Right now, Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said D.J. Newbill is the men’s basketball team’s first option at point guard.
But there’s still more than four weeks until the Nittany Lions open the season Nov. 14 against Morgan State, and junior college transfer Devin Foster and freshman Shep Garner are competing for the starting or backup spot at the point.
“We haven’t chosen a starting five yet,” Chambers said at the team’s media day Tuesday. “We’ve got healthy competition right now. So I think if those guys can get comfortable, understand what we’re doing and be able to defend the position, I think we can do it as a unit, not one single guy.”
Newbill has been preparing to play point guard during the offseason as Penn State must replace Tim Frazier, who left as the program’s all-time leader in assists. Newbill played point guard for the Nittany Lions during the 2012-13 season with Frazier out with a torn Achilles tendon, and he led the team in scoring with 17.8 points per game last year.
Chambers said Newbill will ultimately play the position that benefits the team the most.
Foster and Garner are both trying to learn from Newbill going into their first season at Penn State.
“I just try to mimic him,” Garner said. “I just try to go hard at everything, D.J. is the type of guy that he goes hard at everything, every little thing he goes hard, so I try to do everything like him because he’s been successful at this level.”
Newbill praised Garner for his toughness, and he’s been impressed by Foster’s passing ability.
Foster said he’s confident he can play the point when Chambers calls on him.
“Whatever coach wants me to do to just get on that floor,” Foster said. “It excites me. The season’s around the corner, so I just can’t wait to do anything to contribute to my team and just bring home a win each and every night.”
For now, though, Penn State has time to sort out its point-guard rotation.
Newbill is the first option, but not the definite starter.
“We haven’t established that yet,” Newbill said. “In practice right now, coach has been playing me on and off the ball. It doesn’t matter to me what position I play. Coach is going to put me in the best position he thinks is going to be a success for the team, so right now we’re kind of experimenting.”
Banks in mix at shooting guard
If Newbill is playing point guard, Chambers said he could turn to Geno Thorpe, John Johnson or Payton Banks at shooting guard.
Thorpe and Johnson each earned starts last season, while Banks redshirted his freshman season.
Banks, a 6-foot-6 forward from Orange, Calif., said it was tough to understand why he didn’t see any game action at first.
“I think that was one of my biggest issues last year was mentally I just didn’t understand the process,” Banks said. “I felt like I should have been playing over this person, this person. But ultimately I saw in the game what the difference between me and those players ahead of me were. And I accepted that and I actually learned from those players, and I feel like what I’ve learned is actually going to come into play a lot this upcoming year.”
Banks said he needed to learn how to do the “little things” necessary to earn playing time — from playing defense and diving on the floor for loose balls to closing out correctly. He didn’t need to focus on those aspects of the game in high school.
But after a year of learning, Banks is ready to contribute, specifically from beyond the arc. Penn State shot 31.9 percent from 3-point range as a team last season, ranking the Nittany Lions 10th in the Big Ten.
“It’s been an issue for three years,” Chambers said of the 3-point shooting.
Banks considers himself a shooter and hopes to contribute to an improved effort by the team. He averaged 17.9 points and made 33 3-pointers as a senior at Lutheran High School (Calif.). Chambers mentioned Banks as a player who can score 16 points on any given night.
Banks said he’s taken an average of 500 3-pointers a day during the offseason.
Montminy named a captain
Penns Valley graduate Kevin Montminy is a team captain and member of Penn State’s leadership council for his senior season.
“It really means a lot just to know that my teammates think of me like that and my teammates look up to me and believe that I can be a leader on this team,” Montminy said. “It really means a lot because I remember whenever I was a freshman and sophomore, I really looked up to the captains.”
Montminy walked on to Penn State’s team after graduating as Penns Valley’s all-time leading scorer with 1,498 points. Montminy earned a scholarship for this season.
“Time flies,” he said. “I can’t say enough about my time here at Penn State. I can’t say enough about this staff, coach Chambers, all the assistants. I can’t say enough about my teammates that I’ve played with over the years and I wish I had another four years coming up, but sadly all good things must come to an end.”