For a sport that’s preseason is generally spent shrouded in secrecy and behind super hush-hush no-one-speak-of-the-score closed door scrimmages, college basketball media day is the closest we have to an official season kickoff.
Accordingly, Pat Chambers and the reigning, defending, undisputed (sort of), NIT Champions of the world (again, sort of) assembled Tuesday afternoon, opening its doors and practice floor to Penn State’s collection of capital-J Journalists.
And after months of ringing the preverbal towel for any remaining droplets of offseason coverage and conversation, I think I speak for everyone when I say its damn good to have college hoops, in earnest, back in our lives.
Without further ado, here is a Geary Claxton-sized (read: five) takeaways from the Lions open practice and media day.
1) It might not be time to hit the frontcourt panic button, but you should at least have it in eye sight.
A wise man once said “life moves pretty fast”, and never has that hit home more for yours truly than on Tuesday afternoon.
Ever the safe driver, it wasn’t till I reached the friendly confines of State College that I was greeted with the unfortunate news of redshirt junior forward Mike Watkins’ latest in an increasingly long list of minor but still troubling legal slip ups. (I’m going for gold in verbal gymnastics this year.)
I hadn’t yet fully grappled with that piece of information when Tuesday’s press conference opened with the athletic department’s announcement that sophomore forward John Harrar would not be practicing due to an upper body injury and that there was currently no timetable for his return.
Never has life moved so quickly from fine, to bad, to worse.
Addressing the biggest elephant in the room, is, well, hard to do right now. Even before The Daily Collegian and Onward State broke the news of Watkins’ late September disorderly conduct citation, the forward was still dealing with the fallout from a June 2018 citation for possession of drug paraphernalia.
As has been stated here before—oddly enough in an eerily similar piece written at this same time last year, Big Mike seems like a good kid. From my brief interactions and seeing him from afar, Watkins has the right attitude for a guy trying to make a better life for himself and his family, slip ups notwithstanding.
Pat Chambers echoed that point and then some on Tuesday, despite the athletic department stating they wouldn’t be answering questions on the matter.
“We’ve got to let this play out,” said Chambers, when pressed on the issue. “We’re trying to help and guide. We’re trying to give the kid a chance. Let us do our due diligence. If not, he’s going to wind up back on the street.”
Moving past the moral and ethical juxtaposition, from a purely basketball standpoint, the Lions need both Watkins and Harrar on the court and healthy. With Julian Moore having graduated and senior Satchel Pierce out or at least the first semester, Penn State has little to no room for error when it comes to its frontcourt this year.
2) Myles Dread looks Big Ten ready now
Having been around the program in some capacity or another since 2005, I’d be hard pressed to think of any freshmen backcourt player at Penn State who looked more physically ready to compete at a Big Ten-level than incoming guard Myles Dread.
Listed as 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Dread finds himself only four inches and 15 pounds smaller than the Lions’ Metrix World’s Strongest Man wannabe Lamar Stevens (if you read this, please don’t hurt me Lamar). And while he was super impressive to talk to — he lit up when asked about his brother Malcolm’s recent recruiting visit to State College; he backs up the palpable buzz being created with his play on the court. Go ahead and pencil him in for a starting spot right now.
3) Lamar Stevens just might have himself an NBA future
And speaking of Penn State’s new de facto alpha dog, Lamar Stevens looks more than ready to bear the burden as the Lions’ breadwinner in the absence of longtime running mate Tony Carr.
Always a little soft-spoken, Stevens absolutely showed by doing during the brief part of practice open to the media.
An entrenched starter since stepping foot in Happy Valley, Stevens will technically retain one year of eligibility at the conclusion of this upcoming season. At the risk of putting the cart way ahead of the horse, if Penn State is to have the NCAA Tournament-caliber season some, albeit not many, see them having, Lamar would almost assuredly play a huge part in that coming to pass. And if that’s the case, Nittany Lion fans should prepare for another season-long dance of will-he-stay-or-will-he-go. Go ahead and add this to your nail-bitting schedule.
4) Izaiah Brockington could really help this team now
For a team with questionable depth and an NCAA seemingly more willing than ever to throw out transfer waivers, Izaiah Brockington’s eligibility status for this upcoming season is being incredibly underplayed.
As such, Chambers did comment during Tuesday’s media session that the program is researching whether or not Brockington could be cleared for play during the 2018-’19 campaign.
Even still, should the native Philadelphian need to sit out this upcoming season, he should still find a way to contribute.
“I expect him to be the best defender on the second team all year long and really push Lamar [Stevens] and Josh and these freshmen and try to push them to limits they didn’t know they had,” said Chambers. “I think you’re going to like him. He knocked down a couple threes the other day.”
And to his coaches last point, he knocked down a few more less than an hour later.
5) Atlantic City is only a stones throw from Philadelphia.
As stated above, I’ve had a long and winding love affair with Penn State men’s basketball. The token Nittany Lions hoops expert of my friends and fellow alumni, I’m more often than not asked about some of my favorite memories spent around the team.
And while two NIT Titles and a court storming here and there are at or near the top of my list, the best experience and most support I can recall this team having was on Jan. 7, 2017 at the Palestra in Philadelphia— of all places.
For those not totally dialed into Penn State basketball (and a hearty bravo for sticking with this piece till the bitter end if that’s the case), Pat Chambers and the Lions played a “home” game at The Cathedral of College Basketball that resulted in an upset win over Michigan State and an environment that’s never quite been replicable at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Frustratingly, however, the team hasn’t returned to Philadelphia since that snowy January game, which Chambers took the time to clarify this past Tuesday.
“That is something my sport administrator, Lynn Holleran, and I talk about every year. Is this the time to go back?” Chambers said, in reference to returning to the Palestra. “We don’t want to wear out that type of welcome. We want people to be excited about it. I think if we can get one at MSG, Palestra, Wells Fargo, or Atlantic City, I think that is really hitting our recruiting footprint and our players’ families are all from there.”
So while that definitely leaves the door open for a return to the City of Brotherly Love down the road, Penn Staters closer to the East Coast will have to shuffle up and deal their way down to Atlantic City this December for a taste of Nittany Lions basketball.