Satchel Pierce’s new teammates felt his presence on the court last season with every hard screen he set at practice.
“You better brace yourself,” Penn State teammate Lamar Stevens said with a laugh during the Nittany Lions’ media day last week. “That’s my best advice. Go under or something.”
Stevens punctuated his thought with another chuckle and added that everyone on the roster knows firsthand about Pierce’s screen-setting ability. Penn State fans will finally see the 7-foot, 255-pound Pierce on the court for the first time this season after he sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Pierce, who transferred from Virginia Tech, can’t wait for the Nittany Lions’ opener against Campbell on Nov. 10.
“It feels like it’s been 10 years since I’ve played an actual game,” Pierce said.
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The big man last played in a game on March 18, 2016, when Virginia Tech lost to BYU in the National Invitation Tournament. More than one month later, he announced his decision to transfer to Penn State, where he spent last season playing hard at practice to make his teammates better and improving his skills in the process. He wanted to take the floor with the Nittany Lions in games, but he embraced his role on the practice floor. Now, he adds depth to Penn State’s frontcourt as a skilled big man to go with Nittany Lions forwards Mike Watkins and Julian Moore.
“Satchel gives us that Reggie-Lynch type body — 6-11, close to 7 feet, 260, 255 (pounds), who really is skilled,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said, comparing his center’s size to Minnesota’s 6-foot-10, 260-pound center. “Great hands, great feet, willing screener, communicates often and an excellent passer, so he’s going to add a dimension.”
If Watkins — who averaged 9.7 points and 8.1 rebounds in 33 games last year — isn’t on the court, Chambers said he’s confident the Nittany Lions can look to Pierce in the paint. And the coach said the 7-footer can knock down 15-foot jump shots, too. That range created problems for Watkins at practice last season.
“He can set a screen and then pop,” Watkins said. “I’m going to help and then they throw it back and then I got to hustle to get back and put my arm up and just wish that I got there fast enough.”
The sequence Watkins described started with Pierce’s screens, which Watkins said force players to provide help and expend a lot of energy to fight through. As his Penn State teammates learned last season, it’s a challenge getting around Pierec’s frame.
Watkins noticed Pierce’s size immediately when he first met his roommate last year. And Pierce appreciated the opportunity to push himself against fellow big men Watkins and Moore in his first year with the Nittany Lions. Watkins heads into this season standing 6-foot-9 and weighing 254 pounds, while Moore is 6-foot-10 and 248 pounds.
“They’re dang near about my size, so just being able to play with somebody that’s 6-10, 6-11 every day that’s also physical and skilled, it’s definitely helped me both defensively, offensively and just overall,” Pierce said.
Pierce said he’s heading into this season with the confidence to look for his shot while also finding open teammates on the perimeter and cutting to the basket. Penn State guard Josh Reaves complimented Pierce’s feel for the game, saying the big man knows how to play within himself and shows good touch on his passes. And he’ll be able to show off his skillset for the first time for the Nittany Lions in a little more than three weeks when they host Campbell.
“I’ve thought about that so many times,” Pierce said. “It’s crazy to think about it, but it’s definitely going to be a lot of emotions that day.”
Satchel Pierce will make his Penn State debut this season after transferring from Virginia Tech. Here’s a look at Pierce’s statistics in his two-year stint with the Hokies:
Freshman season (2014-15)
Points per game: 3.2
Rebounds per game: 2.4
Sophomore season (2015-16)
Points per game: 1.6
Rebounds per game: 1.3