The Penn State men's basketball team hosted its preseason media day Tuesday, with head coach Patrick Chambers speaking to the media and a few players sitting down for brief interviews with GoPSUSports.com. Here is a summary of what Chambers told the assembled reporters:
- On the freshman class: There is going to be pressure on the freshmen since they are part of a highly touted recruiting class. They're worked well within the team's culture, and when they make mistakes, they're coachable. Josh Reaves is "everything that you've read about ... and then some." Mike Watkins is "an incredible athlete that's blocking shots and owning the glass." Davis Zemgulis "just drills threes out of nowhere." The freshmen have a long way to go, but their attitude and approach has been great. They need to continue that to get minutes.
- On whether Josh Reaves is a day one starter: Reaves has to earn a starting spot. Chambers has never told a recruit he would start. Reaves was here for both summer sessions and is ahead because of that. He's put on weight and he's looked good but he has to earn it every day, just like everyone else on the team. The best players will play.
- On if there is a "go-to scorer" to replace D.J. Newbill: Garner has shown himself to be capable of being a go-to guy but the frontcourt is going to help take pressure off the guards after losing D.J. Newbill. Payton Banks is ready to step up and get significant minutes. Devin Foster is ready to take some more responsibilities. The team will be fun to watch because there is no Newbill or Tim Frazier or Talor Battle.
- On how much playing time to expect from Mike Watkins: Watkins has "some development" he need to progress with. He competes and has "a nose for the basketball like I've never seen before." If you do that and block shots like he does, you will have an opportunity for minutes. Whoever is going to defend and rebound and give the team the best chance for success is going to be on the floor.
- On how the frontcourt will contribute offensively: The frontcourt is in great shape and had a great summer in regards to strength and conditioning. The bigs are asked to be between 8-12% body fat, and they are all there, with Jordan Dickerson being actually better than that. Little things like footwork have been big focuses as well.
- On where the leadership will come from without Newbill: The team formed a leadership council: Garner, Taylor, Donovon Jack, Foster, and Reaves. Those five guys have taken ownership of the locker room, the workouts, etc. They are pushing each other and want to build off last year's optimistic finish. He also mentioned Dickerson and Banks as having stepped up as leaders.
- On if there is a tactical advantage to having coached in the Big Ten for several years: Every year we've tailored what we do offensively and defensively to the players we have. We need to put the players in the best position to win. The road in the Big Ten is difficult, but there is some advantage to having been here for a few years and knowing some things about the other teams.
- On expectations for Shep Garner: I expect Shep to be a leader. I expect him to be more consistent, and he has been over the summer and in the preseason. He is going to learn from the experiences last year, both positive and negative. He knows what the Big Ten is all about. It's important that he and I stay attached at the hip, and he's got to be consistent whether he is hitting threes or not.
- On the team's offensive identity: We're going to share the ball a lot more. Late last season, we were having four guys in double figures, and didn't rely on 20 from Newbill. It's going to loosen things up for Shep and Brandon Taylor. Having more balance is something we're striving for. The leading scorer will emerge, but I don't know, and I'm excited about how many guys can put the ball in the basket. Our offense has to come from our defense. Dickerson is going to be one of the best shot blockers in school history, and that will lead to easy baskets.
- On recruiting: It's been a long process. We're headed into Year 5 and it hasn't been great recruits overnight. We want to do something that's built to last and consistent. We're excited about 2015 and 2016. Our staff and players believe in the vision. We want to do something this place has never seen before. It's always about the players. Shep, D.J., and Tim have set up something for the long haul.
- On what's different about the recruiting: It's the quality of players and kids we're getting. We're not afraid to go to different areas and battle some of the better programs in the country. I've heard plenty of "no's," more than I'd like to share. It's nice to hear "yes's" but it's taken a long time. Kids find us a viable option, to come here and do something special that they haven't seen before.
- On whether Dickerson and Watkins will be on the floor at the same time: We have smaller lineups and bigger lineups and a lot of things we can do. I don't know if I can say they'll play together but we are definitely going to have some really big lineups.
- On experience at USA fantasy camp: It was awesome. To be able to sit there and talk basketball with Mike Fratello and P.J. Carliesimo and Billy Raftery and Matt Painter ... we don't usually have that down time as coaches to do that. I really enjoyed it. We watched Coach K run his practices. Boeheim and Thibs and all the pros were there. What a great experience those four-and-a-half days were. I absolutely tapped into some of these NBA guys and proven coaches who have had a lot of success and some failure. To see why, what they did well and didn't do well and what they would go back and change. It was a really good summer for me as a coach. Fratello emphasized knowing what is important and not important and that stuck with me.
