Marley Paul (@MPaulPSU)
(Ed. Note: This article is part of CoBL's 2015-16 College Season Preview, which will run from October 2-November 13, the first day of games. For the complete rundown, click here)
Penn State has never been mistaken for a haven for premiere basketball recruits.
But coach Pat Chambers has changed the tale after five years at the helm of the program, hauling in an impressive three-man 2015 class, featuring two ESPN top 100 recruits and a European sharpshooter.
Josh Reaves, a four-star ESPN prospect, headlines the 2015 class, which is a month away from its college debut. Reaves, a Virginia native, recently finished his senior season at Oak Hill Academy -- a hotbed for NBA talent -- after transferring from his hometown high school, Paul VI. He chose Penn State over Georgetown, Villanova and Maryland, among other programs.
Reaves has been the first domino to fall for Chambers in hopes of delivery an impactful men’s basketball program at Penn State.
“[There’s] not really individual goals for me to reach, it’s more of as a team,” Reaves said. “So, everybody just working together, just become as good as we can as a team and go from there.”
Credit assistant coach Dwayne Anderson for luring Reaves to Happy Valley. Anderson, the former Villanova standout born and raised in Maryland, established a great rapport with Reaves that made the 6-foot-4 prospect feel comfortable at Penn State.
“Him being from the DMV, him being a younger guy, going through what he’s gone through and the experience it just felt a lot better,” Reaves said. “I could connect with him easier.”
Scouts tout Reaves as an all-around player, capable of doing all a bit of everything on the court whether it's carrying the scoring load to crashing the glass to create as many opportunities for his team as possible.
“If the ball is on the ground, I just feel like I’m going to go get it, that’s just my nature,” Reaves said, “I can’t really change that about myself.
“I’m always going to be able to do that type of stuff, scoring nature and finding teammates; that’s just the type of player that I am."
He’s joined in the class by a talented shooter in wing Deividas Zemgulis and big man Mike Watkins.
Watkins, a Philadelphia native, makes his presence felt when he’s around. The 6-foot-8, 245-pound big man presents Penn State with a big body to bang inside alongside Jordan Dickerson, Donovon Jack and Julian Moore. Watkins is a high energy big that runs the floor in hopes of making that impact play.
“I love blocking shots and grabbing rebounds for my team,” Watkins said. “That’s my favorite part of the game.”
Zemgulis, at 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, gives Chambers an international 3-point marksman with a the physical tools to compete with in the Big Ten. That being said, he still needs to develop the rest of his game inside the three point line if he intends to become a bigger weapon in the offense. His athleticism isn’t overwhelming, but if he can find a consistent way to get past defenders and finish around the rim, he will certainly carve out some minutes in the rotation.
Coach Chambers has already outdone himself with his 2016 class, with top-50 guard and Philadelphia native Tony Carr plus his Roman Catholic teammates Lamar Stevens and Nazeer Bostick. Oak Hill Academy forward Joe Hampton, Reaves’ former teammate, rounds out the highly ranked class.
Until then, Reaves and company should all make contributions in the interim as young but, more importantly, promising talent in the Lions program. The influx of talent in Happy Valley is promising and the 2015 class is certainly an appealing appetizer with an even bigger course set to arrive next year.
“I have never said to a recruit and never will say ‘You're going to start if you come here’,” Chambers said. “We're going to put the best guys out there and the guys are going to play quality minutes and they are going to earn it every single day and that is going to put us in the best situation to be successful.
“We are trying to get the best players who can compete in the Big Ten but also to fit the Penn State way. We have heard some yeses recently, but it takes everybody that is a part of Penn State to make it so we can get that yes.”