Stevens coming back to PSU
Patrick Chambers and the Penn State basketball program picked up their biggest win of the year Wednesday night — in late May, with the season still five months away.
Lamar Stevens, a first-team all-Big Ten performer last season, decided to remove his name from the NBA draft and return to PSU for his senior season.
Stevens had until midnight to make his decision, and the drama played out most of the day until his announcement came at 7:12 p.m.
“I made the decision actually today,” Stevens said in a teleconference a few minutes later Wednesday night. “It was a difficult decision because you’re presented with so many different opportunities.”
Stevens was a force last season for the Nittany Lions, averaging 19.9 points and 7.7 rebounds. He established himself as a college star, scoring at least 20 points 18 times and recording nine double-doubles.
It would have been crushing to the Penn State team for next season had Stevens turned pro. But with the versatile 6-foot-8 swingman back, the Lions figure to have a chance to contend for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Stevens was asked what Chambers’ reaction was when he told the coach he’s returning to school.
“Coach Chambers was kind of screaming,” Stevens said. “He was ready to go. He was excited for the opportunity that we have for our team coming back. … He was definitely ecstatic.”
Penn State went through this last year, when standout guard Tony Carr left school after two years to enter the draft. It was a gamble on Carr’s part, and even though he was selected late in the second round (No. 51 overall), he didn’t come close to making an NBA roster and played overseas.
Stevens knows what his presence could mean for the Nittany Lions going forward, and what it could have meant had he left.
“I am aware,” Stevens said. “I see stuff that people say. But honestly, I’m just excited to get back to work. … We talk about the NCAA in the preseason. We’re capable, we have every piece that we need.”
By entering his name in the NBA draft, Stevens was able to work out for pro scouts and get feedback from them about his game and what he needs to improve on for the next level.
Stevens said he greatly benefited from that process.
“It was really positive for me,” he said. “I gained a lot of confidence over that time playing against a bunch of high-level players.”
Stevens said he had workouts with the Nets, Cavaliers, Celtics, Kings, Hornets and Pacers. He played alongside a lot of college stars, including Purdue’s Carsen Edwards, LSU’s Skylar Mays and UCF’s Aubrey Dawkins, to name a few.
Stevens noted he received consistent feedback from the scouts, including one area of his game that was easy to see needed work to be ready for the NBA.
“I’ve just got to work on my shot,” Stevens said.
There were good reports from the scouts, as well, including that he has an NBA frame and NBA athleticism.
“I learned even more that I’m a really versatile defender,” Stevens pointed out, “and that’s something I really want to focus on. That was a huge thing. … I just got a lot more confident in my offensive game, too. I felt like I really played well in these workouts and was able to show a lot of my game.”
Stevens will look to the NBA again in a year, but until then, he will be focused on trying to help Penn State improve on last season’s disappointing showing of 14-18 overall and 7-13 in the Big Ten.
Even though Stevens was terrific, the Lions had huge problems early on because of Carr’s departure and spent the first three months of the season trying to find an identity. They played much better down the stretch, giving hope that this winter could produce better results from the get-go.
“If I didn’t love this school, love this coaching staff, love my teammates, there was no chance I would have come back,” Stevens said.
“A lot was me just wanting to finish what I started in Happy Valley,” he added. “I’m not happy with how things went last year, and I think if I come back with Coach Chambers and being on the same page with the rest of my teammates, we really can accomplish something this year.”
The news wasn’t all good for Penn State on Wednesday, as guard Rasir Bolton announced that he’s transferring to Iowa State.
Bolton had an impressive freshman season for the Lions, averaging 11.6 points and providing a solid perimeter shooting threat to help take some of the scoring load off Stevens.
Bolton entered the transfer portal last month, so his departure was expected. Still, he will be a big loss, with PSU also needing to replace graduate Josh Reaves, who averaged 10.6 points and was the team’s defensive stopper.