Penn State Basketball: Garner's Play A Positive In Season Full Of Many
Shep Garner is a freshman, only months removed from high school.
But you'd never know it.
His 10.5 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists a game are impressive and essential additions to Penn State's offensive equation. What really makes Garner's performances turn heads though; the little things about how he plays.
The veteran decisions, the timely shots and the improving defense have helped propel Garner into consideration as one of the Big Ten's best newcomers early in the season.
While some freshman might get caught up in the buzz surrounding their particular program, Garner didn't even know until Wednesday morning that the team had picked up Top 25 votes days earlier. It's something of an afterthought with so much left to do this year.
"It's a lot different from high school," Garner said inside the Bryce Jordan Center on Thursday. "But I've adjusted pretty good I think. Lately I think I've been playing pretty well. Defensively it was hard in the beginning but I think I've turned a corner a little bit. It's effort and it's knowing where I've got to be. Coach demands effort, and as time goes on I'm learning where I have to be in different rotations, so it's getting better."
"Pretty well" is a humble way of describing it. Through 11 games Garner has scored in double figures in all but three contests dishing out two or more assists in all but one. Garner's potential this season was recognized when coach Pat Chambers privately penciled in Garner's role five weeks before the season started.
In the first six games of the year Garner turned the ball over 12 times, in the last five games he's turned it over only 7 times and only three times in the past three games to go along with 10 assists.
For a freshman taking over the majority of the point guard duties, his continually improving efficiency is impossible to ignore.
Fittingly, Garner isn't surprised by his play. It's the kind of confidence that can be seen across the 10-1 Nittany Lion roster. Part is the result of success, part the naivete that comes with every successful start to a freshman year -- when the grind of college basketball hasn't hit you yet.
"I did, I did I expect it to go well. You know my teammates and my coaches give me confidence to play the way I play, that's it." Garner said in his refreshingly soft-spoken but bluntly honest voice.
What should excite fans is how far Garner still has to go. His season has yet to hit the tough test of the ups and downs he'll see in Big Ten play. Garner himself will admit that playing several times a week has been an adjustment, simply smiling and nodding when asked if he's happy for the short break from basketball to take care of academics and final exams.
"I saw myself get better, a lot better in the summer time. I pushed myself," Garner said pausing to reflect on a series of preseason workouts with his teammates. "They pushed me to another level that I didn't think I would ever get to. I was probably in the best shape of my life coming into this season."
Penn State basketball's "best player" has always shown early glimpses of what he will become down the road -- Talor Battle making big shots his freshman year, Tim Frazier dishing out assists in his. There is too much basketball left to be played in this young season to look toward the future, but as fans enjoy the program's apparent upward swing, it's easy to see that at least one point guard from Chester, PA is part of that equation.
But with more talent on the way and the likes of Geno Thorpe, Brandon Taylor already on the roster, for the first time in a long time Penn State won't have to simply rely on Garner's development.
And that's not a bad situation to be a part of.
"I mean, we just want to win. We just want to win games. And get better everyday. That's what it's all about."