Best Recruiting Class In Program History Gives Penn State Hope

Story posted November 13, 2015 in Sports, CommRadio by Jesse Finver

The buzz was faint at first.

It took a year or two for people to hear it, but even when they did, they refused to believe in its existence. Fast-forward another year and the noise has gotten even louder. It was at that point when the noise began to be acknowledged and even turned some heads.

That noise? It’s Pat Chambers and the rest of the Nittany Lions’ coaching staff, who have been recruiting their tails off since arriving in State College in 2011…and they want everyone to know about it.

“Our staff has worked really hard over the last four years. It's been a long process. But we've stuck to our guns and worked hard and diligently and did things the right way. We had two really good classes, one in and one coming in,” said Chambers back in October at the 2015 Big Ten Media Day in Chicago.

Penn State comes into 2015 with its best recruiting class in program history. The 30th ranked class in the nation features two four-star prospects in shooting guard Josh Reaves and center Mike Watkins, along with three-star recruit Deividas Zemguilis.

The top recruit in the class, Reaves, hails from Oak Hill Academy in Fairfax Virginia. Yes, that Oak Hill. The same Oak Hill that Josh Smith, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant went to.

Reaves comes into his freshman year at 6’4” 185 lbs. and has the ability to make an immediate impact for the Nittany Lions. Reaves is seen as a dynamic two-way guard who can score at will and has the length, athleticism and awareness to be a force on the defensive end right away.

Scouts believe that Reaves needs to fill out his frame if he wants to last a full season in aphysical Big Ten where teams will key in on him night after night. Similarly to Oak Hill alumni Carmelo Anthony and Josh Smith, Reaves is a volume scorer. If Reaves wants to be successful at the college level he is going to need to learn to be more efficient in his shot selection.

Next up is Mike Watkins who, according to Pat Chambers, is arguably more important of a recruit than Reaves. Watkins is currently ineligibe to play according to the NCAA.Watkins is a symbol of hope for Penn State. Watkins is an excellent basketball player, but he is more than that to Penn State basketball. What Watkins and sophomore point guard Shep Garner symbolize is Penn State’s arrival to the Philadelphia recruiting scene.

Before Chambers arrived, Penn State was an after-thought for most recruits, not even remotely considering State College as a potential lading spot. With the signing of Watkins back in April, Chambers was able to use that as a springboard with future recruits. Getting Garner in 2014 was also huge for Chambers as Garner went to the same high school as some of the Nittany Lions’ top recruits for 2016.

But back to this years class…

Watkins is a raw talent. The 6’8” center from The Phelps School in Philadelphia is an excellent shot blocker and can run the floor with the best of them. Watkins is explosive in the paint offensively and defensively, however he lacks the offensive touch and soft hands that could propel him to a whole different level. If Watkins can develop a post game, expect him to contribute right away for Penn State.

The final member of Penn State’s 2015 recruiting class is the 6’6” small forward, sharp shooter, Deividas Zemgulis. Bottom line: this kid can flat out shoot the ball.  A highly intelligent player who can shoot from anywhere behind the arc, Zemgulis will be a great role player for the Lions. His lack of athleticism limits his range defensively, but he makes up for it with his size, shot blocking ability and basketball IQ.  If he doesn’t get into a rhythm with his shooting, he becomes more of a liability than an asset because of his limited ability on defense, thus explaining why he will be a role player.

The buzz around Penn State basketball is only getting louder with the additions of Reaves, Watkins and Zemgulis. And with a currently ranked top-10 recruiting class coming in 2016, the quiet buzz surrounding a once dormant basketball program may soon turn into the roar that the Lions have been looking for.

Jesse Finver is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jdf5291@psu.edu