For any loyal follower of college basketball, it would be odd to hear so little about your favorite program's recruiting efforts at such a peak time on the calendar. While July forces the coaches to show their hands, football forces prospects to show their own cards in which programs they're truly considering. This is prime visit season, when hoops can piggyback off their gridiron counterparts and the raucous campus environments they produce. Naturally, the bulk of basketball's verbal commitments come between August and October prior to the November signing period. That's been the case once again with the 2015 class, with 26 players in ESPN's Top-100 having committed since August 1st.
However, if college basketball recruiting was grade school, this year Penn State's the kid who finished tomorrow's homework before today's class ever ended--a stark contrast to when they used to be the kid who tried to copy his homework in homeroom before first period. What a remarkable change of pace it's been so far under Pat Chambers.
The program's three commitments already comprise arguably its best recruiting class coming out of high school. There's the shot-blocking power forward with tremendous potential down low in Mike Watkins, the highly athletic 2-guard who excels on both ends of the floor in Josh Reaves, and the knockdown shooter on the wing with the size and athleticism to defend the perimeter in Davis Zemgulis. But what's missing in this potential 4-man class is the dynamic scorer leading the way.
Enter the staff's current #1 target, Levan Alston Jr., who also goes by "Shawn" and/or "Shizz".
The son of former Temple baller Levan Alston, Shizz has been a priority for Penn State since the beginning of his recruitment. In fact, the Lions were the first to offer the Philadelphia native a scholarship over 16 months ago. While schools like Notre Dame, Georgetown, Marquette, Purdue and Cincinnati have thrown offers his way, the 6'4" scoring guard has narrowed his list down to just three contenders - Penn State, Temple and VCU.
For a while now, many have considered Alston a heavy Temple lean as evidenced by all eight of his 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions. Not only is he a legacy recruit, but Temple is also in his North Philly backyard. The scales continued to tip in the Owls' favor when Alston's close friend and AAU teammate Trey Lowe committed to the AAC program in August. But despite all of the signs pointing to Broad Street, Shizz didn't commit to Fran Dunphy on his official visit two weeks ago.
That has left the door open for Pat Chambers and his staff to seal the deal with the 4-star prospect. Alston is scheduled to take his official visit to Penn State over homecoming weekend. It will be his last visit before he announces his decision at an 8:00am press conference on September 30th at The Haverford School.
Penn State will also host Josh Reaves and Davis Zemgulis for their own officials that weekend in an obvious ploy to turn up the heat on Alston. Freshman guard Shep Garner was Alston's AAU teammate with Team Final and is expected to be his host on the visit, as well. Clearly the stage is set for Penn State to throw whatever they can at Shizz to lure him to Happy Valley.
Generally this kind of all-eggs-in-one-basket strategy backfires in the fickle recruiting world (ask Providence). But when you lay the groundwork this staff has for their 2015 class with 3 prior commitments, you can afford these risks for the last player you really covet. Penn State clearly wants Levan Alston for that last scholarship. If the Philly product chooses to stay home or head to Virginia, all is not lost. But if he does decide on Penn State, he would become the perfect compliment to a stellar class.
Until September 30th, all eyes in the Bryce Jordan Center are on Levan Alston and his decision.