We’ve all got a busy Memorial Weekend ahead of us I’m sure, so why mince words? Let’s get right into it with a weekly look around the Big Ten’s East Coast programs.
“My kingdom for two productive guards!” - Pat Chambers, presumably.
With Tony Carr’s departure to the greener ($$$) pastures of professional basketball and Shep Garner’s graduation, the Nittany Lions are left with a huge, gaping hole in production at both guard positions.
Entering the 2018-’19 season, Pat Chambers will need to find a way to replace a combined 31 points, 6.3 assists, and seven rebounds spread across 68.2 minutes of game action per contest, not to mention the Nittany Lions two most prolific 3-point shooters who combined for 208 triples shot at a 43-percent clip.
And while it would be crazy to expect any two players from the Lions upcoming roster to replace arguably two of the better players in Penn State history, Chambers gave at least a little insight on how things could shake out during a recent interview with ESPN Radio 1450.
"Jamari has a high IQ. I think he's going to slow down a bit, even though I don't want him to slow down a bit. His speed puts teams on their heels." Says @Coach_Chambers says that he's going to continue to play defense the way he did, despite taking a bigger role— Thomas Frank J. Carr (@ThomasFrankCarr) May 21, 2018
"It's extremely hard when he knows he's only going to get one or two shots in a game." Chambers says he's a good shooter and getting better, but will be ready to shoot more next year. #PennStateBasketball— Thomas Frank J. Carr (@ThomasFrankCarr) May 21, 2018
In sophomore Jamari Wheeler, a spark plug sub and the most likely candidate to take over point duties from Carr, the Lions will be inserting a pesky defender and, uh, limited point producer into its starting lineup.
What’s of note is Chambers’ comments that Wheeler may intentionally slow down from his Flash-like tendencies next year. While this isn’t a total surprise for a player who will undoubtedly see a rise in the 14.4 minutes per game he contributed to last season’s rotation, it’s at least a little concerning as it would seem to mitigate his biggest strength.
And while any improvements in Wheeler’s 34.8 shooting percentage and two points per game from 2017-‘18 would be a welcomed development, the Lions most likely won’t be relying as much on guard play to fill the bucket next year, instead running the offense through forwards Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins.
What’s going on with Bruno Fernando?
Last week, we talked a little about Kevin Huerter’s impressive combine showing and the difficult decision he’ll need to make leading up to the May 30 withdrawal deadline, but what of the Terps other agent-less draft prospect?
News of Fernando’s outing at last week’s combine was overshadowed by Huerter’s buzz-worthy performance, but that doesn’t mean the freshmen forward is any more likely to return to College Park for his sophomore year.
In fact, according to the Washington Post’s Jesse Dougherty, as things stand right now, Fernando seems to be leaning towards forgoing his remaining eligibility to enter the professional ranks.
If he does, your guess is as good as mine on where the Angolan Assassin gets selected.
Borrowing a phrase from the NFL, the 6-foot-10 Fernando was a combine freak, nearing the top of almost every measurable, including a 7-foot-4.25 wingspan.
On the flip side, however, he didn’t make much of an impact during team scrimmages (3-for-8 shooting with four rebounds and three personal fouls in 19 minutes of action on Thursday, 3-for-7 shooting with three rebounds and four personal fouls in 20 minutes of playing time on Friday) reinforcing the narrative that he may have a hard time staying on the floor in the NBA.
There’s also questions on how to utilize Fernando in the NBA and its 3-and-D game, as shooting the long ball was something he was not asked to do during his one year at Maryland.
Whether teams view Fernando as more Alex Len or Diamond Stone will impact how they view his ceiling, and likewise, what type of pick they’d be willing to invest in drafting him.
Of course, should he elect to forgo his collegiate eligibility, a lot can happen during individual team visits and workouts leading up to late June’s NBA draft. After all, it only takes one team falling in love with his intangibles to make him a first round pick.
Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out leading up to May 30, and potentially, into June for Fernando.
Swiping right on Steve Pikiell
Things around the Scarlet Knights were quiet this week, but thanks to the magic of Twitter my budding man crush on Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell was able to blossom a little bit more.
Guys, @CoachPikiell can do no wrong in my eyes. Awesome. pic.twitter.com/fFodR9JbHR— Dave White (@Dave_White) May 24, 2018
Did @CoachPikiell really send me a handwritten card? That's really cool, thank you! I'm definitely coming back to the RAC next season! pic.twitter.com/YxGDaEj6Tz— Kristin Tangel (@KristinTangel) May 18, 2018
Sure, coaches at other programs do this type of publicity all the time, but this feels like a huge step in the right direction for a program whose last two head coaches were Mike Rice and Eddie Jordan.
In much the same way I feel about Pat Chambers at Penn State, Rutgers seems to finally be in the right hands with coach Pikiell. Yes, the results aren’t there yet but the positive momentum and character of the man in charge are reasons to finally be optimistic in New Jersey.