Does Pat Chambers have what it takes at Penn State? A lot depends on Shep Garner

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Three years have passed since the Lions appeared in the NCAA Tournament under former head coach Ed DeChellis. With Tim Frazier graduating, Chambers is hoping he's already recruited a guard good enough to replace him.

It's a debate that's raged on and on this season. Or rather, it would have if any debate about Penn State men's basketball could be considered "raging." Instead, this one was whispered quietly in the tiny corners of the internet where they care about Penn State men's basketball.

Still, it was important. Was Pat Chambers -- hired three years ago from Boston University -- a good enough coach to lead PSU to unprecedented prominence?

After a dismal two initial seasons (for which you could forgive Chambers since he started with such a bare cupboard), the results have finally started to show up. This year's Penn State team, led by a pair of outstanding guards in Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill, has won five Big Ten games. That includes one each in the notoriously noisy environments of Indiana's Assembly Hall and Ohio State's Value City Arena.

While it's certainly nice that Penn State is still alive for the NIT this late in the season and is fresh off a season sweep of the Buckeyes, it's concerning that Frazier is graduating after the season and that Newbill will have just one year of eligibility left. Can Chambers's ability to recruit in Philadelphia fill the dusty Penn State cupboard with more talented recruits than were stocked by Ed DeChellis?

That question depends a lot on the success of Shep Garner, the class of 2014 point guard out of Philadelphia's prestigious Roman Catholic High School. With current freshmen guards Geno Thorpe and Graham Woodward looking more like role players than the impact players that Penn State needs to move up in the Big Ten pecking order, there's an opportunity for Garner to be Newbill's sidekick next season.

Whether that happens or not is still a mystery. Meanwhile, it's worth asking if Chambers's Philadelphia strategy is the right one for Penn State right now. In a perfect blue and white world, the best recruits in Pennsylvania's biggest city would go to the state's biggest school. In the real world, the best players in Philly would rather go to Temple or Villanova or Syracuse or even Miami apparently. Given that reality, it's no wonder why DeChellis saw fit to scour the country for hidden gems like Talor Battle (upstate New York), Jeff Brooks (Kentucky), and Tim Frazier (Texas).

Chambers may be great at recruiting Philadelphia, but that doesn't matter if the fifth best player in Philly isn't as good as a diamond in the rough somewhere else. Newbill, a Philadelphia native who transferred to PSU from Southern Miss, was a huge get for Chambers, but to make believers out of Penn State fans, he's going to need to start recruiting stars directly out of high school.

Garner becoming a star for Penn State would be another nice stepping stone towards the legacy that Chambers is trying to build. If the three-star phenom doesn't work out, though? Fans will be asked for their patience once again.

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