Do Roster Changes Loom?

Though Penn State has no seniors and no open scholarships left for this year, the staff is still busy recruiting. Part of the focus is on high school juniors. But it is also following high school seniors and jucos, just in case.

You may have noticed that the Penn State bench was a bit on the thin side recently.

No, we're not referring to the fact that the Nittany Lions' non-starters accounted for a combined three points in the final two regular-season contests.

Rather, we are noting that there have been occasions when head coach Ed DeChellis has not had his full complement of assistants at games. For the home finale against Purdue last weekend, for instance, Kurt Kanaskie and Dan Earl were nowhere in sight. Both were on the road recruiting.

And this week, as Penn State prepares to face Minnesota in first-round Big Ten Tournament action in Indianapolis Thursday, DeChellis himself was scheduled to miss Tuesday's practice because he had to hit the recruiting trail.

“We don't have the luxury of being [in an area] where a guy can drive for a couple of hours and see a kid and turn around and get back,” DeChellis said Monday. “The guys we're recruiting are all over the place. The [coaches} have missed games not because we've wanted them to but because in the state playoffs, if we don't see this junior and he loses, we're done. We don't get to see him until summer.”

DeChellis said recent changes in NCAA rules that prevent college coaches from scouting prospects during the spring AAU season have made it imperative to see the players during their high school campaigns.

But a key question remains: Exactly who are the Nittany Lions recruiting?

The current roster features no seniors. State had one open scholarship this year, and it was given to walk-on Adam Highberger for the 2009-10 season.

That scholarship is slated to go to State College Area High shooting guard Taran Buie -- the only high school senior who signed with PSU last November -- when he arrives on campus this summer. Buie is the brother of Lion star guard Talor Battle.

As things stand, there are no other available scholarships for players who would enroll this year.

Penn State has also received commitments from two players who will enroll in 2011 -- Pennsylvania center Peter Alexis and Ohio guard Trey Burke. At this moment, the Lions have three other open scholarship slots for the class that will enroll in 2011.

So is all of the scrambling being done by the staff now focused on landing players who won't arrive for more than a year? That would seem to be a mistake for a program that had an extremely disappointing regular season, finishing last in the Big Ten after opening conference play with 12 straight losses.

The fact is -- and DeChellis is trying to tread as lightly as possible when addressing this topic -- there figure to be some changes to the roster after this season, changes which may well open up scholarship slots.

Last week, when asked if any of the Lions would be playing their final home games against Purdue, DeChellis said, “I don't think so. That could change at the end of the year; we have some guys who can graduate. But right now, we're not honoring any seniors.”

Forward D.J. Jackson, and centers Andrew Jones and Andrew Ott are all academic seniors who have one season of athletic eligibility remaining after this one. Jackson is a productive player who appears to be a lock to return.

Jones has had a disappointing junior season in which his field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and rebounding numbers have all declined from his sophomore campaign. Ott actually bumped Jones from the starting lineup for six games but has since dipped to the bottom of the depth chart at center, behind Jones and rookie Sasa Borovnjak.

So when will decisions be made on these fronts?

“We'll have to wait and see,” DeChellis said. “After the season is over, we'll sit down and talk to them, see where they are academically … and what their long-term plans are. It's what they want to do and what's in their best interests, and we'll go from there.”

Also in play is the status of redshirt freshman Billy Oliver. Oliver missed his entire rookie campaign after sustaining a pair of concussions that preseason. He has played in only 24 minutes this season and missed the final 18 regular-season games due to recurring headaches. He will not play in the Big Ten Tournament.

“I'm going to be with the doctors all spring to see what happens [with Oliver],” DeChellis said Monday. “He's just starting back on the rehab thing; he just walked 12 minutes today on the treadmill, and he was headache-free today. But if the headaches come back, we have to sit down and talk about it and consult with the physicians.”

If a spot or two does open up, this would seem to be the perfect opportunity for PSU to dip back into the junior college ranks. The program can obviously use immediate help in any number of areas, particularly a consistent 3-point shooter and some muscle in the paint.

DeChellis admitted landing a juco is an option but cautioned that pulling it off could be tricky.

“We've kept our eyes on some things and gone to a couple of different events just to see what's out there,” DeChellis said. “No matter if you have scholarships or don't have scholarships, we always keep our eyes open because you never know what's gonna happen. The juco thing is something we've done in the past, but it seems to get more challenging each year academically because we need a better student than everybody else. So that's a little more of a challenge for us.”

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