STATE COLLEGE — Pat Chambers knows the best recruiting class in the history of Penn State basketball has arrived on his campus.
And he also knows that means the bar is raised for his program moving forward.
Speaking Wednesday before practice, the 45-year old coach wasn’t shying away from potential expectations for the Nittany Lions in 16-17.
“We have to make the NCAA Tournament or the NIT this season,” Chambers told FanRag Sports. “We have to play in some sort of postseason for us to really show tangible progress.”
Penn State overachieved last season and won seven Big Ten games — the most in Chambers’ tenure. The Nittany Lions will return three of their top four scorers from a year ago in Shep Garner, Payton Banks and Josh Reaves while adding two top-100 freshmen in point guard Tony Carr and 6-7 forward Lamar Stevens. UConn transfer Terrence Samuel also becomes eligible after sitting out last season.
Carr was ranked as a top-50 prospect by most recruiting services and could be an immediate starter. His presence should take some of the pressure off Garner, who logged 35.2 minutes last year as a sophomore and now should be able to slide off the ball in spurts.
“Shep Garner is in the realm of an Allan Ray — who I coached at Villanova — in terms of how he’s shooting the basketball right now,” Chambers said in reference to Garner. “His minutes will be reduced because he doesn’t have to bring the ball up every time. Now he has Tony Carr and he has Terrence Samuel, two reliable point guards that can give him a breather. Shep doesn’t have to create his own shot anymore. He can now rely on other people to get him shots.”
Penn State’s perimeter is filled with names that people already have in bold print, but its front court is still in question. Chambers said he plans to use Stevens as an undersized power forward and also brings back two seasoned veterans in Payton Banks and Julian Moore.
The sleeper in this program though may very well be 6-9 redshirt freshman Mike Watkins, a former top-100 prospect that sat out last season.
“Mike Watkins is a freakish athlete,” Chambers said of the 6-9 big man. “He’s as fast as Josh Reaves rim to rim. He catches everything and is an elite finisher.”
The pieces are in place for Penn State to be more relevant than its been in a long time and the reason why is simple–better players.
“You can’t teach speed and you can’t teach athleticism,” Chambers said. “The IQ in this program is higher than it’s ever been. With all of that in the equation, that bodes very well.”
Jon Rothstein has been a college basketball insider for CBS Sports since 2010 and is the lead college basketball columnist for the FanRag Sports Network. He is also the host of the College Hoops Today Podcast via Compass Media Networks, which is available via iTunes. Rothstein is also a regular in-studio correspondent for both WFAN and CBS Sports Radio. He currently lives in Manhattan.