Penn State Basketball: Lamar Stevens Talks Legacy, the Past and What Lies Ahead
Lamar Stevens probably never imagined he would sit 25 points shy of Penn State basketball's scoring title with at least three games remaining in his career.
In truth, Stevens may have never imagined playing four seasons of college basketball with his professional hopes and dreams closing in. There is a harsh reality that most athletes will have exhausted perhaps more than half their playing career before ever getting paid to do it. It's a high-risk gamble with high-end rewards.
Then again, Lamar Stevens is not like most people, because most people don't decide to commit to a school with so little basketball tradition, so little direction and a lifetime of history saying that one player can't turn that ship all the way around.
Of course Penn State does not sit comfortably among a list of teams firmly in the NCAA Tournament singularly because of Stevens, but over a four-year ascension to this point, there has been one Nittany Lion constant along the way.
So maybe he did imagine he'd take the scoring title from Talor Battle, because in the end scoring a lot of points is a far easier task than turning an entire basketball program around. And he may end up having done both.
When it's all said and done, the true staying power of Penn State basketball will come down to the efforts of players and coaches still inside the Bryce Jordan Center long after Stevens has cleaned out his locker. He certainly led the horse to water though.
And he chatted with StateCollege.com about it.
SC.com: I remember going to the event at the BJC they had when you guys all signed and Skyped in, does that feel like yesterday or was that a lifetime ago?
LS: Almost yesterday, but I do remember everything about that day, but it definitely feels like time has gone by for sure.
What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
I wish I knew more about the amount of work it takes to be successful playing in the Big Ten. The shape that you had to be in, the sacrifices you had to make. You know, being a better leader and what it takes to build a winning culture. I wish I would have done that a little bit earlier. I would say those are a couple of the few things I wish I could have done a little bit earlier, had a little bit more knowledge of.
Do you ever think about being the only one left of those guys you signed with?
I kind of don't want to ever think back in the past because, you know, there's nothing you can do about it. I just want to attack whatever challenges I have with a group of guys that work. So luckily, I'm surrounded by a great group of guys that work hard and are truly selfless. That transition, at first I was like, I had never played without those guys that I was super close with... I had never played like this before. It was different but I just tried to attack every situation.
Were you always OK with being the only one left? Tony left, and it was just you to carry the load.
I was just really happy for him. Tony made the decision that he felt was best for him and his family. You know, I could never argue with anybody for doing that. Especially if you don't know what they may be going through or anything that may be going on in their lives. Most definitely happy for Tony. I’m happy for my friend. Now it’s just time for me to step my game up and do whatever it takes to help this basketball team go in the right direction.
Has it been weird that making the tournament has been gradual? You’ve chased something for years but I don’t know that aside from the Michigan State win that there is a singular moment where it was officially official. Did you imagine it being more dramatic?
No, when I came back with the pieces that we had I knew we were going to be in the tournament. I didn’t think we were going to be a bubble team. Even looking into the Big Ten over the summer I didn’t think it would be as strong as it was this year, but I felt like we had an advantage with the older guys and experience that we had.
Was there a moment when you went from hoping you were going to make it to realizing that it was really going to happen?
The tournament, it was like something that we really didn't even talk about. We're confident that we're going into games on the road or at home and that we are winning. The rest of it will take care of itself, the tournament wasn’t a big topic of conversation. Going into a game we're an extremely confident team with a lot of swag. I've been going into games with them and with that confidence, you just handle business and everything else to take care of itself.
Are you giving yourself time to enjoy any of this? It seems like you are having fun, but it also seems like you’re putting even more of yourself into these games than before, which is saying something.
Um, yeah, I'm definitely enjoying it. The fact that I can go out and play every day with these guys, my brothers and these coaches for one last year and I just, I'm definitely been enjoying myself. Trying to continue to push this program in the right direction.
