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Penn State Basketball: The Climb Begins As Penn State Faces Crucial Two Season Stretch

by on October 14, 2016 2:00 PM

"There are a lot of potentially really good basketball players on this team." someone said standing inside the Bryce Jordan Center practice gym earlier this week.

"There are enough," was the response. "That's really all you need."

The room was full of tables, two players at each station answering questions about the upcoming season. Tony Carr and Shep Garner, Payton Banks and Nazeer Bostick, Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins. Not to mention the likes of Josh Reaves, Julian Moore and Terrance Samuel.

And that's probably the biggest takeaway from Penn State's media day. In years past you could pick out Penn State's starting five with relative ease, this year players good enough to start will be coming off the bench. Everywhere you look there is someone that will add something to the mix, athletes that have the potential to be something more than your average Penn State basketball player.

If anything media day was as much a showcase of years of work on the recruiting trail as it was an introduction to the upcoming season. The net sum of long days on the road, recruits saying no and then saying yes.

It says something about the success that Penn State basketball has had that Joe Hampton's departure from the program just days prior to practice starting was seen as an unfortunate but relatively unimportant turn of events. Hampton at one point was the highest rated player to ever commit to Penn State, and yet by the time he left Tony Carr had taken over that mantel and Lamar Stevens and Nazeer Bostick had both finished their high school careers with their stock going higher and higher.

The result is the feeling that Penn State has reached the point where this will either work or it won't. If Penn State is ever going to be a basketball school in some sort of even moderately successful capacity, the next two or three seasons will determine if that is possible. The Nittany Lions are almost unequivocally as talented and as athletic as they have ever been and Penn State's popularity as a basketball program, aside from a Sweet 16 run and an NIT Title, is about as high as it ever has been on campus.

“There’s no limits on this team,” Coach Pat Chambers said. “There’s going to be expectations and there’s never been expectations before and let’s enjoy it and let’s have fun with it. That’s been the mantra.”

And in truth Chambers has little option but to embrace that hype at this point. Penn State threw a Signing Day party, the first ever in program history, to a packed room of eager fans. The non conference schedule is a brutal slate, equal parts luck and self-inflicted challenges, all in the name of preparing for Big Ten play. Chambers wanted a big time program, and to his credit he has built up enough hype and legitimate talent to give it a shot. Short of season altering injuries, he now has to prove that the hard work will pay off on the court.

In truth, through no fault of Chambers', Penn State probably won't be the team it needs to be to make the NCAA tournament this season, but the lessons learned will set the program up for what amounts to a do-or-die 2017. With no seniors on the roster, it will be the same faces for two straight years getting better and better. At least in theory.

"It’s a great thing. I’m actually embracing it. We love it. We want those expectations. But for me, inside my locker room, we just need to be the best team we can be by the end of the year," Chambers added. "We just have to be better than we were last year. Our ticket sales are already up. The Palestra game is already sold out. That right then and there is showing where we are and where the program is headed. It’s an exciting time to climb. But we need everybody to climb with us. Students. Everybody. Sandy Barbour is here, they are all going to climb with us."

How high Penn State can climb is an unknown, even for the most optimistic, but as you looked around the Bryce Jordan Center practice gym there are players that might be perfect for making that climb.

In fact, there might just be enough.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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