With the first regular season game of Penn State's season less than month away, media gathered at the Bryce Jordan Center on Monday to talk with old and new Nittany Lions.
Here are some of the biggest storylines from 2019 Media Day.
Lamar Stevens made the decision to run it back with Penn State for his final year of eligibility and pursue an NCAA tournament berth.
Now, Stevens is the Big Ten’s leading-returning scorer and rebounder, and he welcomes the high expectations that the program has accumulated heading into this season.
“For me, being a senior and knowing this is my last year playing college basketball, it’s something I’ve always dreamed about as a kid so it’s not overwhelming for me,” Stevens said. “It’s a challenge I’m willing to accept.”
If the Nittany Lions want to achieve their goals this season, Stevens is going to have to be the driving force of the team, much like he was last season.
But there’s still room for the senior forward to grow as a player and a leader.
It’s clear that Stevens is the best player on this team, by far, and Chambers recognizes that along with the value in the trickle-down effect that his No. 1 guy can have on the rest of the group.
“I think Lamar is an elite player, obviously a first team All-Big Ten player,” Chambers said. “But I want more, and it’s so small the more that I want, and if he goes with that Kobe Bryant mamba mentality I think he gets there individually, but then he brings everybody with him… and that way you have everybody with that mamba mentality, and that’s a tough team to beat.”
Stevens has had high quality, older players around him the whole time he’s been in the program, but now he’s the guy who has to set the tone for this team.
“It’s an everyday thing, coach wants me to have that killer mentality, that dominant mentality in every drill and every practice, in everything we do,” Stevens said. “I think it’s good for me and for the team, there’s no settling, you can always get better, you can always push yourself to that limit and never settle for less.”
Depth is an area that this program hasn’t been as confident with in recent years, but with Stevens returning and some offseason additions, that doesn’t seem to be the case now.
“We’ve got some depth at the guard, we’ve got some depth up front,” Chambers said. “Right now I believe we can play 10 or 11 guys.”
The additions of Curtis Jones, a transfer from Oklahoma State, and Izaiah Brockington, a transfer from Saint Bonaventure will be key for the Nittany Lions rotation this season.
Jones adds experience to the backcourt as a playmaker who will likely come off the bench and run the offense.
The grad transfer started his career elsewhere in the Big Ten with Indiana before moving on to Oklahoma State before coming to Happy Valley.
“We’ve added some much-needed fire power in Curtis Jones and Izaiah Brockington, so we definitely have some depth to go along with some sophomores that played critical minutes for us last year.”
Brockington, who was with the program last season but had to sit out per NCAA rules, is competing for a spot in the starting lineup and has turned some heads with his athleticism.
“Izaiah, it’s gonna hurt me to say this, but he’s probably the best athlete on the team,” Stevens said. “He’s got like a 44-45 inch vertical, something crazy, super fast, super good in transition, he’s a good three point shooter.”
With so many returning players, Penn State has just two freshmen on the roster in Seth Lundy and Patrick Kelly.
Lundy attended Roman Catholic high school like so many other Nittany Lions in years past, and when he was a freshman at the school Stevens was in his senior year.
“In years past we would have to start Seth [Lundy],” Chambers said. “And now we can bring [Lundy] along slowly and be patient with him as he follows guys like Lamar Stevens.”
After missing significant time a season ago with a knee injury, Mike Watkins is gearing up for his senior season.
The big man has had his ups and downs on the court, but when he has been fully healthy he has looked like one of the conference’s most dominant forces in the paint.
“I think he’s the best big man in the country,” Jamari Wheeler said. “He stayed up here this whole summer to work on his game, that was a big decision for him and his family.”
And Watkins looked like his old self in practice on Monday as he seemed light-footed and very mobile in drills.
“He looks healthier than he ever has,” Chambers said. “His knee looks better, he’s in better shape, his second jump is back, so I’m excited for what [Watkins and Stevens] can do for us nationally.”