Tony Carr may very well be remembered as the best player to wear a Penn State basketball uniform. On Monday, Carr announced his intention to leave the program after just two seasons to enter the NBA draft and also hire an agent. While the news is not a major surprise to those who follow the Nittany Lions on the hardwood, it does open a void in the lineup that must be filled by Pat Chambers.
One thing is for certain, the replacement will not be a clone or facsimile of Tony Carr. In fact, replacing what Tony Carr brought to the team may very well require several players, not just one knight in shining armor.
Some of those players are already on the team and there is a strong chance that other players will be added to the roster before the start of the next season.
Tony Carr is 6’5” with long arms and he was able to grab nearly five rebounds per game during his two-year run with the Lions. Tim Frazier stands four inches shorter than Carr but was able to put up nearly identical rebound numbers over the course of his Penn State career. Jamari Wheeler is listed at exactly the same height and weight as Frazier and when looking at Wheeler’s rebounds per minutes played during his freshman season, it is right there with Carr and Frazier at 5.1 per forty minutes played.
It is worth pointing this out since the one notable advantage that Carr brought to the defensive side of the ball, rebounding, can be replaced with relative ease. Plugging Wheeler in for Carr would be, in most circumstances, an overall improvement for the team in terms of defense.
On the offensive side of the ball it will be much more difficult to absorb the loss of Tony Carr. That will come not just by the player inserted into the lineup at point guard, but also by the other four players on the court. Myles Dread and Rasir Bolton will join the team in the fall but neither will likely be ready to play forty minutes at the point guard position. Dread is more of a scorer and Bolton may take a year or so to get ready, much like Wheeler. The point may be run by committee until a player grabs the role and hangs onto it.
Going to the roster and stats to discern which player may score the nearly twenty points per game that Carr contributed would be a fool’s errand. It would be nice to see Dread score at that pace as a true freshman, or for Chambers to land a transfer to do so, but it is much more realistic to imagine a scenario which the entire team makes up for the loss.
Only one other player has left the Penn State basketball program after two seasons and found a path to the NBA; Chris Babb. Babb played two seasons in Happy Valley before transferring to Iowa State for his final two, then played fourteen games with the Boston Celtics in 2014 before moving on to lower-level professional leagues. Babb currently plays for Lokomotiv Kuban in Russia.
Other than that, the four players that had significant NBA careers once leaving the Lions since the start of the B1G era were John Amaechi, Calvin Booth, Joe Crispin and Tim Frazier. Frazier had a medical redshirt season and Amaechi sat out a year when he transferred to Penn State from Vanderbilt. Crispin and Booth played four years before moving on. The significance of a player being able to play in the NBA after just two years should be recognized as an accomplishment for the entire program.
Keeping that in mind, there were possibly four players on the Penn State roster this past season that will dip their toes in the NBA waters at some point. Carr and Mike Watkins are the names that were thrown around during the season most often but Lamar Stevens and Josh Reaves may get a look as well. Reaves is in the Chris Babb mold, a defensive specialist, but his improvement on the offensive side of the ball between his sophomore and junior seasons was impressive.
Lamar Stevens is the type of player that a solid team can be built around. There are few players in college basketball that will be able to cover Stevens without help, creating many of the opportunities for open teammates that Tony Carr’s presence provided. We also saw in early January what Pat Chambers’ team looked like with Carr and Watkins but without Reaves; it was just a shell of its potential, the inner spark gone.
Having a player leave for the NBA after just two seasons may be a first for Penn State, but if the team is successful in maintaining its current momentum, it may not be the last time this happens. The programs around the country that compete at the highest level each year, as many Penn State fans wish their team to do, lose players early with regularity. We should anticipate this in the future as the team climbs in national relevance.
Addition By Subtraction
There was a consistent and mostly fair criticism of Tony Carr until just a couple of months ago; he doesn’t share the ball well and has a tendency to play ‘hero ball’ in critical moments. Carr made noticeable improvement in that area as the team went on a tremendous run to finish the Big Ten season and on to an NIT championship. As recently as late January there were doubts that the team would ever achieve its full potential with Carr taking forced shots over double-teams. Now there are some that are having trouble imagining a world without Carr in a Penn State uniform.
While it is hard to frame the loss of a player such as Carr as a net positive, this does not have to be looked at as a doomsday scenario. There will be opportunities for other players to show their abilities. The roster has enough talent returning to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament next season.
This should not be looked at as the end of Penn State’s basketball momentum but the inevitable product of the recruiting success that Pat Chambers has strung together for the past few seasons. If the team continues its upward trajectory there will surely be other players that leave before their NCAA eligibility runs out.
This isn’t the end of the world for the Lions, just the end of the world as we know it. For those who have wanted the program to take a leap forward onto the stage of annual national relevance, this may be another critical step in the process. I feel fine. There will be no trouble at all tonight, no worry or stress, that will keep me from achieving solid, healthy, rapid eye movement sleep. Penn State fans should rest easy as well. This is what success looks like. Players leave for the NBA and then other players come in to fill the void. The open slot created by Carr will be very attractive to players that may be offered the opportunity to fill it. While the incoming player may not be the same caliber as the best player to ever play at Penn State, Tony Carr, it should be enough for the program to continue its momentum.