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No. 20 Penn State vs No. 16 Michigan State Preview: One Final Time

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Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins are set to play their last home game of the year, culminating a great career as Nittany Lions.

NCAA Basketball: Alabama at Penn State Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

June 12, 2013

Michael Watkins commits to Penn State Nittany Lions

September 18, 2015

Lamar Stevens commits to Penn State Nittany Lions

Summer, 2019

Both Watkins and Stevens reaffirmed their commitment to the Nittany Lions, coming back for one last season instead of opting for the pros.

March 3, 2020

The Nittany Lions, projected between a 4-seed and a 6-seed in the latest NCAA tournament bracket predictions, face a game against the premier program in the Big Ten, the No. 16 Michigan State Spartans. The Lions are playing a game where they can position themselves inside the double-bye portion of the Big Ten tournament, and with enough chaos, share a piece of the regular season conference title.

All of the above became a reality when Watkins and Stevens chose to come back for one more season. But before that, all was set in motion back in 2013, when that first commitment in a series of classes that would ultimately turned the perception of what Penn State basketball is on its head. Mike was the first, and a few other names, some of them gone from the program, followed. It all culminated with the commitment from Stevens, and the turnaround was in motion.

When Mike first heard he got a scholarship to play at Penn State, he thought he was going to the school right down the street from where he lived. He recalls the culture shock of coming to a place so different than what he’s used to, as growing up in the inner Philadelphia streets is not the easiest of tasks. And for a person like Mike, who has shared his battle with bipolar disorder, the differences were stark. He had no shortage of struggles in his time with the Nittany Lions, but he has also grown and matured into the person he’s become today. His performance on the court is secondary to what he views as his life being saved, his coaching staff giving him every opportunity to succeed as a person, allowing him to be vulnerable and to “show love” without it leading to death. What he does on the court will forever come short to the limitless opportunities he has in front of him moving forward.

Lamar had plenty of plenty of options to choose from coming off a great high school career. Maryland, Villanova, Indiana, Florida State, a slew of Philly schools, and everything in between, were at Lamar’s disposal. But he choose the Nittany Lions instead. He once again had the opportunity to choose a different path for himself this summer. He could have chosen to enter his name in the NBA draft and see where he landed. He could be playing professional ball right now, like his former teammate has been for a couple of years now. Instead he chose to recommit to the college he made his original pledge to, because he wanted to leave a legacy.

Speaking of legacies, both players have already left their mark on this program. With two games left in the regular season including Tuesday night’s contest, the Nittany Lions have done with hasn’t been done too many times in the history of this program. They have punched a ticket to the NCAA tournament, rendering the results of the rest of the season useless. They’ve also matched the highest AP Poll ranking in school history, and reached the 20-win plateau faster than any other team in school history.

When it’s all said and done, Mike Watkins and Lamar Stevens will leave their names all over the Penn State record books; their contributions on the field warranting such accolades. Watkins is 5th in blocks in the Big Ten, second at Penn State. Stevens is closing in on the scoring record with the Nittany Lions, a feat he’s sure to accomplish before the season ends.

Most importantly, these players have given everyone connected with the Penn State basketball program a sense of belief. They’ve given us the hope that the Nittany Lions can accomplish something unprecedented, they’ve gone out and proved it on the floor. They’ve shown us that dreams do come true, by making ours a reality.

Prediction

In their final home game of the season, the boys in blue and white (or pink and black) will give us another reason to cheer. Penn State 79, Michigan State 75.