Sometimes you just have to cleanse the palate and go with something a little different. So we’re going to ignore that midnight green mess that emanated from Lincoln Financial Field yesterday, because to be quite honest, they’ve done nothing to deserve my attention right now. Yours either. Let’s get away from the Eagles and the NFL and from football altogether for a while. Without any further ado, let’s talk some Penn State hoops, people!
That’s right, two weeks into the NFL regular season I’m asking you to divert some of your sports-fan attention to a middling basketball program at a school you probably didn’t even attend. This story does have a Philadelphia angle to it, though. Last week, Lamar Stevens of traditional Philly basketball powerhouse Roman Catholic High School committed to Penn State. This is important because Stevens is ranked in the Top 100 players of the Class Of 2016 by pretty much every major recruiting service out there, which makes him a huge get for Penn State. It’s doubly important because Stevens, a 6-6 forward, is following fellow Roman Catholic teammates Tony Carr (also a Top 100 recruit for 2016) and Nazeer Bostick up to Happy Valley. The three of them will eventually join former teammate Shep Garner, who as a sophomore looks to be inheriting the starting point guard position for the Nittany Lions. This is the continuation of a recent trend for this program under head coach Pat Chambers.
Penn State basketball is a program that has not seen much success over the years. Yeah, they’ll make an NCAA Tournament appearance once every 15 years or so, but this school is a nationally-known brand playing in one of the best college basketball conferences in the country. They should be better. Maybe it’s a bit unfair to call them a college basketball Siberia, but traditionally-speaking, they are not that far off. I’m really hoping that we will see a change in this under Chambers, who for his entire tenure has tried to make inroads doing something that his predecessors never bothered to do: recruit the talent-rich city of Philadelphia.
Not only is Chambers recruiting in Philly, he’s doing it the right way, by forging relationships and establishing a presence. When you recruit one player from a talent-rich high school team, you are potentially laying a foundation for other members of that team to consider your college, especially if that first kid you picked up happens to be a good recruiter himself. When you recruit a few members of that team, you build a bit of a rapport with that high school coach. The head coach over at Roman Catholic, Chris McNesby, can now vouch for Chambers as a coach and for Penn State as a program when future potentially interested recruits ask about them. This same principle applies to guys like Rob Brown, the head coach for the Team Final AAU program, which is probably the most well-known and successful AAU team in the area. Stevens, Carr, and Bostick all played for Team Final this summer, as did past and future teammate Garner before them. Making contacts like these firmly establishes your presence in an area and makes you a viable option in the future. Really, it’s nothing more than networking, just like you would do in any other field.
I don’t know why it took Penn State until the Chambers Era to look at the largest city in Pennsylvania for talent, but I’m glad we’re here now. Penn State brought in the recently-graduated DJ Newbill as a transfer after a great career at Strawberry Mansion High School, they have Garner in the fold and will debut Mike Watkins, a Top 100 recruit out of The Phelps School in suburban Philly this fall. A year from now we’ll see Stevens, Carr, and Bostick begin their college careers, with hopefully more to follow down the road. If you are a fan of Philly prep basketball and you don’t already have an allegiance to any of the Big Five schools, Penn State might be a team that sparks your interest.
I always get a little bummed out when a prized recruit out of Philly goes with a Duke or Kentucky or North Carolina or Kansas instead of staying local and continuing the great legacy of Big Five basketball in the city. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the appeal of wanting to spread your wings to a place like the Tobacco Road schools or Rupp Arena or Phog Allen Fieldhouse instead of spending another few years in north Philly or even the Main Line. It’s your chance to break away, why not take it? Hopefully Chambers can continue his work in Philly and give recruits an option to build a new legacy in a place that’s away (but not too far away) and in a power conference with its own TV network.