Penn State is by no means a basketball school. It is embedded in college fans’ skin that the history of the university is a football power. However, that doesn’t mean people refuse to care for its college basketball team. It simply means the state of Pennsylvania tends to be a football-loving commonwealth, and PSU’s basketball program has given people in it very little reason to care.
Patrick Chambers has been trying to change that reality since 2011. He took over for Ed DeChellis, who took the Nittany Lions to their first NCAA Tournament in a decade the year prior, though it is worth noting that his era wasn’t exactly a dominant one.
It’s been an up-and-down journey for Chambers. Despite the general agreement that he is a good basketball coach, one who does well during in-game situations and on the recruiting trail, his version of Penn State has been ho-hum at best.
The school has yet to eclipse the 18-win mark during the Chambers era. In college hoops, 20 wins is usually the arbitrary number we use to decide — even when not making trips to the Big Dace — when a program is getting it. Here we are, though, with Chambers entering his sixth year at the school. Penn State seems no closer to becoming an impact player in the Big Ten Conference than it did the day he took over the gig.
Chambers is no slouch. We can point to the disappointing track record, but he’s not going to go down without a fight. Instead of bringing his fists to this fight, though, he will bring his 2016 recruiting class.
It’s a good one. Ranked the 26th best in the nation by 247Sports, it features two high-end four-star talents, and two more three-star guys sprinkled in for good measure.
To be clear, the two four-stars will aid in Chambers’ last stand. Chambers isn’t necessarily on the hot-seat this season, but if Penn State continues to be woeful in its program build, he would theoretically be fired before the 2016 class graduated.
However, this class is special for reasons not limited to the amount of stars attached to the players’ names.
Tony Carr is a 6-4 point guard out Philadelphia. According to 247Sports, he is the 51st-best prospect in the entire class, the eighth-highest-rated one-guard, and the best overall talent in the entire state of Pennsylvania.
He’s more a ball-dominant point guard and less the traditional type. A solid jump shooter, he has good vision and an impressive basketball IQ for a high school player. His size — along with a combination of his skills — pegs him as a player with endless potential.
Yes, it appears — at least on the surface — PSU might be set at the point guard position for the next several years. Furthermore, Carr can develop into an All-Big Ten player, a thing the Nittany Lions don’t exactly churn out on the regular.
But wait… there’s more.
Lamar Stevens, out of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, is a top-100 prospect. A 6-7 small forward who is athletic but very raw, Stevens will be a work in progress — he will likely need some time to adjust at the next level. That’s not uncommon for a well-regarded prospect.
Here’s the thing about these two talents, though: They are great friends. While that might seem unimportant, Chambers’ two prized prospects, whom his job might depend on, are well versed in playing with each other. The two won’t need time to get acclimated.
“I’ve known Tony all my life,” said Stevens to D1Circuit.com in 2015. “I think we really became best friends when we were 10 or 11 years old. On a personal level, I don’t call Tony my friend. He is my brother. We are extremely close.”
The two met on the grassroots basketball scene, and the relationship has blossomed into one that goes beyond the hardwood.
“Playing with Lamar is like playing with my brother,” said Carr. “It is a great feeling to be playing with someone I know will have my back no matter what.”
Sure, it might be narrative-driven, but these two guys are the human ammunition Chambers is bringing to the table, the two prospects on which his job security likely rests. While there will be several other factors at work — other players, the strength of the Big Ten, future recruiting successes or failures — at least the coach knows that he not only has two talented guys joining the fold, but the future of Penn State basketball will be in the hands of two players who consider themselves brothers.
Friends might help you do a lot of things, but family will go above and beyond. Only time will tell how far these incoming recruits will help Penn State, but you would be hard pressed to handpick two guys better suited — in various ways — to help Chambers in that process.
If the 2016 class is indeed Chambers’ last shot at turning this around, he made sure he got the right kids to help him do just that.