One to Watch: Shep Garner, Penn State

11th in a series identifying 14 college basketball players who will have a breakout season–one on each Big Ten team.

Penn State does not have a rich basketball history. However, Happy Valley has produced some fantastic scoring guards over the years. In the 21st century alone, talents like Joe Crispin, Geary Claxton, Talor Battle, Tim Frazier, and DJ Newbill have left their mark on the Big Ten. Now that Newbill has graduated and the Nittany Lion program is trending in the right direction, it’s time for a new guard to lead the program. After a fantastic freshman campaign, Shep Garner looks like he is ready to be that guy.

Playing with and learning from Newbill, Garner finished second on the team in scoring and assists (Newbill led both categories). Additionally, Garner’s assist to turnover ratio led the Nittany Lions. He knows the game extremely well and is one of those heady players who is an extension of the coaching staff.

Garner’s stats from last season don’t seem that remarkable, and to call them historic would seem silly–until you compare Garner’s freshman season to the freshman seasons of program legends Battle and Frazier. Black Shoe Diaries (an SB Nation site) summed it up best.

“For a Penn State freshman guard to log that many minutes, be that involved in the offense, and be that offensively efficient while turning the ball over at such a relatively low rate is unprecedented over the last 10 years. Is he on track to match the careers of those he’s being compared to? It’s probably too early to say, but these returns are certainly promising.”

One thing that Garner can immediately improve is his ability to go left. His shooting chart is maddeningly inconsistent; his shooting from the right-wing and corner can only be described with the fire emoji (45 and 42 percent, respectively), but the left side of the court is not quite as promising (anywhere between 24 and 30 percent). Becoming a viable shooting threat from both sides of the court would set Garner up to potentially equal the careers of some of Penn State’s great guards.

Garner can play both guard positions well, but with the addition of four-star shooting guard Josh Reaves, Garner will likely make the permanent shift to point guard. This bolsters Penn State’s offense, since Garner is at his best as a drive and kick guard.

I apologize if this comes to Penn State fans as a shock, but the Nittany Lions will not make the NCAA Tournament next season. However, Garner will become a household name in places outside of State College. There’s a lot to like about his game, and he even has brought some celebrities to the Bryce Jordan Center. The future is bright for Pat Chamber’s team, and Flavor Flav’s cousin is the biggest reason.

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