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Lamar Stevens Ready To (Finally) Lead Penn State Hoops Trip To The Big Dance

It was a busy summer for Penn State hoops.

Rasir Bolton and Daniil Kasatkin left to chase other opportunities, with the former returning to his native Russia and the latter transferring to Iowa State. Curtis Jones Jr. joined the program as a graduate transfer, and with a now-healthy Mike Watkins, this pair of big men will take more active roles for Penn State’s offense beyond the arc.

But the biggest factor for Penn State coming into the 2019-2020 season will be (and has always been) star forward Lamar Stevens. His decision to return to Happy Valley for his senior year has sent a strong message to entire team, and to head coach Pat Chambers, especially.

“Lamar has a belief in the guys in that locker room,” Chambers said. “It’s powerful. That’s a leader. That’s a pioneer. It’s an outlier. And for Penn State, we need guys like that.”

Stevens has made an impact on the Nittany Lions since he first stepped on campus. He started all 33 games his freshman season on his way to being named a First Team All-Big Ten Freshman and averaging 12.7 points per game and 5.5 rebounds.

The Roman Catholic product has grown every year since, reaching 19.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game last season. He’s always been an explosive player, full of athleticism who crashes the boards with intensity and is never afraid to go hard in the paint. Stevens is certainly no stranger to laying down highlight-reel slams either, whether in transition or off lobs from his teammates.

This talent has been recognized, and preseason accolades have been coming in droves for the senior. Big Ten Network college basketball analyst Andy Katz named Stevens as the second-best player in the conference behind Cassius Winston of Michigan State. Katz also listed Stevens as the tenth best player in the country. He’s also been put on the watch list for the Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award.

But with all the hype surrounding him this offseason, Stevens had himself a run-of-the-mill summer. It’s just been a matter of staying fit for the senior, along with fine-tuning certain aspects of his game.

“Something I’ve really taken pride in is staying in tip-top shape, working on flexibility for longevity, making sure my body’s right, eating right, staying hydrated,” he said. “On the court I’ve been working on my shot, working on becoming a better playmaker for my teammates.”

Stevens has also been working on his leadership abilities and his overall mentality entering the season. Chambers says he often shares podcasts and “little moments” with his star forward, in attempts to further improve both of their skills.

A key part of Stevens’ preparation for this year came from these discussions with his coach, developing what Chambers calls a “Mamba mentality.” Mamba, of course, refers to NBA legend Kobe Bryant and the incredible intensity and competitiveness the Lakers legend showed whenever he stepped onto a basketball court.

“I think that’s the next level [for Lamar], that Kobe Bryant mentality, of every day you’re going to win every drill, whether it’s one on two, two on two, three on three,” Chambers said. “Whatever the breakdown is, you’re the hardest worker in that drill.”

It’s a message Stevens has taken to heart.

“Coach [Chambers] wants me to have that mentality, that killer mentality, that dominate mentality in every drill and practice and everything we do. I think it’s good for me and for the team because there’s no settling,” Stevens said. “You can always get better and you can always push yourself to that limit and never settle for less.”

This new mindset is something that other players have noticed. John Harrar said that intensity has been visible all preseason, even in scrimmages during practice. He recalled one specific game where Stevens was unstoppable.

“Lamar had that Mamba mentality [in the scrimmage.] He dunked the ball four times in a row I think. He just never stopped,” Harrar said. “He has that killer instinct, when we’re winning by eight or ten and there’s three minutes to go he’s not going to let anything slip. He’s going to be on everyone just as hard. You can definitely see a change in mindset in him, and in other players.”

Stevens has also been working on his leadership over the offseason, along with fellow seniors Grant Hazle and Watkins. With last year’s freshmen primed for big sophomore campaigns and this year’s freshmen hoping to contribute right away, Stevens and his classmates have focused his approach on passing on the wisdom they’ve all gained through their years of playing together in such a tough conference.

“We’ve all seen so many different things playing in the Big Ten the past three years,” Stevens said. “So we try to pass down our experiences and our knowledge that we’ve learned to the younger guys to prepare them a little bit faster for all the things they may encounter.”

With preseason hype, a new mentality, and a new way to lead his team, you’d expect expectations to be high within the Nittany Lions’ locker room. And while the squad has made it clear they’re taking it one game at a time this year, Stevens has already addressed his feelings on something Penn State has been gunning for his entire career.

It’s something that hasn’t happened during Stevens’ time as a Nittany Lion, something that hasn’t happened since 2011.

Playing in the Big Dance.

Making it there is a burden that Stevens is taking on without any hesitation, a dream he’s had for as long as he can remember, and a journey that begins with the Nittany Lions’ first exhibition game against Delaware on October 27.

“It’s not overwhelming for me, it’s a challenge that I’m ready to accept and I think that my teammates are as well,” he said. “It’s something I’ve dreamt about forever. I’m excited for the challenges that come and the adversity we’re going to face to get there, but I think this team will be ready for that step.”

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About the Author

Matt Paolizzi

Since graduating from Penn State in 2021, Matt is (hopefully) manning a successful job and (hopefully) living a happy life by now. In a past life, he was a writer for Onward State and remains a proud alumnus of the best student publication in the country. Check out Podward State too, Onward State's official podcast, that he co-founded alongside Matt Ogden and Mitch Stewart in 2019. It's his baby, give it a wave and make sure it's doing okay. Thanks to da king Sam Brungo and everyone who follows, it most definitely is.

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