Freshmen expected to contribute heavily for Penn State

Oct 7, 2015 - 8:45 PM State College, Pa. (AP) In the last four years, Patrick Chambers has visited living room after living room and has been told no again and again.

No, Chambers' Penn State team isn't a basketball power. No, Penn State can't compete in the rugged Big Ten. No, the Nittany Lions aren't the program for whichever hotshot recruit Chambers is pitching at the time.

That trend is turning.

''Fortunately, we've heard some yeses recently,'' Chambers said. ''We're headed into Year 5 and it hasn't been like, get these great recruits overnight. It's taken time. We want to do something that's built to last and something that's real consistent.''

With the season still more than month away, Penn State's basketball coach is optimistic. Chambers has a strong cast of returning players. They're joined by three vaunted prospects who committed to Chambers to form Penn State's first Top 30 recruiting class.

Sophomore guard Shep Garner and senior forward Brandon Taylor are back along with senior center Jordan Dickerson. They welcomed the newcomers - guard Josh Reaves and forwards Deividas Zemgulis and Mike Watkins - to the team's practice gym inside Bryce Jordan Center on Tuesday.

''Obviously, there's going to be a lot of pressure on these young kids because of that being the best class that we brought in so far,'' Chambers said.

Garner understands the pressure and the ups and downs that will come with it.

He was thrust into a starting role immediately last season. He played in all 34 games with 33 starts and saw his output wane after scoring in double figures in each of the first five games. Eventually, Garner's point totals decreased and he finished with 9.2 points per game. He's the team's leading returning scorer.

''I'm more experienced and I actually know what to expect going into this year,'' Garner said. ''It's definitely an advantage for a young kid. I appreciated that, being thrown into the fire last year.''

That fire included tough losses in close games. Penn State lost nine games by five points or less or in overtime - and dropped eight games by five points or less the year before.

Penn State now must look for consistent scoring. D.J. Newbill averaged 20.7 points, but he's no longer around. Chambers would like to see balanced scoring and he's counting on the youngsters. Zemgulis has a good outside shot, and Chambers says Reaves is ''the real deal.''

But, of course, it's not so simple.

''It's not high school anymore where you can go out there and dominate,'' Taylor said. ''Every game is going to be a big game and it's going to be against players who are bigger than you, stronger than you, faster than you.''

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