The Penn State men’s basketball team has been hit by injuries going into the season.
Payton Banks missed the team’s exhibition game against Lock Haven last week due to a hamstring injury.
Now, Josh Reaves is expected to miss the Nittany Lions’ first three games.
Both were key contributors on last year’s team as Banks started 31 games and Reaves started 20 games. They finished third and fourth on the team in scoring, respectively, while providing energy on the defensive end. Banks will be a game-time decision for the season opener against Albany at 7 p.m. Friday at the Bryce Jordan Center, but Reaves will be out after suffering a left lower-leg injury in practice.
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“He’s going to be fine, he’s going to be out for a little while here,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said at his press conference Wednesday. “We’re seeing how it responds, but definitely out this first weekend through Tuesday we believe. But we’ll see.”
Penn State will host Duquesne on Sunday and Grand Canyon on Tuesday.
The Nittany Lions will miss the 6-foot-4 Reaves’ presence on the defensive end.
“He’s our defensive catalyst, he’s always talking, always communicating, always just playing really hard for our team,” Penn State forward Lamar Stevens said.
Stevens said the 6-foot-6 Banks will bring that communication to the floor when he returns.
Right now, Chambers said “it looks very good” that Banks will be playing in the opener Friday, but his minutes may be limited.
“But we’ll see how the game goes and we’ll see how Payton responds and then we’ll make our decision,” Chambers said.
Reaves was set to start — Chambers called him the team’s MVP during the offseason — and the coach isn’t sure who will replace him in the lineup.
He planned to use Wednesday’s practice to find the right group, looking for cohesion from potential starting lineups and for a boost from his rotation off the bench.
“We’re going to see how they compete today,” Chambers said. “I’m going to do some different lineups. I know the few guys that I like together and there’s some guys that really have earned to hear their name called. I think it’s an honor and a privilege to hear your name called and see your name up on that big screen, so we’ll see how things go today.”
With Reaves out, Chambers expects Terrence Samuel, Isaiah Washington and Davis Zemgulis to help fill the void.
Chambers has said Samuel — who will make his Penn State debut on Friday night after transferring from UConn — has earned the right to start.
And the coach expressed confidence in Washington and Zemgulis to handle significant minutes.
“Everybody just has to pick it up a little more,” Samuel said.
Chambers said he won’t rush Reaves back.
He’s ready to rely on the team’s depth early in the season.
“Next man up,” Chambers said. “The old Bill Belichick, next man up theory.”
‘Nothing is set in stone’
Chambers said he’s enjoyed coaching this team so far, praising his players’ intensity level at practice as they battle for minutes.
“They’re still getting after each other because nothing is set in stone,” Chambers said. “I never said this is going to be the starting lineup for the rest of the season. No, everybody’s got to continue to compete, earn their minutes.”
In the team’s exhibition game against Lock Haven last Friday, the starting lineup included Reaves, Stevens, Tony Carr, Shep Garner and Julian Moore.
Reaves, Stevens, Carr, Garner, Samuel and Mike Watkins all played at least 20 minutes. Moore played 19 minutes.