The worrying began around 8:23 p.m. on a Wednesday. June 12, 2013 to be exact. You, dear Penn State basketball fan, may recall this day as the day that Pat Chambers got his first commitment from a player in the class of 2015. Mike Watkins, then an under-the-radar rising junior looking to get out of John Bartram High School in Philly, announced his intent to play for Chambers two years before he would set foot in State College. Watkins was and is a 6 foot 9 inch power forward with the physique and tenacity to contribute in the Big Ten, maybe even right away.
Josh Verlin is the founder and manager of the website City of Basketball Love dot com, and Josh knows everything there is to know about the Philadelphia hoops scene. Essentially, if Josh has something to say about Philly basketball, you damn well better listen. So this tweet, sent at 8:23 p.m. on June 12, 2013, gave Penn State fans plenty of pause:
Recall that Nittany Nation was still licking its wounds after Brandon Austin, then a top-50 prospect who hadn’t yet been accused of multiple rapes, decommitted from Penn State 11 months before Watkins’ commitment. On the court, the Lions were fresh off a ten-win season, the worst they’ll likely ever have under Chambers. Naturally, Penn State hoops fans know how to add two and two, and immediately surmised that Watkins would eventually seek greener pastures sometime in the 18 months before he could sign in November 2014.
Well, here we are. It’s November 12, 2014, National Signing Day, and Mike Watkins will officially be a Penn State Nittany Lion, either today or one day over the next week. He’s also now a composite four-star recruit, as is his fellow class of 2015 signee Josh Reaves. Formerly at Paul VI Catholic HS in Fairfax, VA and now a star senior at Oak Hill Academy, perhaps the nation’s most famous prep basketball program, Reaves gave his verbal commitment on the night of the USMNT’s loss to Belgium in the World Cup round of 16. I remember that because I was still sad-drunk and didn’t think the sports gods would rectify my sports world so damn quickly.
Add in Deividas “Davis” Zemgulis, another DMV kid (via Lithuania) who will be, at worst, a serviceable role player and, at best, the lights-out shooter Penn State basketball has craved since Danny Morrissey and Mike Walker left. Combined, you have the best recruiting class in program history. Granted, there’s not much competition for that honor. The 2007 class of Talor Battle, Jeff Brooks and Schyler King holds that distinction for now, though neither Battle nor Brooks had the universal acclaim of Watkins or Reaves. [Update: Commenter TonyLion points out that I somehow forgot Stanley Pringle was also a member of this class from the JuCo ranks. Please disregard every point I make because I am obviously a clownfraud of the highest order.]
Also of note when discussing that 2007 class, and by extension the difference between Ed DeChellis and Pat Chambers, is where the recruits came from. Battle came from Albany, Brooks from Louisville and Pringle and the easily-forgotten King from junior colleges in Florida and Texas. In a nutshell, this was Ed DeChellis’ strategy – find the under-appreciated talent, no matter where they’re from, and hope that they’re willing to come to State College and show why they were under-appreciated. It worked to great effect in this class, but it wasn’t sustainable, especially at the Big Ten level.
When you look at this 2015 class, and what’s more, when you look at it in the context of the groundwork Chambers and his staff have been laying since their arrival, it’s obvious that there is a plan here and a plan that is being executed: recruit early, recruit often, and recruit in the best locations, which the staff has clearly recognized to be Philadelphia and D.C.. Penn State was Watkins’ first offer, which he accepted before the Villanovas and Syracuses could ever really sniff around. Josh Reaves was hearing from assistant coach Dwayne Anderson a month after Anderson was hired in July 2013, a year before his commitment. 2016 commit Joe Hampton, another four-star kid from the DMV who will have to wait another year to sign his NLI, commended Penn State’s commitment to him early in the process. Ed DeChellis pulled all-nighters just to get the C on the final he needed to graduate; Pat Chambers doesn’t take his finals because he’s already locked up an A.
This wasn’t supposed to be another “Extend Pat Chambers” column, but here we are. Penn State is going to sign the best recruiting class in school history, which, oh by the way, is coming after a 16-18 season that most fans would consider a disappointment. The talent is coming – officially – and the wins will follow, even if they don’t come this year. But when they do, the rest of the Big Ten better watch their asses.
Josh Reaves is the first official member of the Class of 2015 for Penn State Men’s Basketball. Read all about his signing here.
Davis Zemgulis is now a part of the 2015 Penn State MBB recruiting class, as is Mike Watkins.