Penn State Nittany Lions forward Lamar Stevens was a four-year starter in the NCAA who is a versatile prospect on both offense and defense.
Stevens was one of the more accomplished frontcourt players in the Big Ten Conference. The 22-year-old college star spoke to HoopsHype about how he has been preparing for the upcoming draft while reflecting on his experience in the NCAA.
Note: This transcription has been minorly edited for clarity.
What were some of your favorite memories and experiences playing in college?
Lamar Stevens: First of all, writing a book was the highlight of my college career. I loved being able to give back to the fans that were so good to me. Winning the NIT was also a highlight. Honestly, all of this season was an amazing experience. We sold out the Bryce Jordan Center which hadn’t been done in 10 years. We have reached rankings that have never been reached. We were breaking all types of records this year.
Writing a book will definitely help you stand out among other players. Could you tell me more about it?
🚨Sat. Feb. 8 vs MN:
-a journey to Happy Valley-
Sneak peak⬇️⬇️ pic.twitter.com/Mms9V75qai
— Penn State Men’s Basketball (@PennStateMBB) January 31, 2020
LS: Our director of marketing PJ Mullen and I came up with the idea to write a children’s book. We wanted the book to teach kids about the different places in Pennsylvania. It was really cool. I’ve never done anything like that. To have my name on a book, I never imagined that happening. It definitely was something that was special for me. It was illustrated by six of my friends who have Down syndrome. One of the illustrators was my coach’s daughter. They drew and colored in all of the pictures. We were able to release the book when we played Minnesota and it was a really cool day. The kids that were involved with the book loved it. I loved seeing the joy come out of them from their excitement of having a book released to so many people and for them to be in the spotlight.
Wow. That is a beautiful story. How did you meet the kids?
LS: Being at Penn State, we always got involved with community service. Ever since my freshman year, we worked with the Special Olympics. They have a thing called the “buddy walk” and I developed a good relationship with our associate head coach Keith Urgo, whose daughter helped illustrate the book. Throughout my years at Penn State, I developed a relationship with those kids and the book really helped express those friendships.
I know you got your degree in sociology. But is writing something you have been interested in for a while?
LS: I’ve always enjoyed writing papers. My favorite subject in school was English because of my ability to write. I had never written a book before but I really always enjoyed the process.
You were a four-year starter at Penn State who started every single game that you played in college. How did you improve as a basketball player during your time in the NCAA?
LS: Coming out of high school, I felt like I was physically ready to make an impact on the game mainly in both defense and rebounding. Over time, I continuously got better at scoring, getting to my spots and becoming a more versatile player. Throughout my years, my averages were consistent. I’ve learned so much about the game and what it takes to be a high-level player. My game grew each year in almost every aspect.
Every year of college, you increased your attempts at the three-point line. I think that will be a huge part of the evolution of your game. Where do you see that going at the next level?
LS: My last two years, I was the No. 1 option for the team on offense. I always had the ball in my hands and got to take a lot of late shot clock opportunities. During my first few years, I was the second or third scoring option on offense playing alongside Tony Carr. I shot the ball much better during those years. I feel like that will be my role in the NBA. I’ll be able to take easier shots because I won’t have to face double teams. I think being ready and able to shoot the proper shots that are created for me by the other guys, I’ll definitely thrive in that role.
You were recruited as a small forward but you played a lot of the power forward and center in college. What role do you see yourself playing at the next level?
LS: I see myself playing a small forward and power forward role. I’m a guy who can guard all positions. If you put me in as a center in a small-ball lineup, I feel like I could excel as well.
You finished more possessions as the ball-handler in a pick-and-roll than as the roll man. What are some ways you are able to create opportunities playing as the ball-handler in those sets?
LS: Playing at Penn State, I was able to showcase more of my offensive game. I think I can make plays, especially when there are bigger guys on me. I’m too quick, too athletic, and a lot of time, too strong for a bigger man to stay in front of me. If there’s a small guy, I usually bring them into the post. In pick-and-roll situations, usually against a bigger person, head coach Pat Chambers trusted me to make those plays. We had plays designed to have me come off of the pick-and-roll and they were pretty successful.
You have multiple years being the ball-handler in this type of play. How do you think your experience will translate into the NBA, being a bigger guy who can make plays as well?
LS: I’m a guy who can play and make an impact right away. It shows my versatility, it shows that I can play different positions, and it shows that I can do different things on the basketball court. I feel like I’m going to keep getting better.
One part of your game that I enjoy is your ability to draw a lot of contact from defenders. What are some of your strategies for drawing fouls and how do you think it’ll help round out your game?
