When Pat Chambers was introduced as the 12th Penn State men’s basketball coach on June 6, 2011, he made one thing very clear.
The process of being better on the court started with improved recruiting off it.
“We have to tap into our relationships, the relationships I’ve built all my life in Philadelphia when I was in high school and college and when I got to Villanova,” Chambers said that day. “We have to go back to where people know you and trust you. When people trust you they’re going to send you their kids.”
Chambers kicked off his fourth season as the Nittany Lion head coach at the program’s Media Day Tuesday afternoon. When it opens the 2014-15 slate with Morgan State Nov. 14, it will do so with players the program never had a chance at under Ed DeChellis.
It’s a list that starts with versatile guard D.J. Newbill, a two-star out of Philadelphia Strawberry Mansion who never considered the Lions when he picked Marquette in 2010. He trusted Chambers enough to transfer into the program three years ago.
Geno Thorpe, Payton Banks and Julian Moore all believed in Chambers and his staff right out of high school, as the trio of three-stars picked the Lions in the Class of 2013. It marked the first time since at least 2002, when Scout.com began ranking high school hoops prospects, that the Lions signed three three-star players in one class.
Chambers’ 2014 class netted similarly quality talent, and in 2015, the program is expected to sign its first four-star talent since Jeff Brooks in 2007. In fact, a pair of four-star players are expected to join the program during the early signing period Nov. 12-19, as Virginia small forward Josh Reaves and Philadelphia center Mike Watkins are committed. Three-star forward Deividas Zemgulis is also part of the class.
Penn State didn’t become a viable name for top-flight talent without hardship. Chambers, associate head coaches Brian Daly and Keith Urgo, plus assistant Dwayne Anderson, have each put time and effort in only to hear a similar refrain: sorry, coach, but I’m going elsewhere.
It was hard, Urgo said, to hear that after spending months — and often years — building relationships with recruits. But they all knew sooner or later that all of the phone calls, visit weekends, and miles and miles of travel would pay off.
“My staff is relentless. They worked so hard the past three years knocking on doors, making phone calls, getting groups up, getting coaches up, and showcasing what Penn State is all about.”
“My staff is relentless,” Chambers said Tuesday. “They worked so hard the past three years knocking on doors, making phone calls, getting groups up, getting coaches up, and showcasing what Penn State is all about.
“We finally, after three years, have heard some yes’s, which is exciting. It’s a credit to them.”
“It’s a great to be a Nittany Lion, as we always say [when a recruit commits],” Urgo said.
The losses can be tough — Penn State recently seemed in fine shape to land Philly guard Levan Alston before he ultimately selected Temple. It’s hard to imagine that the Lions would even have been an option for him three years ago, though.
Why they became an option at all is a multi-facet answer. But one current Lion made up his mind after meeting the staff and seeing what it was doing on the court.
“I think they started to be real competitive in the Big Ten, and that’s the best conference in the country,” former three-star guard and current freshman Shep Garner said. “I fell in love with the coaching staff.
“They make you better, they bring the best out of you; they were completely honest from the beginning.”
That’s a testament to Chambers and his staff, who are looking to add one more prospect in the Class of 2015 before all is said and done.
Who’s on the wish list?
Philly three-star guard Samir Doughty is believed to top it. Penn State may not land him, what with over 20 other schools angling for him as well.
Yet, unlike three years ago, it has a shot.
“We got 28 days to go here until the signing period,” Chambers said. “It could be a really incredible week for us.”