Tony Carr finished his true freshman season as a Nittany Lion feeling conflicted.
Averaging 13.2 points and 4.2 assists per game, Carr led his Penn State team in both categories from the onset of his career. His efforts were enough to earn honorable mention All-Big Ten status, as well as a selection to the conference’s all-freshman team.
But in finishing a disappointing 15-18 for the season and 6-12 against Big Ten competition, his Nittany Lions were dissatisfied. Wanting to fix the shortcoming, Carr said the entire program attacked the offseason with an all-business mindset.
“We worked so much harder as a team because we don't want to be in that same boat and have those bad feelings like we did last year,” said Carr. “We just want to put ourselves in the best position possible by working hard every day.”
That work carried Carr throughout the offseason and into the start of preseason camp, which is now into its second week at the Bryce Jordan Center.
Joining his teammates for both the first and second academic six-week sessions on Penn State’s campus between May and August, Carr and the Lions also were granted 10 additional team practice opportunities in conjunction with a foreign tour to the Bahamas.
In addition to working on individual aspects of his game two or three times a day, Carr said, he also emphasized his individual development in strength and speed. Noting the challenges presented in the aftermath of some of the Nittany Lions’ more arduous games last season, specifically a tight turnaround between a triple-overtime loss at Indiana and a Rutgers afternoon game three days later at the BJC, Carr wanted to be in better shape.
“I can definitely say I'm stronger. We've done a lot of core work, so my core has improved drastically and my conditioning has also improved,” he said. “I can just run for days because we've been up here running around campus, running up and down the gym. So my conditioning is a lot better from last year.”
Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers has noticed.
Asked about Carr’s commitment to physical development through the offseason, Chambers said he was proud of that sacrifice and commitment, not just from Carr but also from the entire team.
“He absolutely changed his body. His mindset toward the weight room was outstanding,” said Chambers, turning to the next area of development he’d like to see for his point guard. “I’d like to see (his leadership) take the next step in the process of him becoming a freshman to a sophomore and carrying the torch of what we think he should do this year. The leadership is going to be critical.”
Part of that process will rely on the experiences Carr gained as a true freshman.
Knocking off Michigan State at the Palestra, Carr and the Lions also topped an NCAA Tournament Minnesota team and earned a first-round win in the Big Ten Tournament. As competitive on a game-by-game basis as any Penn State team under Chambers’ watch, the Lions finished the regular season with a 1-6 mark in games decided by a single possession or in overtime, leaving Carr feeling confident about his approach to the offseason.
Beyond his physical focus, Carr also spent time working on a shot that didn’t fare up to his expectations through the course of the season. Dissatisfied with his shooting percentage, connecting on 141 of 374 shots from the floor (37.7 percent) and only 33 of 103 shots from beyond-the-arc (32.0 percent), Carr said his form also became an area of concentration.
“Absolutely my shooting percentages have been a key focus. Just making sure I follow through on all of my shots,” said Carr. “Clearly those things hopefully are going to go up during the season, but I’ve definitely worked hard this offseason on my shooting form, following through, jumping on every shot. Hopefully that sends my percentages upward.”
Chambers and the Lions are counting on it.
With Carr openly acknowledging a “better vibe” from the team coming into this season than last, the head coach is anticipating the maturation and growth of his sophomore leader to pay dividends.
“He's right where he needs to be. Going through this summer, going through last year, going through Nike Elite Camp, I think he's advanced for sure but there's still a lot of room for growth,” said Chambers. “He's gotta be a guy that's going to score, he's gotta make everybody better around him, take care of the ball, and he's going to have to guard. He's really going to have to guard, defend and rebound. He almost had five rebounds per game last year and if he can duplicate that again, I think you've got a big time player.”