Rarely is the Penn State basketball fan in a position to criticize Pat Chambers' recruiting strategy, especially of late. He's opened doors the program didn't have the keys for during his tenure, and his 2016 class is confirmation that he can sell his vision for the program better than a large handful of established teams can sell theirs. So this post isn't so much a criticism; rather, it's a look ahead towards the next challenge facing Chambers' staff, at least in the near future.
The 2016 class has the potential to bring Penn State into conference relevancy, if not the national spotlight. But there is one glaring hole that needs filled, and ever since Hershey center Dylan Painter committed to Villanova it's become the elephant in the room: the Nittany Lions could sure use a post player to round out this class. Or at least it seems like the coaching staff thinks they need one. Brandon Taylor, Donovon Jack and Jordan Dickerson will run out of eligibility next spring barring unforeseen NCAA chicanery, and the roster will be thin on tall humans with only Julian Moore (6'10") and Mike Watkins (6'8") capable of playing traditional post roles. With one scholarship remaining, it only seems logical that the spot will go to a big. Let's explore the options, shall we? Behind door number one:
Get Another Four-Star Recruit in the 2016 Class
Easy peasy, right? Yeah, probably not. But don't tell that to Chambers and co., because they appear to be trying to land one of two top-100 kids. The problem, as usual? A whole bunch of coaches are also scrambling to fill their post positions, and there's only so many left. Here's the lowdown on the targets:
HS: Putnam Science Academy (CT)
HS: Hamilton Heights Christian Academy
AAU: Georgia Stars
Sedee Keita's recruitment in relation to Penn State has been shrouded in mystery, even in relation to the usual haze that naturally surrounds every recruitment. Numerous times Keita was interviewed about his process, and numerous times he neglected to mention Penn State as a player in his recruitment. But the two parties have remain linked nonetheless. Keita included the Nittany Lions in his top six last month, joining Temple, LSU, South Carolina, Providence and UNLV, and now it's on the staff to secure a visit for the Philadelphia native. Rumors surfaced on message boards that Keita was planning on joining all four current Penn State commits in State College for the San Diego State game, but it never materialized.
Instead, Keita took an official to South Carolina and discussed it with TheState.com afterwards. The article reports he will visit Penn State and Temple in an official capacity, but these plans are often fluid. Keita visited Providence this past weekend, another school that is prioritizing a big man in the waning months of this cycle.
Keita is not alone in his stop-and-go Penn State recruitment. Abdul Ado, once touted as a five-star member of the 2016 class, may have seen his stock drop due to injury just enough for the Nittany Lions to be considered players for his services. Like Keita, his connection to PSU was quiet until Painter spurned State College for Philly, but the heat has been turned back up ever since. Coaches stopped by Hamilton Heights to see the Chattanoogan twice last month during this current recruiting period, and Ado appears set on taking an official visit to Penn State in the near future:
2016 Hamilton Heights big Abdul Ado will visit Oregon October 3-5, Penn State October 9-11. Auburn & Mississippi State will also get visits— Corey Evans (@coreyevans_10) September 25, 2015
Dates reported earlier for Abdul Ado visits are now no longer correct. However, he will take visit to Penn St, Miss St, Auburn, Oregon— Corey Evans (@coreyevans_10) September 25, 2015
Ado's 247 profile lists a visit is on the cards for this upcoming weekend, so keep your eyes peeled on Twitter for any updates this week. While Chambers has done well to jump in at this late stage and earn that visit, it might be wise to not get your hopes up that Ado will be joining Penn State's 2016 class. His 247 Crystal Ball has seen a run on picks to Ben Howland's Mississippi State in the last few days:
While Chambers deserves credit for hopping back into these recruitments late in the game, the possibility that Penn State lands neither of these highly-sought after prospects is a good one. So if that's the case, what's the backup plan? Behold, door number two:
Sign a Mystery Recruit/Transfer
Remember how the Nittany Lions pushed for Johncarlos Reyes this summer, only to lose out to Boston College? And remember how the Nittany Lions recruited UConn transfer Terrence Samuel for a relative minute and ended up signing the former national champion? Having that extra scholarship to hand out to a late signee isn't always the worst position to be in, and it allows Penn State to have some flexibility heading into next offseason. There's still over a year until the all-important 2016-17 season begins, and they'll have 10 of those months to recruit for that last scholarship if need is still there.
There's also the grad transfer route, a route that a pair of B1G programs are taking this season. Coincidentally, both Illinois' Mike Thorne (formerly of Charlotte) and Northwestern's Joey van Zegeren (formerly of Virginia Tech) had huge games against Penn State in late 2014. They're two of the conference's most important players this season because they'll both be getting significant playing time for teams trying to compete for the NCAA tournament, which may very well be the situation Penn State finds itself in next summer.
Of course, there is another option. To door number three:
Save the Scholarship for 2017
The downside to filling up the class in 2016 is that there isn't any room for a newcomer in 2017, barring transfers. For this strange situation, you can thank the class of 2013 - Geno Thorpe and Graham Woodward (miss u both) transferred, and the redshirting of Julian Moore and Payton Banks created a scenario in which Penn State won't have a senior class for 2016-2017, and therefore won't have any scholarships to give for incoming freshmen the following summer.
Unless, of course, this final scholarship we've been discussing is stashed. The staff is still hitting the trail for a few 2017 kids (more on them soon), and the prospect of skipping out on an entire cycle probably isn't all that enticing for a program that's just made its major breakthrough. It does leave the 2016-17 frontcourt rather thin, but it might not be as dire as some have proclaimed. Here's a potential depth chart for the 2016-17 season if everyone sticks around and the commits sign their LOIs:
|Point Guard||Shooting Guard||Small Forward||Power Forward||Center|
|Tony Carr||Shep Garner||Josh Reaves||Lamar Stevens||Julian Moore|
|Terrence Samuel||Isaiah Washington||Payton Banks||Joe Hampton||Mike Watkins|
|Nazeer Bostick||Davis Zemgulis|
This is a pretty crude guess by admission, but it's mostly just to illustrate the fact that Penn State is so heavy on positions 1-3 that they may well be forced to play some small ball. Lamar Stevens is no taller than 6'7" according to everyone, but he's been listed as a power forward by at least one recruiting service. Coupled with the fact that Penn State played at the fastest pace in the B1G last season and the shot clock is moving to 30 seconds in 2015, this formula might just work out fine without another big body to anchor the post.
Is this the ideal situation? No, Chambers' pursuit of Keita and Ado clearly indicates that the staff is looking for that final piece to the puzzle. Is it workable if they don't land anybody? Well, if nothing else this will be the most talented roster ever assembled on paper at PSU. So at least they have that going for them.
So in summation, this roller coaster offseason isn't quite over yet and it might even carry over into next offseason. The good news is that media day (for 2015-16, which is very close and which I have not mentioned once) is on Tuesday. Real basketball is on its way, and thank goodness for that.