LS: I’m a physical player. I like to use my strength to my advantage. I like to attack the rim while seeking contact. I look for ways to make and-one plays. I think that physicality is what allows me to play the five at times and helps me guard bigger positional four guys. It’s something I take pride in.
Your style of play reminds me of guys like Juwan Morgan from last season. He modeled his game after NBA players like PJ Tucker. What are some ways that you fit inside the lineage of guys who are about your size who shoot three-pointers but can also play the five while spreading the floor?
LS: With my size and athleticism, it puts me at an opportunity where I can play and guard many different positions. I definitely see myself as players like PJ Tucker and Jae Crowder.
Penn State had a Top-25 defense in the NCAA. What was your role in that mentality and how far do you think your team could have gone in the NCAA tournament?
LS: The practices that we had leading up to the Big Ten Tournament, we couldn’t wait to play. I feel like we were all excited to continue playing with one another. We didn’t want it to end. I think the sky was the limit for our team going into March Madness, especially our abilities on both ends of the floor. I was the voice of the team on defense. I had a lot of experience and knowledge. I understood how important communication is, too. I was always making sure that everyone was talking and on the same page. I wanted us to be a force on defense.
This year ended in a really frustrating way. How were you able to reconcile with the way that the season ended?
LS: The first couple of days I was definitely upset and hurt, but seeing how serious the virus is, us having everything canceled was 100% the right decision. People are dying from the Coronavirus. Not being able to play basketball is big in our world, but small if you think about it as a whole. I try to put life into perspective and I’m grateful for the year that we had. We still had a historic run without playing in the Big-10 Tournament or the NCAA Tournament. I’m still proud of the successes that we had as a team and the opportunity that I had at Penn State.
In terms of your ability to contribute right away, what advantages do you think that gives you over some of the other prospects in your draft class?
Lamar Stevens has a DeMar DeRozan type mid range game. It’s absolutely beautiful. pic.twitter.com/b8IBUUnIKx
— Simon Rath (@HawksDraftNerd) May 8, 2020
LS: For younger players, sometimes they evolve right away but sometimes they don’t. I think with seniors in college, they have a much larger body of work. I think they have more maturity in their game and I can use that to my advantage. It’s hard for younger players to come into the league, in terms of making sure that their bodies are ready for the game. I feel like I won’t have to worry because I’ll be ready by day one.
You came into your college experience playing alongside Josh Reaves. What advice did he give you about his experience transitioning into the NBA?
LS: Josh told me to stay in the best shape possible and to take advantage of every opportunity. Josh made the most out of his situation and that’s the light he tried to shed on me.
How would you describe what your role will consist of in the next NBA?
LS: I will be a guy who can play and guard multiple positions. I’ll be a player with a lot of energy that is a huge communicator on defense and can score. I scored at a high percentage in the Big-10 conference, which I believe is the best league in the country. My main focus will be becoming the best defender that I can possibly be, and hopefully have the chance to guard the best players.
Can you see yourself eventually leading a team in the NBA?
LS: I think for me, becoming a leader at Penn State during my junior year and senior year, I always try to lead by example. During offseason workouts, I’m always trying to lead the sprints and be super competitive in everything that I do. That’s what I’m going to do in the NBA. I’ll be competing on every possession and showing my leadership in those ways. Hopefully, it’ll lead me to become a vocal leader later in my career. But first, I want to come in and do everything I can to put the team in the best possible position to win.
If there were an NBA combine, what drills do you think that you would stand out in?
LS: I would definitely stand out in the vertical and speed tests. I tested last summer and I had a 42-inch vertical. I would also shoot the ball better than most people would expect.
What are some goals that you have for yourself as a professional athlete?
LS: My goal is to be the best player that I can be. I’d love to one day win an NBA championship.
How would you describe yourself as a person to front offices and NBA executives?
LS: Off the court, I’m a very laid back and easy-going guy. I love to spend time with family and friends. I’m a guy who puts his family first and values giving back to the community. That’s who I am. The community has always been good to me, so I’ve always wanted to give back to the community.
How has your character been motivated by your community and family? What are some of the moments that helped mold you into the player that you are today?
LS: My family has never missed any of my games. That’s just who we are. We go out and support one another every step of the way. That’s how I grew up and it became a part of me.
What are other activities that you like to do off the court?
LS: I love being in the house watching movies. Quarantine is not hard at all for me, other than missing basketball.
How have you been keeping busy during quarantine?
LS: I’ve been staying in shape, spending time with family, and catching up on old games and shows that I’ve missed. I’ve been watching Ozark and All American. I just started the second season. I like it but I can’t get into it like everyone else. I know how it is out there and a lot of the situations that he’s been in aren’t really like that.
Is there anything that people may not know about you and would be intrigued to learn?
LS: I used to skateboard. I was very basic and was never good on a ramp.