I don’t think people appreciate the emotional toll that playing sports can take on guys who are in high pressure roles every single night. You’ve got coaches and teammates and friends, but when you wake up in the morning, what has gotten you out of bed for the last four years to take on one of the biggest challenges in college basketball and still have the heart to tackle it every single day?
It definitely hasn’t always been easy. But I always looked at it like, I love challenges and I love trying to figure things out. I take a huge sense of pride in almost everything I do. There are definitely times higher than others but I always try to never be down too long. Bad game, then wake up the next morning get in the gym and continue my routine, or, a bad season, after the season, continue to keep pushing, to keep getting better. I feel like that is something I've been able to learn and continue and grow from, just taking little snippets of stuff that coach does, run it from home. So like it's just who I am because I’m somebody who just wants to attack every challenge. You know, good or bad, just continue to put the work in.
Do you ever get tired? Do you ever admit to yourself that you’re tired?
No. (pauses)...The mind is extremely powerful. And you know, once you tell yourself that you’re tired, tell yourself you’re not as strong or not as confident one day and then that mindset and that thought becomes reality. I’m big on just continuing to talk to myself, continuing to do positive self talk. I'm confident in the work that I put in during the offseason to allow myself to play at a high level throughout the season.
I don’t want to be the person who jinxes you, but all things being equal you should end the season with Penn State’s scoring title. You’ve never been one to bask in your accomplishments publicly but I’m sure you are aware of it. What is that going to feel like if or when that happens?
Really nothing like it; it'll be a cool accomplishment for the moment. But, you know, me, I've had enough individual accolades and I'm ready to just do whatever it takes for my team to be successful, I want coach to be successful and that's really my main priority. I think later on down the line after the season or years after that there'll be something cool I’ll be able to say and a cool accomplishment for me but in terms of this year and March and early April, it's really all about the team for me.
A little off the wall, but I think we all have music that we identify with either lyrically or really remember from a chapter of our lives. What’s the Lamar Steven’s album? What’s that song that will bring you back to all of this in 10 years?
“Win” by DJ Khaled. Throughout the entire year this is probably my best year in terms of success I’ve had during my four years. After every win that's what we played. So we all just had a great celebrating to that. I think every time I’ve heard this song going into a game we’ve won this year.
A lot of guys commit to a school and say that they’re going to do X, Y or Z while they’re there. A lot fewer of them end up actually doing all those things. I know that nobody gets to be good at what they do by being satisfied, but what does it mean to you that you actually did most everything you said you were going to do?
The satisfaction really comes from knowing that I stayed the course, the good and bad.. And I really gave my all. I think that's where satisfaction comes from. This team is so talented to say I'll be satisfied because I really believe that the sky's the limit with this team going into the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament. So I think that's right now. That's where my biggest sense of satisfaction comes from just knowing that I stayed the course. And every day I still put in the same work with good and bad and I really gave my all to this program.
There’s a natural progression going from high school to college, but there are a lot of unknowns after college, for everyone, but athletes in particular. Is it ever stressful to not know what’s next or what that might look like?
It definitely can be. I also feel like my coaches and my parents do a great job of just trying to keep me in the moment. If you look too far ahead, you mess up the moment that you're in now and I think coach always says a great quote to the team and to me: "You can't win the moment if you're not in the moment." So always just try to be grounded and focus on whatever tasks are at hand and focus on that stuff when the time is right.
What does legacy mean to you?
Leaving something, a tradition, leaving the proper culture. Just having something that people will remember.
What do you hope your legacy is?
What I want to leave behind is just that winning mentality, that winning tradition. I feel like Penn State basketball for a while was known... the narrative has changed. I feel like when you believe in yourself and believe in that culture, believe in the approach wholeheartedly, believe in a leader, whoever that may be, and everybody is just extremely confident in what it does take to win. And that's something I would love to leave behind. I think the culture, just having a Penn State culture and knowing what Penn State basketball stands for, and what you're supposed to do, how you're supposed to act as a Penn State player.