Penn State coach Patrick Chambers sees “great potential” in his team going into this season.
His young players are eager and coachable and talented.
And he wants them to be fearless on the court.
“There’s no limits on this team,” Chambers said during a press conference at the team’s media day Wednesday. “There’s going to be expectations and there’s never been expectations before and let’s enjoy it and let’s have fun with it. That’s been the mantra.”
Chambers is trying not to look too far ahead while he prepares his team for this season.
He knows he has talent as Penn State returns three players who started at least 20 games last season to go with a highly touted freshman class. Shep Garner started every game and finished second on the team in scoring a year ago, Payton Banks was the team’s third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder in 31 starts and Josh Reaves showed flashes while starting 20 games as a freshman. Roman Catholic teammates Nazeer Bostick, Tony Carr and Lamar Stevens join the program after leading their team to the PIAA Class AAAA championship last season, and the Nittany Lions add redshirt freshman Mike Watkins and UConn transfer Terrence Samuel to the mix this season.
With his team’s depth, Chambers reiterated his plan to play at a faster pace and said he wants to play 10 players.
He said the Nittany Lions will press more and push the ball. Chambers is committed to the new style, saying he wants to see a jump from the team’s scoring average of 65.8 points per game last season, which ranked last in the Big Ten.
“We want to score 80, that’s the goal,” Chambers said.
For now, Chambers is happy to see healthy competition within his team at practices.
The coach hasn’t decided on a starting lineup, but said he might start to figure out a rotation next week.
“So everybody understands when their minutes are coming, when they’re coming off the bench,” Chambers said. “... So there’s a comfort level, ‘I know when I’m going in.’”
Going into the season, Chambers is excited about the expectations.
Reaves noticed the “hype” during the first week of school as he was impressed by the turnout at an involvement fair while helping the Legion of Blue, Penn State’s student section.
“People have faith in us,” Reaves said. “And people are starting to see that we have a chance to do something really great here.”
With Carr and Samuel in the mix, Chambers said Garner will play off the ball more.
“So Shep doesn’t have to bring the ball up for 37 minutes, which can tire anybody out with the level that we’re playing at,” Chambers said.
Chambers said Carr and Samuel will be crucial to giving Garner a break and getting him shots. Garner used dribble handoffs and ball screens to get his own shots on his way to averaging 14.8 points and leading the team with 75 3-pointers.
Chambers hopes to see the guards and big men find Garner for open shots this season.
And the junior is looking to make life easier on his point guards.
“When you’re off the ball, you got to do little things,” Garner said. “You got to create separation and not force the point guards to get any turnovers — a lot of times, a point guard makes a turnover, they’ll get it, but most of the time, it’s not their fault.”
Reaves is coming off an up-and-down freshman season.
He showed his ability to affect games on the defensive end with deflections and steals leading to breakaway dunks, impressing Chambers and his teammates with his energy.
But he also missed six games due to mononucleosis.
He spent the offseason working to regain the weight he lost, and he’s focused on taking care of his body going into this year.
“Last year I would always take bumps and I would always have bruises here and there and I would never go in (to get treatment) and try to get it fixed because I always thought like, ‘I’m OK. I’ve always played through stuff like this,’” said Reaves, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound guard. “But going through games, going through practices, it starts to take a toll on you.”
Due to the departure of freshman Joe Hampton, which the program announced in late September, Penn State has an open scholarship.
Chambers and his staff will weigh their options with that spot moving forward.
“Right now we’re going to stand pat and take the best player for us whether that’s in ’17, whether that’s in ’18, whether it’s a transfer,” Chambers said. “We’ll just have to see how things — after this signing period, we’ll just see how things start to fall in place throughout the country and then make some decisions on how we move forward and what’s our pressing need for this team.”