Six months removed from Penn State men’s basketball celebrating its NIT Championship at Madison Square Garden, the 2018-19 Nittany Lions’ backcourt is filled with fresh faces in the wake of Tony Carr’s early departure for the NBA Draft, Shep Garner’s graduation, and Nazeer Bostick’s transfer.
“Our front line is our strength,” Chambers said at media day last week. “We’ve got to go through our front line and they have to step up. It’s going to be a little bit different, but guess what, these guys are up for the challenge.”
The lone returning point guard from last year’s team, Jamari Wheeler, was among the hottest talking points at media day. Wheeler was described by his teammates and Chambers as the driving force or “energy” behind the team.
“[Wheeler] and I need to be an extension of each other and you want your point guard to nonstop talk and help these guys out, push these freshmen to get better and that’s what he is doing for us,” Chambers said.
Since Satchel Pierce was ruled ineligible for the rest of the fall semester and Mike Watkins’ situation remains unsolved for the time being, wing man Josh Reaves will likely feature more as a small forward this season than the guard role he previously held for Penn State. However, Reaves is a versatile player, and should see time at multiple positions this season.
That leaves the door open for one of the incoming freshman four-star recruits to grab the second guard spot in the lineup. Washington D.C.’s Gatorade Player of the Year, Myles Dread, is battling former Memphis commit Myreon Jones and 2,000-point scorer Rasir Bolton for that position, although all three players are bound to see extended playing time early in the season as Chambers searches to find the right group.
“The freshmen, I think you guys are going to love them,” Chambers said. “They’re really high-IQ guys.”
All three guards are athletic scorers in different ways, but Chambers said the guy whose defense most impressive will get the nod in the starting five. The trio shares the ability to change the pace of the game with the ball in their hands in their own individual ways.
Dread, a combo guard that played at D.C. powerhouse Gonzaga, participated in the US Marine’s Three-Point Championship last March, the premier high school three-point competition that featured players committed to programs like Villanova, Notre Dame, Stanford, and Michigan State. His perimeter talents will be needed with Garner gone, but, at 6-foot-4, Dread can still create shots for himself from inside the arc as well.
Bolton brings a lot of speed similar to Wheeler, and he thinks the team’s quickness will translate to a quicker style of play this season.
“We’re going to be playing a lot faster, a lot more transition,” Bolton said. “We’re going to move the ball around a lot more in the half-court, whipping it around the horn more for sure.”
Jones came in as a bit of a surprise, as Chambers and his staff were searching for guards on the grad transfer market to add to the team. While the team was unable to secure a transfer player who is immediately eligible (St. Bonaventure transfer Izaiah Brockington won’t be eligible to play until 2019-20), Jones decommitted from Memphis late after head coach Tubby Smith was fired.
“Penn State definitely recruited me the hardest after I decommitted,” Jones said. “It felt like a family environment here, and Coach Chambers has been straight up with me from day one.”
Though Jones is smaller than Carr, his ability to contort his body for acrobatic finishes at the rim and find space to knock down mid-range shots is similar to the former Penn State star. The Birmingham, AL native has slick vision and handles, but will need to bulk up his 170-pound frame to strengthen his defense in the rugged Big Ten.
Although the Nittany Lions lack a true big man outside of Mike Watkins, it will be the young backcourt’s performance that will likely be the measure of how well this team performs this year. Replacing Carr and Garner is no small task, but the guards will have the help of All-Big Ten Defensive Team forward Josh Reaves and NIT Most Outstanding Player Lamar Stevens in their transition into Penn State’s rotation.
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