Nittany Lions confident they have talent, depth to compete
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) When Patrick Chambers looks down at his lineup sheet, he sees more potential and more options than in his five previous seasons at Penn State.
He's spent the last few weeks trying to figure out where they fit and acknowledges that may take a while. But that's a good thing considering they come from the program's two best recruiting classes and a group of solid veterans fresh off their best Big Ten season under Chambers. But that was still just 7-11 and Chambers knows it'll take more than a one-man, sometimes two-man offensive show to do any better.
By mixing up his lineups early in the season, Chambers hopes to take some of the pressure off of leading returning scorer Shep Garner. Distributing minutes will also be a focus as Chambers is implementing a new gameplan based on speed and maximizing possessions. Penn State was last in the Big Ten with 65.8 points per game last season.
''We want to score 80 (per game),'' Chambers said. ''We're going to press a little bit more. We're going to push it, make or miss, as often as we can. We need 8 to 10 more steals. We've got to reduce fouls. So everybody understands and has a clear goal of who we're going to be, what our identity is.''
A lot of that identity will be drawn from Garner.
The soft-spoken junior is the team's leading returning scorer (14.8) and spent time organizing pickup games with his teammates, trying to be more vocal in the wake of do-it-all forward Brandon Taylor's departure. Garner is looking forward to playing in a system where the focus will be on opening him up for more shots. He led Penn State with 75 3-pointers on 205 attempts.
''I think playing faster, it gets us used to taking what they give us,'' Garner said. ''It isn't going to be a bunch of pass the ball around. The quicker we can get down the basketball court and score, the better.''
OPTIONS FOR SHEP: Freshman Tony Carr is expected to help out at point guard as are Terrence Samuel and Josh Reaves. It's part of Chambers' plan to free Garner up to play without the ball and set up his own shot. Chambers believes Garner can use his athleticism to get open the old fashioned way rather than relying on dribble hand-offs and screens to do so.
Samuel is an intriguing option. He won a national championship as a freshman at UConn before transferring to Penn State and sitting out last season per NCAA rules.
''Terrence can bring a toughness that we sorely need. He's been there. He's done it,'' Chambers said.
A look at some other storylines heading into the season:
PHILLY GUYS: Garner is a Roman Catholic High School graduate and will be joined by three others this season. Carr was the top-rated recruit in the state and will play this season along with two more from the Philadelphia school. Penn State's first Top 30 recruiting class also includes guard Nazeer Bostick and forward Lamar Stevens and Joe Hampton, the No. 3 overall recruit from Virginia.
MORE FROM MOORE: Penn State will need a big improvement on the glass from its biggest player. Forward Julian Moore was fifth on the team with 102 rebounds last season but will have more chances with Taylor and Jordan Dickerson gone. Chambers said previously the 6-foot-10 junior was caught up with trying to score and has renewed his focus on defense.
REAVES BIGGER: After a freshman season that started with back-to-back steals turned into dunks, finished with bumps and bruises with a long battle against mononucleosis sandwiched in between, Reaves experienced plenty of growing pains last year. Named the team's preseason MVP, Reaves spent the offseason growing. He added 20 pounds to better handle the rigors of Big Ten play. His absence was felt when he missed six games with mono. The team went 1-5 without the stingy defender.