- On the impact of the 30-second shot clock: We've been working since the summer with a 20-second shot clock. There will be token pressure and zone. So we want to play at our pace. We want to not panic and get uncontested, open shots. We are okay with getting late in the shot clock with an extra pass to get that shot.
- On Garner having a quick trigger: Everyone went crazy on Shep for shooting from long distance and Brandon Taylor probably in your mind took ill-advised shots. I want my guys to play with the ultimate confidence. If they feel like they're confident and they can make that shot, I have to let them take it. Yes, I had to reel him in a bit, but I want them to be confident. They're being unselfish, they're making plays for others, they're taking care of the basketball. Brandon Taylor is going to be a mismatch. We've got to take advantage of that. He's ready for it.
- On managing the hype around Reaves: It's gotta be humble and hungry, don't hit the ball and run to third. Be patient, you'll make mistakes. We're going to learn and develop. It's freshman year. It's going to be rocky, it's going to be up and down. Just be consistent everyday, be coachable, and don't listen to the noise and distractions. We'll meet as often as we can and help him along the journey. He's got a good way about him, he's level-headed.
- On Dickerson's offseason: The last 6-8 games he was dominant. He was the real reason we had the chances in those games. Foul trouble took him to the bench in that final game. I see a dominant force who is going to dominate the paint and be one of the best not just in the Big Ten but in the country. We need that from him because that's easy baskets for us.
- On what the recruiting pitch is: I wouldn't say it's a pitch. It's an opportunity. Penn State sells itself with the administration we have. The direction we're going in shows what a great university this is and what a great athletic department we have. I have most of my recruits meet Sandy Barbour and Dr. Barron. The players are probably better recruiters than I am. That's what our push is, that's what opportunity we are showing. When we bring them here on a football Saturday it's the fans, it's the alums. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that? To me it's a no-brainer. You have to want to get your degree. It's a simple formula. We've heard some "yes's" recently but everyone's a part of it.
- On the luxury of being able to redshirt guys like Isiah Washington: I'd rather have a full deck of cards so I don't consider it a luxury. Washington was a medical redshirt. He's learned a lot. He's gotten bigger and stronger and wiser. He has a voice in the locker room. That definitely helps from a maturity standpoint.
- On how hard it is to learn how to win close games with a young team: I've read so many books and talked to so many coaches this summer. The best way to learn is failure, and we failed 13 times. We are so close to making those game-winning plays. It falls on my shoulders first. I have to dissect everything I did in the last four minutes. Then they have to see what they need to do better. We need to be prepared to go through anything. I think we learned from those losses and that's where those wins came from.
- On Penn State basketball fans: We were number five in growth of attendance, which is exciting. Now that attendance is going to be free, I expect that to be even higher this year. I hope they'll come out. We're going back to Rec, I think that's an exciting time for current students and alumni and fans from that time back in the day. Season ticket sales is up, things are looking really good. I want those students here, they can give us that edge in the last two minutes of the game. We're going to have a Blue-White scrimmage on October 24 at the Altoona Fieldhouse. We're trying to do some different things where everyone can be part of Penn State basketball.
- On where community service fits in the recruiting pitch: It's right up there after our academic reputation. We're blessed, it's a privilege, it's an honor. Let's go out and affect people's lives, let's put smiles on children's faces. Let's help the needy and the sick and people with cancer. The recruits know if you come to Penn State you're going to be a part of the fabric of the community. That's not going to change.
In addition, three players on the team sat down briefly with GoPSUSports.com for a couple of questions.
- Donovon Jack spoke about emphasizing fundamentals and consistency in his play. He also noted that he is excited about returning to Rec Hall for two games.
- Brandon Taylor jokingly lamented that he was repeatedly asked the same questions at media day. Taylor said that he wants to lead by example as a senior. When asked about what skill he's developed the best during his time at Penn State, Taylor said it was his post game. He wants to look for mismatches on offense more frequently this season.
- Shep Garner said that the thing he noticed most in watching film of his freshman season was the need to slow everything down. Garner thinks the team has "a lot of shooters, a lot of scorers." He complimented Brandon Taylor in particular for being a dynamic scorer. He said he didn't need to push the freshmen to work hard, as they came in and had the motivation to do so already.