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July 2, 2014

Analysis: Options abound for Chambers

News broke late Tuesday night that the Penn State men's basketball team would be gladly welcoming a verbal commitment from Class of 2015 two-guard Josh Reaves.

The commitment brings Penn State's tally to three for the class expected to sign in November's early-signing period and enroll next summer, with big man Mike Watkins and small forward Davis Zemgulis filling it out. One scholarship remains available for the class.

What Reaves brings to the table is a springy athlete with a competitive streak, but with his enrollment at Penn State still a year away, the projections for head coach Patrick Chambers and the Nittany Lions during the 2014-15 season are a different animal altogether.

With that in mind, let's take a look at the Nittany Lions' summer lineup and get a better feel for the personnel that will take to the hardwood as the season fast-approaches.

Blue White Illustrated's projected starting lineup:

Point guard: D.J. Newbill
Shooting guard: Geno Thorpe
Wing: Brandon Taylor
Power forward: Donovan Jack
Center: Jordan Dickerson

Frankly, the exercise of prognosticating Penn State's starting five in July might be a fool's errand.

For the first time since Chambers took the job, he actually has options, and the reality for the Nittany Lions' successes or failures for the upcoming season will have everything to do with not only maximizing the talent on the roster but also, for the first time, fitting the right pieces together.

Let's start at the point, because this immediately sets in motion the look and feel of the team this year.

Though Newbill took over for Tim Frazier during the Houston native's injury-season two years ago, upon Frazier's return this past year, the perception was that Newbill would go back to his natural two-guard position. That wasn't what actually happened, though.

Going back to Chambers' year-end press conference in April, he was asked what would become of the point now that Frazier's career as a Nittany Lion has run out. Granted, this was before the addition of juco point guard Devin Foster, but his answer is telling.

"What I would tell you is, D.J. played a lot of point this year if you think about it. Especially in the last 12 games of the season. I really just had him and Tim and moved Tim off the ball, put D.J. on the ball. So he did it last year and he had some good reps this year. Is there a chance for D.J. to play the point next year? Yeah, no question, he can do it. I don't know if I want him to do it for forty, but yeah, I'd like him to do it for some of the game."

Early indications this summer are that Foster has played well and acclimated himself to the program since his May arrival, but summer is summer, and the actual season is something else. Certainly, it would be a major bonus for Penn State if Foster brought enough on both ends of the floor to be able to fill some of that role, but for the time being the odds-on favorite has to continue to be Newbill at point.

Chambers' full response to that question didn't end with Newbill, though.

The next guy on the list was Geno Thorpe, followed by true freshman Shep Garner, with Chambers extolling the virtues of a "healthy competition" and ultimately settling on getting "the best chemistry, what's best for the team."

For as much of an incredible asset as Frazier had been to Penn State basketball, his absence could likely be at least partially negated by the effect of competition. Whereas he was really the Nittany Lions' one-and-only option to run the show the past two years, the opportunity for ownership across the board exists on nearly every level of the team this season.

Moving down the line, the next pick shouldn't come as a surprise, if only because of this story just two days ago.

Here's the catch, though, and it applies to Taylor himself. He knows he's not going to only be a wing.

Physically speaking, he's in the best shape of his life and should be able to better match-up against some of the bigger Big Ten opponents that had given him fits the past two seasons, so when Jack is on the floor, Taylor will be the three.

That said, the biggest question mark entering the season revolves around who emerges as "the fifth guy," so to speak.

Newbill, Thorpe, Taylor and the five-man Dickerson are clear-cut favorites to start, with Dickerson the only one locked into a specific role. What that means for everyone else though, remains unclear, and ultimately is likely to have everything to do with the opponent.

Between Jack, Ross Travis, Julian Moore, Payton Banks and Isaiah Washington, Chambers is going to have his hands overloaded with options for the three and four spots in the sense that every player here could conceivably start and would impact Taylor's role.

Take Jack, for instance. If he starts, Taylor will have to play three. Same for Travis, Banks or Moore. Washington can play anywhere from one to three, which could necessitate Taylor at the four. In other words, it's open season for any number of those guys to essentially force Chambers' hand by becoming the type of player that would be a necessity instead of just an option this summer.

For now, our pick will be for Jack to be in a better place by the time the season rolls around and start to see his shot go down again. That ability to draw defenders out of the paint with his shot - again, assuming it returns - could be a huge asset for the Nittany Lions this season.

But, as Chambers put it so aptly, he is one of the many, many options that will have to work themselves out this summer before a better picture of this team's identity starts to take shape.

"It's going to be a little bit different because Tim is not here anymore, so things are going to - as a head coach, we've gotta tailor it to what our strengths are," he said. "And, obviously D.J. is a strength, I believe Brandon Taylor will be a strength, I think Jordan Dickerson and Donovon Jack will get better and continue to get better, so we gotta figure out the best ways to put them in the most successful position."

With that in mind, beyond the recruiting successes away from the floor, this summer will be quite intriguing for the Penn State men's hoops program as it moves forward.

Penn State NEWS


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