NBA prospect Lamar Stevens from Penn State recently joined Raquel Rodriguez on Babcock Hoops Q&A Sessions. They discussed his time at Penn State, what he'll bring to an NBA team, and more.
Raquel Rodriguez: Lamar, I appreciate you hopping on here with me. Could you give me an idea of what it was like to grow up in Pennsylvania?
Lamar Stevens: I was born in Philly and I lived there until I was about eight years old when I moved to the suburbs. I always went back and forth to the city spending a lot of time with my cousin. I lived with him for a while. I think spending that time playing in the city and the parks are really what made me into the person and player I am. Just trying to be extremely tough, tough-minded, and always just representing where I'm from. I take serious pride in that.
You decided to team up with Tony Carr for your senior year of high school during the recruiting process, and you held a lot of offers from Villanova, Temple, and Pitt, and you chose Penn State. What made you choose Penn State?
I chose Penn State because I wanted to go somewhere where we could blaze our own path and be trailblazers. I didn't want to be another part of somebody else's story. I wanted to go somewhere and start something special. I thought it was a great university to try and do that at. I had a great coaching staff and great teammates that surrounded me, so this was a perfect situation for me. I just loved Penn State so much! Every time I went to visit, I felt at home. I felt the family atmosphere, we all did, and that's why we decided to go to Penn State together.
You're fortunate enough to have a relatively injury-free career, despite a pretty severe ankle sprain leading up into your sophomore year. How did you deal with that injury?
Well, honestly, I was lucky because that happened at a perfect time during preseason where I could take the time off and not have to rush back because we didn't have any games to play. I also had enough time to really recover and get my legs back under me before the season started. I was blessed to not miss any games in my four years, but that injury really just reminded me just how grateful I am every time I get the chance to play. It wasn't that bad; I was out for maybe two or three weeks, but other than that, I've been lucky to have an injury-free career.
Coming into this season you weren’t just one of the most experienced guys on your team, you were one of the most experienced collegiate players in the country. Give us an idea of your leadership style.
First, I always want to lead by example. I think the best leaders are the ones who go out and do it and prove it. It starts in the offseason in the workouts and having that mindset of getting the guys ready for the season, bringing that intensity and challenging your guys. Even just winning the sprints and being a competitor, that's just something I always want to do. Secondly, I lead with my voice and try to be heard, trying to challenge guys to dig a little deeper and know that you always have more to give, just try to get the best out of everybody. I also feel I’m very encouraging at the same time, just trying to give everybody confidence and let them know I believe in them because we need everybody to win. I want to be clear that everybody's role is important no matter how small, no matter how big, we all play a part in the success.
What specific aspect of Big Ten basketball do you think has prepared you the most for the NBA level?
Going against legendary coaches like Coach Izzo and John Beilein, guys like that, and their coaching schemes. You have a good game the first time, so you're going to face a completely different type of defense the second time. It’s just adjusting to that and also the size and the physicality of the league. We have so many talented players from each team, every game is going to be a dog fight. It's never an easy game. I think the size, mixed with the coaching, and talent of the league, made it one of the best leagues in the country for years. I think that definitely helped make me a better player, learning how to be the best me by going against bigger guys, great coaches, and great schemes.
How did you deal with March Madness ultimately being canceled in a season where Penn State seemed to be in their best position to make some noise?
It was tough, honestly. It didn't really settle with me for a while that we weren't going to play. It all happened so quickly. I look back at it now and I see my teammates back at school, and I really miss those guys and miss those times, but I think everything happens for a reason. I'm not sure what the reason is yet, but I believe it does and I'm going to miss those guys and miss that opportunity. How I look at it, we had a special year and I have a lot to be grateful for instead of looking at it as something I missed out on. We did a lot of things, broke a lot of records with the time we could play, so I'm just proud of the time that we had together and grateful for that.
Ultimately, how will you remember your time at Penn State?
I’m starting to realize that it was definitely one of the best times of my life. Always being in the gym with my brothers and developing relationships with the coaches, these are all relationships I still have to this day. So I just want to look back and think of the great memories we created, the hard work we put in, and the challenges we overcame. I look back at my career and I feel a sense of pride in how far we've come in my four years. I'm just hoping that continues in the future.
Having recently turned 23 last month, what are some of the advantages you will bring by being an older player and a four-year starter from Penn State?
I think over my four years at Penn State, I was able to play several different roles in each of my years. I have the maturity and experience that I know what it takes to win. I know what it takes to win and I know that every person plays a part. I'm a guy who's really mature and knows what I want and knows what I can do. Also in terms of being a leader, I know coming into the NBA as a rookie you're not going to step into a position where you have the biggest voice. I feel with the way I like to compete, I think I can make other guys better with my toughness and my competitive edge.
Could you take us through a day in your life right now, as you prepare for the NBA Draft?
I wake up around 7:30 AM and get ready for a workout that starts at 9:00 AM. Workout for about an hour and a half, and after that, I'll go home and eat breakfast. Then go lift and condition for about an hour, or an hour and a half. Then I’ll go back later that night to shoot, do ball-handling, stuff like that. That's my normal day.
For those who are a little unfamiliar with your game, would you mind giving us a quick rundown of who you are as a player on the court?
First thing is that I feel I'm extremely versatile. I can do a lot of different things on the court whether it's defense, guarding multiple positions, rebounding, or getting the rebound and pushing it in transition. I also think that I'm pretty skilled on offense as well. I can really use my body in post-ups to take advantage of smaller guys, while also beating bigger guys off the dribble.
Who is one player you like to model your game after?
I would say somebody I've been watching a lot recently is Marcus Morris, from Philly but he plays with the Clippers right now. He's guarding Luka Doncic and taking on that role, and also taking advantage of the skill that he has in the mid-range; I love scoring in the mid-range. I think he's just a dog. He's super tough and that's what I want to bring to a team that chooses to bet on me. That’s somebody I've watched since he was at Kansas, but the older I'm getting, the more I study this game. So I really like him and I like to model my game after him; I also like PJ Tucker. Tucker buys into his role and does all the little things. He brings a toughness and edge on defense, he just does what he's supposed to do.
What are some things that you would like to work on to improve your game?
I think the biggest thing that I'm trying to work on is getting more consistent from three. I think that's the biggest piece missing from my game. Coming out of high school I didn't shoot threes. My growth through college, I focused more on the mid-range and I wish I would have spent a little more time working on my threes. That’s why I'm focusing on it now and I'm excited to show the growth. I would say that's probably the biggest thing.
What aspect you feel like you've grown the most at in your game during your time at Penn State.
I would definitely say I grew, honestly, across the board in terms of just IQ. Picking my spots on offense and also being more engaged on defense, I tried to become the anchor on defense for my teammates. I realized how important that was. Coming out of high school, most guys just worry about offense, and I think that was me for my first year. Then I realized I had good size and could really guard multiple positions, so I really started to take pride in that. Those are probably the main areas where I’ve grown.
So let's say you've just entered an elevator with a general manager of a team that's considering selecting you. What's your pitch to why you're his guy?
I would say first that I'm mature. I'm really mature and I think you know what you're going to get with me. You’re going to get the toughness that competitive edge, and also think I'm very versatile which is the way the NBA is going. I feel like I can play three through five, even the five in a small-ball lineup. I can also guard multiple positions as well. So I think that the team should pick me because I can do a lot of different things with my size. I'm ready to come in and compete right away and I think I could help, whether it’s in practice or games, the team, and help players grow.
Lamar, we really appreciate you joining Babcock Hoops Q&A sessions, and we wish you the best of luck.
Thank you so much.