Despite not living up to expectations last season, Shep Garner’s contribution to the team during his career should not be overlooked. He has a chance to play an instrumental role in a return to the postseason for Penn State if he’s able to provide consistent shooting from beyond the arc.
Of course, fans who have followed the recruiting process over the past few years know that Garner has meant more than his in-game statistics show. Pat Chambers commented on this, and Shep’s leadership, during media day in NYC:
He’s meant the world to us, I mean, he opened the door to Roman (Catholic High School). He obviously recruited Tony (Carr), Lamar (Stevens), and Naz (Nazeer Bostick). How he’s carried himself off the floor and what he’s doing for us on the floor, his leadership now is really shining through. He’s done it all. He’s going to embody, when it’s all said and done, what a Penn State basketball player needs to be for us. He’s meant a lot to this program for sure.
What he did last season
Shep Garner’s improvement over his first two years did not translate into a breakout junior season. The arrival of Tony Carr, a prototypical point guard, meant that Shep would be able to move off the ball and focus on raining down threes. While it sounded great in theory, we saw Garner’s 3-point shooting percentage decrease to 35% (from 36% the previous season) and his overall production suffered as well. Part of this was due to an influx in talented young players who contributed to the offense, but his development stalled in a year where many hoped he could take a step forward.
The ability to shift Garner into a shooting guard role was seen by many as a move that would benefit the Nittany Lions’ best perimeter shooter, but the new role didn’t immediately click as Shep disappeared at times from the offensive gameplan. Despite being an upperclassmen, he made some questionable decisions in his shot selection which upset the game flow.
What to expect this season
With the performance of the younger players around him last season, and the arrival of Jamari Wheeler to backup Tony Carr, Shep’s role this season is crystal clear: shoot above 40% from the perimeter and be a leader for the team. I don’t think there’s any question that Shep will be a positive role model for his teammates. His character and grit have made him an excellent fit for Chambers’ system since he arrived on campus. The question is whether or not his 3-point shooting can progress and become consistent enough to demand attention from opposing teams, opening up the paint for his teammates.
Shep Garner wants to go out a winner. His commitment to the program which includes working to convince his Roman Catholic teammates to join him in State College cannot be overlooked. In his senior season he’ll have an opportunity to play a crucial role on a team with postseason aspirations. While he’s no longer the focal point of the offense, Garner’s abilities beyond the arc are unmatched by any of his teammates.
Three-point shooting has been an issue for all of Chambers’ teams during his tenure at Penn State. Shep shot above 50% during the Summer trip to the Bahamas, if he can come within 10 percentage points of that during the season, he’ll have the type of finish to his career that winners strive for. With a year under his belt in more of a supporting role, I think Garner will do a better job of letting the game come to him rather than forcing his shot. If Penn State is dancing in March, Shep Garner will have played no small part.