Penn State Basketball

Chambers excited about Penn State men’s basketball program’s future

Penn State men’s baskeball coach Patrick Chambers speaks to his team last season. Chambers said he’s excited about coaching a more uptempo team next season.
Penn State men’s baskeball coach Patrick Chambers speaks to his team last season. Chambers said he’s excited about coaching a more uptempo team next season. The Associated Press, file

Penn State coach Patrick Chambers is looking forward to utilizing a different playing style next season.

The Nittany Lions are going to play faster than this year’s group did.

That’s what the coach expects to be a strength based on his personnel as the Nittany Lions will have six new players available. Transfer guard Terrence Samuel and freshman forward Mike Watkins will be eligible to compete in the fall after spending this season practicing with the team, and they’ll be joined by the highly touted incoming freshman class of Roman Catholic trio Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Nazeer Bostick and Oak Hill Academy forward Joe Hampton.

Chambers envisions the newcomers fitting into the plan to push the tempo.

“We’re really going to get up and down, kind of like the Carolina break,” Chambers said Wednesday at his season-ending press conference. “Because that’s where Terrence really excels, and Shep (Garner) will excel in that and Josh Reaves obviously excels in that, so does Julian Moore. And I’d like to think Lamar and Tony and Naz and Joe, they’ll really enjoy that style of play to get up and down and see if we can get to that 80-point average.”

The Nittany Lions finished the 2015-16 season with a 16-16 overall record while averaging 65.8 points per game. They went 7-11 in the Big Ten during the regular season, good for the most wins in five seasons under Chambers.

But they’ll be a different team next year following the departures of seniors Brandon Taylor, Donovon Jack, Jordan Dickerson and Devin Foster.

Chambers said to play faster, his team will have to be in shape.

The Nittany Lions will have to put in the time training in the offseason, but Chambers said it will be a fun style of play to coach.

“I’m going to study it,” he said. “I’m going to study Carolina. I’m going to study the teams that like to go up and down, but at Villanova we did it when I was there. We had four guards at that time, four-guard lineups and we ran it as often as we could.”

The coach is also looking forward to working with the talent on the roster.

He thinks the program is closing the gap that separated the Nittany Lions from the much of the Big Ten when he started.

Garner and Reaves proved to be productive players in the conference along with forward Payton Banks. Samuel contributed to Connecticut’s run to the national championship as a freshman and played in every game as a sophomore before transferring to Penn State, and Watkins impressed at practice all season after he was not cleared to play by the NCAA.

“Mike’s going to dominate the paint, and he runs like a gazelle,” Chambers said of the 6-foot-8, 245-pound forward. “He’s going to run rim to rim.”

Carr, Stevens, Bostick and Hampton will add to the talent level and competition for playing time.

Penn State’s incoming freshmen signed in November as the best recruiting class in program history — the class is currently ranked 22nd in the nation by ESPN.

“There’s going to be a lot of spots open,” Chambers said. “Guys are going to compete and they’re going to have to compete every day. You don’t compete, you’re not going to earn your minutes or you’re not going to start. Guys are going to want to be on the floor.”

Postseason play

Chambers said his players were emotionally and physically spent after their loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament.

The Nittany Lions then decided not to pursue postseason play after not being selected for the National Invitation Tournament.

“I just could see it in their faces,” Chambers said. “I just gave everything I had to this program. I’m shot. And for them to get us to seven wins, for them to get us a 10 seed, for them to get us a first-round bye, I just sensed it. I felt it. I talked to them about it, and I think it was the right decision for them and for where we are.”

Penn State’s options were the College Basketball Invitational, which it participated in two years ago, and the new Vegas 16 tournament. Neither tournament has a Power 5 conference team in its field. The Vegas 16 was supposed to be a 16-team tournament, but the field is made up of eight teams.

The departing seniors

Penn State’s four seniors established unity throughout the team this season.

It made a difference on and off the floor, and Chambers highlighted that message during a team meeting Wednesday.

“By far this was the team I enjoyed so much because they were so connected and so together,” Chambers said. “The locker room was connected and they’re brothers, they’re friends, they hang out all the time. There was no cliques, no groups, so I hope that they can take that away because that translated to success.”

The coach said Taylor and Jack, both four-year players, stayed committed to the program through tough times.

Taylor finished his career with a memorable senior season, leading the team in scoring and rebounding and earning third-team All-Big Ten honors from the media.

PIAA Championships

Carr, Stevens and Bostick will lead Roman Catholic in the PIAA Class AAAA championship game against Allderdice at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Giant Center in Hershey.

Ryne Gery: 814-231-4679, @rgery