For much of the 2017-18 college basketball season, Lamar Stevens was the second option on the Penn State roster. When opposing defenses locked in on Tony Carr, Stevens could pick up the slack and hit a mid-range jumper, drive to the bucket, or even knock down a three-point shot.
By the end of the season, Stevens was playing more like the focal point. After a quiet Big Ten Tournament in which he shot just 10-for-38 from the field, the power forward exploded for a pair of huge performances in the NIT. Stevens scored 30 points on just 22 shots in double overtime against Marquette and then scored 17 with eight rebounds and six assists a week later in a semifinal win over Mississippi State. To clinch the tournament’s MVP award, he torched Utah in the final for 28 points and 4-for-5 shooting from beyond the arc.
Now with Carr moving on to the NBA, Shep Garner graduating, and key big man Mike Watkins dealing with more off-court issues, Stevens has become the most important player on Pat Chambers’s suddenly interesting team. We know that the junior’s scoring touch will be there, but he’ll have to be a more versatile player come November. That Mississippi State game was only one of three in which Stevens had more than four assists last season, but in 2018-19, Penn State will be breaking in a new point guard. Whether that’s last year’s backup Jamari Wheeler or incoming freshman Rasir Bolton, it will be helpful for Stevens to shoulder some of Carr’s ball-handling role at the start of the campaign.
There are a lot of questions facing Penn State this season, such as the aforementioned hole at point guard and whether or not defensive ace Josh Reaves will ever develop into a consistent force on offense. The biggest issue, though, could be late-game situations.
Down the stretch of close games last season, the ball was always in Carr’s hands, but now Stevens will need to prove that he can score and score regularly when the whole defense is watching him. If he can, he’ll rise up as a First Team All-Big Ten candidate. If not, Penn State will take a step back and leave fans wondering once again if Chambers can build a winner in State College.
Speaking of Chambers, it looks like he’s done a good job bringing in young guards like Bolton, Myles Dread, and Myreon Jones that have the potential to grow into solid players. The long-term future of Penn State will continue to rely on Chambers bringing in guard talent from Philadelphia and beyond to compete with the best athletes in the Big Ten. In the immediate future, though, it’s all about Stevens taking a leadership role and turning into a star this year.