Our look back at the past decade continues with basketball, this time looking at the 10 best players that donned the blue and white. When compiling this list, a combination of talent, production, and impact to the program were considered, so don’t be surprised if some people you didn’t expect made it to the list. Also, this list is restricted to former players, as players currently on the roster have worked left to do. You could say some have already earned a spot in the top 10, and will undoubtedly be present in the next iteration of this list. Without further ado, let’s get started!
No. 10: Jeff Brooks
Career: 882 points, 533 rebounds, 159 assists, 80 blocks, 62 steals
Oh what could have been. The one thing Brooks is remembered for is having done down in the NCAA Tournament game against Temple in 2011, which most believe led to the game being as closed as it was in the second half, and ultimately being a loss for the Nittany Lions. Brooks was one of those players who got just a little better every season, culminating in his 32-minute per game senior season. Most of Brook’s stats were best in his senior season, which came a long way in helping the Nittany Lions make the tournament that year.
No. 9: Brandon Taylor
Career: 1289 points, 646 rebounds, 106 assists, 91 blocks, 50 steals
Another “got better as he got older” player, doesn’t have a tournament appearance under his belt. By all accounts, however, his senior season was quite surprising, finishing 7-11 in conference play, when most expected 3 or 4 wins at most. All hopes for an NIT season came to a crash in that fateful loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament, but Taylor had already cemented himself as one of the more memorable players to that point in his career. More meaningful, however, was when Brandon committed to play for the Nittany Lions; a time where other players were opting to go in another direction.
No. 8: Shep Garner
Career: 1629 points, 368 rebounds, 317 assists, 16 blocks, 151 steals
Shep Garner is one of my favorite players to put the Nittany Lion uniform since I’ve been a fan. If D.J. Newbill (more on him later) can be credited with opening the Philadelphia pipeline to the Nittany Lions, Garner gets credit for opening the Roman Catholic pipeline. Garner came in and immediately made an impact on the team, playing a sizeable 28.8 minutes per game his freshman season. Another case of “saved his best for last,” Garner broke the record for three-pointers at Penn State his senior season, en route to the Lions’ second NIT championship. His 43.3 percent rate from three in his senior season was matched only by the player next on this list.
No. 7: Tony Carr
Career: 1161 points, 341 rebounds, 325 assists, 20 blocks, 52 steals
If this list were limited to talent alone, Carr would appear much higher. Maybe if Carr had stayed on for one more season, this wouldn’t even be a debate. But that didn’t happen, and Carr’s appearance is judged based on his First Team All-Big Ten sophomore season, which was amazing (especially by the end of the year), as well as his freshman season, which was not as good. The fact that he amassed 1,000 points in two seasons is still a testament of what Carr could do, and seeing him toying with teams in the NIT was definitely a sight to behold. Oh, what could have been.
No. 6: Mike Watkins
Career: 1169 points, 953 rebounds, 68 assists, 265 blocks, 95 steals
They called him Mike Swatkins for a reason. Watkins is second in blocks at Penn State, behind Calvin Booth. He was also named to the Big Ten all defensive team in 2018, when his season was cut short due to injury. When Watkins was on, he could be one of the best players on the court, but when he was off, he was, well, off. Watkins showed off a great deal of strength and courage, however, after coming out to state he has bipolar disorder, crediting the Penn State community for saving his life. Watkins played an integral part in both the NIT-winning season and last years, would-be NCAA Tournament year, and who knows what could have been, in the latter.
No. 5: Josh Reaves
Career: 1079 points, 540 rebounds, 310 assists, 92 blocks, 250 steals
Defensive player of the year in 2019. Two-time steals leader in 2018 and 2019, and second in 2017. Two-time all defensive team selection. Reaves was a forced to be reckoned with on defense, and his offense became better and better as the seasons went along. He’d probably say his senior season did not go exactly as he’d hoped, but the impact he had with the Nittany Lions was felt from the minute he stepped on the court to the minute he left it. His most memorable play will probably be the dunk to seal the victory in the quarterfinals of the 2018 Big Ten Tournament, a win that solidified Penn State’s place in the NIT.
No. 4: Tim Frazier
Career: 1543 points, 522 rebounds, 641 assists, 20 blocks, 196 steals
When most of the 2011 team left, Tim Frazier became the anchor that led Penn State through the rough patches of what would become a brutal Big Ten. Named First Team All-Big Ten in 2012, Frazier led the conference in assists in that season, as well as 2014.
No. 3: D.J. Newbill
Career (Penn State): 1812 points, 482 rebounds, 288 assists, 26 blocks, 107 steals
D.J. Newbill, the Philadelphia guy who was not afraid to come to State College. What Newbill means to this program cannot be overstated, having paved the way for the number of players from the Philly area who would have otherwise gone elsewhere (and who, at the time of his commitment, wouldn’t even bother picking up the phone). Newbill was a monster on the court, being capable of taking over games almost on his own. A Nittany Lion through and through, D.J.’s name is one that will be remembered for years to come.
No. 2: Talor Battle
Career: 2213 points, 625 rebounds, 517 assists, 12 blocks, 145 steals
Battle, like Newbill, was a flat out baller. Battle had his hand in two of Penn State’s five best seasons in the past 20 years, Battle gets the honor of claiming an NIT championship as well as an NCAA Tournament appearance to his name. He remains the leader in points scored, by the slimmest of margins, and claims three First Team All-Big Ten honors to his name as well. Watching Battle play was quite fun, especially when making shots from half court.
No. 1: Lamar Stevens
Career: 2207 points, 875 rebounds, 262 assists, 127 blocks, 107 steals
This should come as no surprise to anyone. If Penn State’s turnaround sticks, Stevens would be the reason why. Lamar could have chosen to try his luck with the NBA draft, but instead he came back for his senior season, one where he’d see his Nittany Lions ascend all the way to a No. 9 ranking, the highest since the late 90s. And, had it not been for the NCAA Tournament being canceled as part of COVID-19 precautions, Stevens would have claimed both an NIT championship and a tournament appearance as well. Not to mention, those extra 7 points needed to become the all-time leader at Penn State would have probably come in a half. All in all, Penn State is blessed to have had a guy like Lamar spent four years building what we hope is a lasting legacy.