Penn State Basketball: Chambers' Rebuilding Efforts In Need of Support

Gregory Shamus

The buzz is growing around Pat Chambers' program, despite little public support from an unstable athletic department or an impatient fan base.

Maybe he was just taking a page out of James Franklin's playbook, but after landing his latest verbal commitment last week, Pat Chambers tweeted out his own recruiting catchphrase for the first time:

Don't you think the fourth year head coach was just a bit happy about this one?

After quite a few near-misses in past classes, Chambers and his staff have finally reeled in one of their priority targets from the DMV. Josh Reaves from Fairfax, Virginia was offered by the Lions last summer, and the staff has been relentless ever since in its pursuit of the four-star prospect. The 6'4" shooting guard has been a fast-rising commodity in the rankings and had already garnered scholarship offers from the likes of Maryland, Georgetown and Villanova before committing to PSU. While his talent certainly will be a boost on the court, his commitment could have an even bigger impact for the beleaguered program down the road.

Reaves could become Penn State's ambassador that opens the door into the talent-rich DMV region. After breaking out this past season at Paul VI high school, champions of the area's renowned WCAC league, Reaves has now transferred to powerhouse Oak Hill Academy for his senior season to play for the nationally ranked Warriors. He has also played on the Nike EYBL circuit the last two summers with his heralded AAU program, Team Takeover. There were no gimmicks here, because Penn State plucked an acclaimed talent from a few of the biggest factories in grassroots basketball. That pretty much has never happened.

As a verbal commit, Reaves gives the Penn State brand a different type of exposure at the highest levels of prep ball. He's someone his younger peers in the area will look up to as a high-profile prospect. The staff is hoping he develops into the positive example that could convince others to follow his path and take a chance on the program in the middle of rural Pennsylvania.

Sometimes all it takes is that first guy to suddenly legitimize a non-traditional program like Penn State. It's already happened in Philadelphia after D.J. Newbill's initial pledge opened that pipeline (one that D.J. hopes to help maintain after his time in State College). While Dwayne Anderson continues to gain credibility in his hometown area as a recruiter, it seems the Lions are ready to emerge as a legitimate threat in the DMV for these type of recruits that are desperately needed to build and sustain this program. Earning Reaves' commitment was a monstrous breakthrough for this staff in its plan to infiltrate the east coast's most fertile recruiting grounds.

With Reaves joining 4-star forward Mike Watkins and 3-star sharpshooter Davis Zemgulis, the Lions' staff is off to their best recruiting class yet in 2015. Each of the last three years have seen Penn State head into the all-important July live period with at least 2 verbal commitments from the rising senior class. This is an impressive feat that continues to amaze and encourage me. It's crucial to have this kind of flexibility in recruiting, and by securing commitments from priority kids early, it allows the staff to get a head start on younger classes.

However, it's important to remember we've been here before with this kind of recruiting momentum during the Pat Chambers era. He made a big splash early on, landing three PA commitments in just his first ten months on the job in Geno Thorpe, Brandon Austin and Isaiah Washington. He was also on the verge of earning a late signing from Beaver Falls native Sheldon Jeter. It seemed like the hoops program was gonna dominate the state before that was ever even a thing. But Jeter couldn't get his family on board with PSU, Brandon Austin bailed at the absolute worst time in July after the sanctions broke (even if it was for the better), and the staff wasn't able to cash in on what was such a promising start to a crucial 2013 class that has already lost one of its original members.

So what makes this time around any different? Well for one, it's at least gotta help not having your university dragged through the mud across national media streams 24/7 during the biggest recruiting period of the year. Also, Chambers' team is coming off its best year yet under the head coach, even if it was just a 16-18 campaign with a forgettable CBI appearance. They are still battling to get out of the Big Ten cellar, but they're no longer at ground zero, either.

However, there's nothing I can tell you that will guarantee anything with these prospects in the cutthroat recruiting business, nor am I here to convince you otherwise. We all know 17-year-old kids can change their minds at a moment's notice for the most meaningless of reasons. Only time will tell if these kids honor their original commitments, but there is one thing Penn State could do to help them feel more secure with their decisions.

Whenever the hiring of the next athletic director at Penn State finally becomes official, their first order of business should be to sign Pat Chambers to a contract extension. Immediately.

Now this extension wouldn't come with any kind of raise or reward for his one CBI berth, no winning seasons and .222 winning percentage in Big Ten play. While he is the lowest paid coach in the league (making roughly $860,000 per year), he kinda should be when considering his qualifications to that of a Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan or John Beilein. This extension simply is needed as a sign of good faith from the new administration that Chambers will get his fair chance to see his efforts through.

The basketball program has had to go about its business amid one of the most chaotic times for any athletic department. Chambers spent the last two and a half years with a lame duck AD who had two huge football coaching hires and a brand new D-1 hockey program. How much time do you think was spent by the AD on helping men's basketball given the turmoil around the university the last three years? Chambers has already worked with three different football coaches and presidents, and soon he will be introduced to his third athletic director.

When he was hired back in June 2011, Chambers originally signed a 5-year contract, meaning his deal is only good through the 2015-2016 season. With only two years left, the head coach can't even promise the current rising senior class that he will be employed by the school past their freshmen year, yet his staff has still been able to break new ground with this recruiting class. To me, that's up there with landing Geno Thorpe just a few days after the Sandusky grand jury report was released to the world.

Whatever this coach is selling to cool off this valid concern for 2015 prospects needs to be verified with a public display of support from the new administration by the end of the summer, or else what's the point? For the sake of his rebuilding efforts, Chambers desperately needs this promising class to stay together and avoid a 2013 redux. But how can anyone expect a kid to commit with a letter-of-intent to any program if the school can't commit to it themselves? It's not like this has never been an issue around these parts before.

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