Coming off an overtime loss to Iowa to open conference play, the Michigan men’s basketball team will attempt to secure its first Big Ten win when it hosts Penn State on Wednesday. The Nittany Lions boast a consensus Top 15 freshman class, and two of them — forward Lamar Stevens and guard Tony Carr — have made an immediate impact, averaging 12.1 and 11.8 points per game, respectively. Junior guard Shep Garner leads the team in scoring with an average of 13.8 and is second in total assists with 44 to Carr’s 59.

The Michigan Daily sat down with Penn State coach Patrick Chambers at Big Ten Media Day in October to talk about the strength of his current recruiting class and how their unique connection to Garner could serve them well throughout the season.

The Michigan Daily: Three of the freshmen on the team (Stevens, Carr and guard Nazeer Bostick) are from the same high school, Roman Catholic. How will that help the team’s chemistry given that they all have playing experience together?

Patrick Chambers: It will help our chemistry, but sometimes there’s cliques and those three are always together, so we want to break that up and make sure they understand, ‘You’re part of a team now, a bigger team.’ This is bigger than just the three Roman Catholic guys. We also have Shep Garner who’s from Roman Catholic as well, so I think he’s bridged everything very well to bring these guys in and create the chemistry and connectivity that we’re looking for to make this team even better.

TMD: How do you think (Garner) will respond to playing with some of those young guys again?

PC: There’s going to be a comfort level, and I think they’re going to be comfortable with him. They’re very mature beyond their years — all four of the guys — because Shep’s a junior who’s played so many minutes that you’d think he’s a senior. And these younger guys have been in a ton of big games, so they’re conducting themselves in a very mature manner, which is good and bodes well for our future. But right now, the connectivity of this team is going well, and they’re starting to really respect and listen to Shep a lot, so I think that’s gonna help them.”

TMD: How will it aid their transition to have someone like him, who they already have a relationship with, to serve as a mentor for them?

PC: I think that Shep can pass down to them some of the pitfalls, some of the challenges and adversity that he went through his freshman year and sophomore year. He can kind of give them a Cliffnotes version, a little bit of a guide to show them, ‘Steer clear of this, be careful of this, this is how coach likes this,’ so they’re a little bit further ahead.

TMD: How will it help them to see that someone who came from the same place as them has been able to perform at a high level on the college stage?

PC: I think it gives them great confidence that they can follow suit, that they can do it too, that they can come in and make an impact as a freshman as Shep did. And then they see the player development, they see how much they’ve gotten better or how much Shep has gotten better, and they’re gonna believe in the process just as Shep has done.

TMD: How strong do you think the leadership on the team will be despite an absence of seniors on the roster?

PC: (Former forward) Brandon Taylor did a wonderful job of really preparing these guys for their time to be leaders, and what I’ve done is I’ve put together a leadership council to help in that process. We have five guys that I meet with regularly that we talk about issues, talk about locker room, talk about practice, talk about academics, talk about social stuff, and it’s been really good. We’re gonna obviously vote for captains here real soon, but I think as a whole, there’s been three or four guys that have really stepped up to take the reins to help one another out to lead this group.

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