An Ode To Lamar Stevens: The Leader Who Put Penn State Hoops On The Map
The 2019-20 college basketball season didn’t end the way that any sports fan wanted, as the NCAA made the difficult yet responsible choice to cancel the remainder of the winter and spring sports’ seasons in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. For Penn State men’s basketball’s senior star, Lamar Stevens, the experience was particularly gutting.
This season, Stevens led the way once again for the Nittany Lions, racking up his second consecutive First Team All-Big Ten selection while averaging 17.6 points to go along with 6.9 rebounds per game. His premier talent and unwavering leadership paved the way for one of the best regular season performances in school history. Stevens will easily go down as one of the most important players to ever suit up for Penn State.
“We laid it all out for Lamar in what it could be if he stayed the course, came to Penn State, and left a legacy, and I think he’s done that,” head coach Pat Chambers said after Penn State’s senior night loss to Michigan State. “Over the last three years, we’ve won the most games over a three-year span in program history… he’s put us on the map.”
For the players on Penn State’s roster, the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament must be most painful for Stevens — especially when you think back to the difficult times that he endured over his four years at Penn State. Often times it was Stevens who had to sit in front of the microphone after a blown lead that resulted in a loss, or when the team started Big Ten play 0-10 last season. Stevens deserves most of the credit for Penn State’s remarkable turnaround this season, which included the Nittany Lions’ rise to as high as ninth in the country in the AP Top 25 at one point.
It started with Stevens’ decision last summer to bypass the NBA Draft and return for his senior season, one of the leading reasons for Penn State’s breakthrough year. He’ll end his career with 2,207 career points, just six points shy of tying Talor Battle’s school scoring record, a mark that he almost definitely would’ve beaten if given just one more game. Stevens did set Penn State records for consecutive starts and overall games started by appearing in the starting lineup for all 135 possible games in which he suited up for the Nittany Lions. His 875 rebounds and 127 blocks also rank fourth and fifth on the school’s all-time career lists, respectively.
But it won’t be the records and accolades that people remember about Lamar Stevens. It won’t be what I remember about the star senior, despite all of the smooth turnaround jumpers, ferocious tomahawk dunks, and passionate screams to hype up the Bryce Jordan Center faithful that I’ve witnessed over the past four years.
It will be his ability to lead his teammates, coaches, and fellow students with the utmost responsibility and class. It will be his admirable competitive spirit that kept on chipping away, even during Penn State’s most brutal struggles that seemed like they would never end. His ability to connect with the fans among his community and serve as a role model might be what I remember about Stevens the most.
I remember watching Stevens lead the team around the halls of Mount Nittany Middle School during the Centre Region Down Syndrome Society Buddy Walk on a Saturday morning last fall. Stevens and a handful of his teammates showed up at THON on Friday night in February, despite having a crucial game to play at Indiana less than 48 hours later. He really took his leadership to an entirely different level by serving as the subject of a children’s book “Lamar’s Climb: A Journey To Happy Valley,” working with LifeLinkPSU and Special Olympics PA members to cap off a unique, positive initiative by the basketball program with “Everyone Is Awesome Day.”
Stevens was truly that “awesome” character that this program desperately needed, both on and off the floor. His insistence on following the “Mamba Mentality” mantra at the urging of Chambers enabled him to guide his team to an improved attitude and work ethic, factors that I believe to be the main keys in changing the trajectory of Penn State’s program. His countless community works weren’t just appearances, but genuine efforts by him to use his platform to improve the surrounding community each time he was asked upon. What Stevens did for not only this program, but for Penn State athletics is truly above and beyond the call of duty of a 22-year old student athlete with NBA aspirations.
“He’s done a great job for us, and he’s carried the torch for us very well,” Chambers said. “It’s hard to be on every billboard, or marketing piece, or in front of you guys (media) all the time. That’s taxing, that can really wear you down. But he does it with great integrity, character, and willingness, and we don’t talk enough about the charity things he does.
“How he approaches Special Olympics, or the Buddy Walk, or Coaches vs. Cancer, or THON… He doesn’t get enough credit for holistically his approach and how he’s been handling all of this.”
From the moment he stepped onto campus, Stevens has been a prime example of everything that Penn Staters could have hoped for in a student. He’s represented his team and his school in the classiest manor imaginable. Many are calling for Stevens’s No. 11 to be retired. That has never been done before in program history, so it would surely be a monumental gesture, but fitting for what he means to where this team is headed. Hell, even despite having a much more illustrious history compared to its hardwood counterpart, the football program has retired only one player’s number (John Cappelletti’s No. 22).
“For him to come back and do what he’s done…he said, ‘This is what I’m going to do,’ and he did it…we did it,” Chambers said. “What a great impact he’s going to leave on this program, and guess what? He’s going to leave an impact on those players in the locker room because now they have someone to look up to and say ‘This is how it gets done, this is how I have to work, this is how I conduct myself. We need to do that, and if we do that, we’ll continue to find success on and off the floor.”
Retiring No. 11 would be an appropriate first for the program that reached so many milestones thanks to Stevens’s accomplishments on the court, but it makes even more sense when you consider the nature of his personality in other walks of life.
Pat Chambers found not only a special player, but a special person when he convinced Lamar Stevens to head to Happy Valley, and the effects of Stevens’s time will be felt by both Penn State basketball, its fans, and the people of Centre County and beyond for years to come.
Thanks for everything, Lamar. Penn State will surely miss you. But we will never, ever forget you or what you meant not just to this team, but to this community.
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