Josh Reaves and his teammates arrived at Penn State with dreams of playing in the NCAA tournament — but they’re now more concerned with how to achieve that goal than talking about it.
“I feel like it’s unspoken within the team,” Reaves said, “but we all know what we want to do.”
The Nittany Lions head into this season with aspirations to play in March and a roster that includes five players who started at least 23 games last season. The players acknowledged they’re aiming to become the first Penn State team to reach the NCAA tournament since 2011, but they didn’t make any bold statements about their postseason goal during the team’s media day.
They instead talked about focusing on each practice going into the Nittany Lions’ season opener Nov. 10 against Campbell. When asked about the postseason, Penn State coach Patrick Chambers used a line from Nittany Lions football coach James Franklin.
“The guy across the street says 1-0,” Chambers said Thursday at the Bryce Jordan Center. “He never goes back. He never goes too far ahead. He’s always 1-0, 1-0, and that’s our mantra. We’re staying present. We’re staying here and now.
“I can’t worry about what’s going to happen in March. All I can worry about is today and how we get this team better today and focus on their habits and taking care of the little things.”
Reaves echoed that sentiment Thursday, saying he locks in on each game and doesn’t worry about the future. But he also said he thought about the NCAA tournament dream as a freshman and recalled discussing it in an interview when he first committed to the Nittany Lions more than three years ago.
“They were asking why I chose here,” Reaves said, referring to the interview. “I told ’em I want to play against the best. I want to beat the best. I want to just try to change everything. I just want to do everything when I get here. I want to be able to say that I was on the team that did it.”
Penn State teammates Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Nazeer Bostick talked about the same dream when they signed with the Nittany Lions as part of the program’s best recruiting class in history. They talked about making history on the court for Penn State, reaching the NCAA tournament and changing the program’s culture.
Stevens pointed to taking care of the “little things” like his coach, saying the team could have grabbed one more rebound or hit one more foul shot in its close Big Ten losses. Stevens wondered what he could have done differently in some of those setbacks to Michigan (72-69), Rutgers (70-68), Purdue (74-70, overtime) and Ohio State (71-70), and he still thinks about them now.
“It hurts at first, but I think it betters you in the long run knowing that if you really focus in on these small things that you can come out victorious,” Stevens said.
They’re working on defense and rebounding during the preseason after allowing 72.7 points per game and ranking last in rebounding margin in the Big Ten on their way to a 15-18 record last season. Chambers said the Nittany Lions have focused on defensive stances, communication and boxing out, adding that his players have bought in with those close losses in mind.
They also know those areas could be the difference in making that NCAA tournament run.
“That’s what I work for every day,” said forward Julian Moore, who’s heading into his fifth season. “That’s what we try to push for every day.”
Notes: Chambers said Stevens will be out 10-14 days with a “severely” sprained left ankle. ... Chambers said he’s not making any decisions right now about redshirting any of the team’s freshmen, guard Jamari Wheeler, forward Trent Buttrick and forward John Harrar. ... The Nittany Lions host an exhibition game against Bloomsburg on Nov. 5.