The Mike Rhoades Era is officially underway in Happy Valley, but there is going to be little time for pomp and circumstance for Rhoades who will be tasked with rebuilding a program that could very well see a total turnover of its scholarship players on the roster. Jalen Pickett, Andrew Funk, Cam Wynter, Myles Dread, and Mikey Henn all saw their eligibilities exhaust, while Seth Lundy opted against a fifth college season. Transfer wise, Dallion Johnson, Caleb Dorsey, Evan Mahaffey, and Jameel Brown all entered the portal, while 2023 recruiting class signees Braeden Shrewsberry, Logan Imes, and Carey Booth were all released from their NLIs. All of that leaves the Nittany Lions with three scholarship players: Kanye Clary, Kebba Njie, and Demetrius Lilley, all of whom could very well leave too.
So — deep breath — but there is going to be a lot of work to be done for Rhoades over the next couple days and weeks. It’s about as close to a blank slate as you can get.
Let’s look at a “To-Do List” for Rhoades now that everything is official.
FIGURE OUT WHAT VCU PLAYERS ARE COMING WITH
Admittedly, it feels a little gross that one of the most important things for Rhoades to do is to convince his VCU players to follow him to Penn State, but that’s the nature of the beast now. Just like Shrewsberry will likely have a couple former Nittany Lions on his Notre Dame roster, it is (hopefully) likely that Rhoades will do the same. Who are some names that could follow?
- PG Ace Baldwin: The Atlantic-10 Player of the Year and the Atlantic-10 Defensive Player of the Year, Baldwin has to be priority No. 1 for Rhoades.
- F Jamir Watkins: Do-it-all 6-foot-7 forward for the Rams who hails from Trenton, NJ.
- C Jalen DeLoach: Averaged just under 10 points and 7 rebounds for VCU.
- G Jayden Nunn: Off-ball-guard who is strong defensively and hits threes at a good clip (40.4%)
- C Christian Fermin: Super raw center prospect from the 2022 recruiting class, but is originally from Tobyhanna, PA.
- G/F Alphonzo Billups: Like Fermin, a four-star prospect from the 2022 recruiting class. He is originally from Richmond, though.
Obviously, there are others but those were six that jumped out to me when scanning the roster.
Also of note, VCU did not have any 2023 commits so there likely won’t be any 2023 prospects to sign on.
FIGURE OUT WHO IS STAYING
We talked about this above in decent enough detail, but can Rhoades convince any of Mahaffey, Brown, Njie, Clary, and Lilley to stay? Total speculation on my part, but I think he’d be happy with any of them staying. Not the situation where he’ll push players out the door for the obvious reasons. That being said, the pessimist in me thinks Penn State will be lucky to keep one or two of those guys. Clary does have the Virginia connection, but there’s a reason he was Shrewsberry’s first commit.
Regardless of what happens with the VCU/Penn State players, Rhoades is going to have to bring in outside help from other schools via the transfer portal. Like I said before Shrewsberry left, Penn State really needs a little bit of everything — and that is even more so the case now.
I’ll have an updated Probing The Portal before the end of the week. While some of the names might not change, there is a big difference between the playing styles of Shrews and Rhoades. That, obviously, will impact the type of player that would be interested in coming here. For example: difficult to see St. Francis center Josh Cohen being much of a fit for Rhoades’ defense.
First and foremost, it appears that Adam Fisher could be getting the Temple job. The Owls were, reportedly, down to Fisher and Missouri associate head coach Charlton Young, and with Young now turning down the job, it seems like they’ll move on to Fisher next. If for whatever reasons Fisher turns down the Temple gig too, Rhoades should do whatever it takes to keep Fisher on the staff. He’s a great recruiter in Philadelphia, and could be pivotal in helping keep some of that 2022 class at Penn State.
That all seems unlikely though.
At VCU, Rhoades didn’t see much coaching turnover. He brought JD Byers and Brent Scott with him from his Rice stint, while hiring Jamal Brunt from Miami in 2018. Little bit of background on the three of them:
- Brunt: Played for and then coached with Rhoades Randolph-Macon. He went to St. Frances Academy in Baltimore (where Ace Baldwin went too) so no surprise, but has deep ties to the city. Absolutely should be coming to Penn State.
- Byers: Fellow Lebanon Valley grad, he ended up coaching with Rhoades at Randolph-Macon from 2007-2009. Reunited with Rhoades at Rice and then followed him to VCU. Another young guy but a respected recruiter.
- Scott: Big man coach with stops at Rice (alma mater), LSU, TCU, and now VCU.
Also on the staff as the Director of Basketball Operations is Jimmy Martelli, one of former St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli’s sons. Would make a lot of sense to bring him to Penn State given his Philly ties.