We’re almost exactly halfway through the college basketball offseason, which means the crucial July live recruiting periods are here. If you haven’t been paying attention, this is the most important month on the college basketball recruiting calendar. Over three 5-day periods, college coaches will be evaluating as many prospects as they can at various AAU gyms across the country.
For Penn State, we’ve been talking for months about the importance of this recruiting class and the impact it will have on the direction Pat Chambers’ program ultimately takes. While the results on the floor have been particularly unimpressive in four years, this staff has made a positive impression on the recruiting trail. One the program desperately needs to grow to breakthrough in the Big Ten.
The foundation nearly survived the disappointing 2014-2015 campaign, until it was announced that PSU and Geno Thorpe would part ways in early June. The rising junior’s departure still leaves a hole that’s unlikely to be filled in next year’s backcourt, but the staff quickly landed an intriguing replacement for down the road. Former 2013 recruiting target and UConn transfer guard, Terrence Samuel, recently decided to spend his final two years in State College.
The Lions currently have one scholarship remaining for 2015-2016, and it will likely stay available. In today's world, this isn't a bad spot to be in with transfers occurring at a moment's notice (see: Jon Octeus, Purdue or heck, Austin Nichols, Memphis as of yesterday). However, it will be up to Pat Chambers if Penn State's 2016 class will roll four or five-deep by the time the early signing period rolls around.
Looking at the 2016-2017 scholarship roster, here's what Pat has assembled:
Guards (3): Shep Garner, Terrence Samuel, Isaiah Washington
Wings (4): Josh Reaves, Payton Banks, Deividas Zemgulis, Nazeer Bostick
Posts (3): Julian Moore, Mike Watkins, Joe Hampton
With two intriguing verbals already on board, I'd look for PSU to focus on two distinct needs. They must get another big man, preferably 6'10"+, to help replace the outgoing frontcourt trio of Brandon Taylor, Donovon Jack and Jordan Dickerson. They also seem to lack a true point guard in the backcourt. The PG may not be a necessity in the coaches' eyes, as only they know their comfort level with Terrence Samuel and Shep Garner running the offense. All we know is Samuel did not produce much offense in Storrs, and Shep's valuable shooting last year could have used a few more looks off the catch-and-shoot.
Which leads us to this summer's overwhelming narrative: Penn State's assault on the Team Final AAU program based in Philadelphia. The uncommitted trio of Tony Carr, Dylan Painter and Lamar Stevens fits the puzzle perfectly with a dynamic point guard, a growing and skilled big man and the best player available in Stevens, whose athleticism could immediately factor into the rotation.
However, we're at a critical juncture with Penn State's involvement in these recruitments. If you've followed Chambers closely over the last four years, you would know his staff's greatest accomplishments in recruiting were achieved prior to July. Geno Thorpe, Shep Garner, Mike Watkins and Josh Reaves were locked into PSU before the summer's live periods and willing to pass on the enticement of the summer AAU experience. For Penn State, getting these high major prospects to verbal before more successful teams come calling seems like a practical and wise recruiting strategy for a dwindling program.
The later in the calendar, the more difficult it is to land a consensus high major talent. Penn State hasn't been able to seal the deal with the aforementioned trio, but that's not necessarily a bad sign just yet. They should make the final cut for all three and have a great chance to receive official visits in the fall. We'll just have to hold our breaths this month on any potential new suitors that could quickly ruin this promising dream.
Live Period One Rundown (July 8-12)
Nike Peach Jam (North Augusta, SC) - July 8-12
AAU Programs to watch: Team Final (PA), Team Takeover (DC), King James Shooting Stars (OH), PSA Cardinals (NY), Albany City Rocks (NY)
Nazeer Bostick and his coveted teammates will look to better their 16U title game run against 19 fellow EYBL teams that qualified for the lauded Peach Jam tournament. Team Final will probably be without Tony Carr, who suffered a hip injury in a summer league game (Side note: If you really haven't been paying attention, I'd recommend reading CoBL daily. Tremendous website that will have all of these events covered). They are not the favorites however, as they only qualified with a record of 11-7 in session play.
Penn State has offered prospects from the other familiar AAU programs listed, and the Lions always have a strong presence at Peach Jam. Chambers has publicly stated that it's his favorite AAU event, and it also helps that PSU's a Nike-affiliated school in the Sneaker Wars era. Expect to see two PSU coaches present at all of Team Final's games, along with some of these other programs this weekend in Georgia. The Peach Jam should be streamed live at nikeeyb.com for those interested.
Under Armour All-American Camp (Charlotte, NC) - July 7-10
PSU Targets: Joe Hampton (committed), Markelle Fultz, DeAndre Hunter, Alani Moore, Sedee Keita, Trevon Duval (2017), Quade Green (2017)
This is an individual camp, but some of the familiar AAU programs PSU regularly targets on this circuit include We-R1 (DE), DC Premier (DC) and Philly Pride (PA). Those teams are primarily where the above targets hail from. Penn State will be keeping tabs on Joe Hampton's progress, while trying to stay in the sweepstakes of Top-50 talents in Fultz, Green and Duval. Philly natives Hunter and Keita remain possible options for PSU as well, but the Lions seem in better standing with the Team Final trio at this point.
The full roster for Rivals' first UA All-American camp can be found here.
Adidas Uprising Gauntlet (Atlanta, GA) - July 8-11
AAU Programs: Ohio Basketball Club (OH), Team Loaded Virginia (VA), Team Loaded North Carolina (NC), Compton Magic (CA)
Penn State hasn't hit the Adidas circuit as hard this cycle, partly because Team Philly is having a down year in talent. The former program of Brandon Taylor, Geno Thorpe and Mike Watkins didn't qualify for this event in the spring. Team Loaded is a newer program Penn State has seemed to forge a great relationship with. A fair share of their 2017 and 2018 prospects attended Elite Camp a few weeks ago and came away with offers, including 2017 F Aamir Simms, 2017 C Josh Carlton and 2018 F Aaron Cash.
Elevate Hoops Summer Icebreaker/Showdown tournaments (Philadelphia, PA) - July 8-10, 11-12
AAU Programs: We-R1 (DE), Team Philly (PA), Philly Pride (PA), Sports U (NJ), Team Final Black (PA)
Elevate hoops tournaments are not as prestigious as the dominant shoe circuits, but they do attract a good amount of local talent from the Philadelphia/New Jersey region. Many familiar programs will be in attendance after the UA camp and expect PSU to have a strong presence at Chambers' alma mater, Philadelphia University. Especially for the Showdown tournament in the latter half of the live period.