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B1G 2016 // Is Pat Chambers turning Penn State into a basketball school?

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The program is suddenly brimming with young talent thanks to the head coach's recruiting efforts.

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

I was catching up with some old college friends in Townie's hometown of State College last weekend. It was a good time, except we never ate at the Tavern because one of my best buddies needs boneless chicken wings from Wings Over Happy Valley like most men need oxygen. What was I supposed to do, let him eat two pounds of that tender, sauce-covered white meat by himself?

Anyway, while shopping downtown for some fresh Penn State swag, I noticed that the stores had a wide selection of Penn State hockey t-shirts and jerseys. There was almost as much hockey merchandise than football merchandise even though the Minnesota fans will be quick to point out that Penn State’s hockey program has not been around very long. Where was all the basketball stuff I wanted to buy? I needed a hoops-specific item to show that I’m not one of those fans who wears his football shirt to the basketball game. Plus, I’m getting a little tired of wearing my Larry Johnson jersey and Danilo Gallinari shirt everywhere I go.

Yes, being a Knicks fan can be even more awkward than being a PSU basketball fan, but I should be able to find souvenirs for both teams rather easily. Not so for my alma mater, but maybe that will change soon. Head coach Pat Chambers is finally beginning to reap the benefits of his deep Philadelphia roots, and that means the downtown stores might feel the need to carry a basketball jersey or two in the future.

The shockingly talented 2016 basketball recruiting class features three studs from Roman Catholic High School in Philly. The trio is headlined by point guard Tony Carr, who is expected to see heavy minutes right out of the gate. That would be the case even if he wasn’t the most highly-ranked recruit in PSU basketball history, because the Lions went all of 2015-16 without a real point guard.

Shep Garner did his best in the role of floor general, but the rising junior is best off working away from the ball and stretching out opposing defenses with his three-point shot. Garner’s jump shot accuracy disappeared for stretches in 2015-16, and that lack of consistency is something that has to go away if the Lions are going to improve on their seven conference wins last season.

The other two Philly freshmen are shooting guard Nazeer Bostick and small forward Lamar Stevens. While not as vital to Penn State’s future as Carr, both players will force the incumbent wings to either step up their games or be replaced. The only member of the 2016 class not from the City of Brotherly Love is Joe Hampton out of Oak Hill Academy. He’s someone who can help provide some offense to a frontcourt that saw three players graduate during the offseason.

Most of the focus will be on Carr and the wings when the new season gets started in November, but there are some big men to look forward to as well. Julian Moore has a chance to be a breakout start in his junior season now that he no longer has to compete for minutes with Donovon Jack and Jordan Dickerson. Meanwhile, Mike Watkins was supposed to be an impact freshman last season before he was forced to redshirt due to academic issues. Now that that has been sorted out, the young power forward can begin his Penn State career in earnest.

When you add Watkins to the four-man freshman class, you can see a unit that has the potential to be Penn State’s starting lineup for two or three years. Sure, that’s a little premature to predict when the youngsters haven’t played in a game together yet, but the notion is exciting nonetheless. Chambers has put together a class with a higher ceiling than we’ve seen in Penn State basketball history.

The Lions might not be ready for the national spotlight just yet, but if this group of freshmen develops alongside other young players like defensive stalwart Josh Reaves and long-range shooter Davis Zemgulis, we might start seeing some basketball jerseys for sale in the downtown stores to go with some NCAA Tournament appearances.

And even if it doesn’t work out that way, it will be less frustrating than hoping for the Knicks to return to glory.