The Climb Continues
It’s not lost on me that basketball gets forgotten in the shuffle this time of year. Football rules the roost around here for sure but the season tip-off is just around the corner for Nittany Lion basketball. Believe it or not, there’s a buzz that’s brewing inside the BJC and in the national media as well. The graduation of Mr. Electric, Josh Reeves, now turning heads with the Dallas Mavericks of the NBA hurts. As does the loss of hot/cold freshman Rasir Bolton (who left via the transfer portal) but there’s a nucleus intact that’s enough to make even tournament guru Jay Bilas of ESPN predict a first-ever appearance in the Big Dance during the Chamber’s era.
It all begins and ends with the return of Lamar Stevens, a.k.a. the Predator. Had he left early we very well could have been a squad in shambles, but the senior power forward chose to stay and WE ARE much better for his monumental decision to stick it out and continue to refine his arsenal. Stevens returns as a Big Ten and national All-American candidate as well as potential conference player of the year. His leadership and skill set are second to none as we set our sights on making noise in March.
Along with Stevens, big man Mike Watkins dipped his toe in the professional waters briefly before ultimately deciding to give it one more shot at Penn State. We all know the adversity he faced as he overcame not only a knee injury suffered the year prior but mental struggles as well. The willingness on Chambers's behalf to stand by Watkins rather than just cast him by the wayside only seemed to strengthen his bond with the players, and it was evident on Watkin's face, with his huge smile, when we saw him over the summer. His return represents an inside force that’s hard to top in the conference when his game is firing on all cylinders.
Jamari Wheeler and Myles Dread return to run the point. Both possess a dangerous combination of speed. Dread offers a shooting touch that’s hard to beat when his game is on. Wheeler is a thief in the night when it comes to defense and as last year wore on, he became much more reliable with his shot. Tough guy John Harrar is back to spell Watkins when he’s out and could also present an intriguing matchup when both are in together, as is Myreon Jones, who had a few shining moments of his own last year as a freshman.
Izaiah Brockington, who sat out under transfer rules last year, is tasked with filling the huge shadow left behind by Reeves and both Seth Lundy, from that Roman Catholic Philly pipeline and Patrick Kelley are two freshmen expected to work their way into meaningful playing time as the season wears on. Curtis Jones is a grad-transfer from Oklahoma State with immediate eligibility and is expected to provide depth off the bench along with Trent Buttrick and Kyle McCloskey.
Make no mistake, I admit to wearing thin on ‘The Climb' but in no way has my confidence in this team waned. The moment Stevens declared he was coming back is the very moment Penn State became a true March Madness contender. So get those dancing shoes polished up and ready to go. Football may rule the roost but I fully expect our hoops squad to make some noise of its own this season. It all starts on November 5, 2019, against Maryland Eastern Shore.