, Isaiah Washington, Payton Banks
After Penn State’s two starting guards, the depth gets thin. Devin Foster is probably most experienced of the group, but averaged just 12.8 minutes in 19 games last season. The senior doesn’t do anything tremendously well, but has shown to be a heady player that understands his limitations. Whether it’s by necessity or not, he’ll see an increased role this season backing up Garner at point guard, and should be the first guard off the bench when Chambers decides to go small.
Payton Banks is the biggest guard on the roster at 6-foot-6, and one of the more versatile players on the squad too. He came to Penn State with a decent amount of hype, but to this point the California native hasn’t been able to produce all that much. After redshirting his freshman season, Banks averaged only 8.7 minutes in 29 games last season. He’s known for having a nice touch from beyond the arc, but had trouble — especially early in the season — knocking down the three with any regularity. Banks could be a potential wild card for Chambers, especially if that jump shot is on this season.
Last but not least, we have Isaiah Washington. After playing just three minutes in one game last season, Washington redshirted the rest of the year. Because of that, not many people outside of Penn State’s coaching staff truly know what to expect out of Washington this year. What we do know about Washington is that he’s very athletic — seriously — and was known as a defensive stalwart in high school. He should see some more time this season, but it’s probably reasonable to expect Chambers to bring the redshirt freshman along slowly.