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Playing Catch Up

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When college basketball discussions turn to top recruiting classes and rising programs, Penn State is rarely part of the conversation.

How, then, does a team which hasn’t won a postseason tournament outside of the 2009 NIT—and hasn’t finished with winning record in three years—receive commitments from three and four star out-of-state recruits?

Head coach Pat Chambers, entering his fourth year in State College, has worked hard to change the culture around Nittany Lions’ hoops. And while it hasn’t made a noticeable impact in the standings, as the team’s 12-42 Big Ten record over his three seasons attests, the future looks brighter than it has in years.

The Nittany Lions have received commitments from shooting guards Shep Gardner and Josh Reaves, both of whom are three-star recruits according to Rivals.com.  Gardner will see playing time this upcoming season, while Reaves won’t be on campus until 2015.

Were that not impressive enough, Chambers also received his first four-star commitment from 2016 power forward Joe Hampton. The 6-7, 275-pound Hampton, who will play with Reaves at high school powerhouse Oak Hill Academy this year, also received offers from DePaul and Xavier.

Reaves and Hampton, along with three-star small forward Deividas Zemgulis, are all from the Washington, DC metro-area, a region Chambers and his staff have made a concerted effort to recruit.

Much of Penn State’s success in the “DMV,” as the area is often called, is due to personal visits by the Penn State coaching staff and an increased involvement in the areas AAU programs.

While Penn State’s recruiting efforts may not have paid off in wins and losses at this stage, identifying their targets early on is allowing the Nittany Lions to build stronger relationships in the area.

Chambers has also used his Philadelphia roots and deep connections, as well as the tireless efforts of his assistants, to land Gardner and three-star center Mike Watkins, both from Philadelphia-area high schools.

Although Penn State has always had a large recruiting influence in Philadelphia due to its proximity to campus, the additions of fellow former Villanova Wildcats Keith Urgo and Dwayne Anderson to the staff surely helped guide both players to Happy Valley.

According to Rob Harrington of Scout.com, Penn State’s recent recruiting success is due to their intensified scouting department, as well as conference exposure.

“Wins and losses undoubtedly affect a program’s recruiting efforts…but it runs deeper than that,” Harrington said. “Their talent evaluation has been superb, as they’ve identified prime targets early and gotten a jump on them relative to the competition.”

Harrington also pointed out similarities between the Nittany Lions and the Michigan Wolverines, who have capitalized on increased Big Ten exposure to gain an early advantage in recruiting.

“The Big Ten itself also has drawn a lot of positive press in the recent years, with unprecedented television exposure,” Harrington explained, “and thus I think belonging to that fraternity could help some as well.”

Due to the recent success of the Big Ten Network, which according to the Lafayette Journal & Courier will pull in over $30 million for Penn State annually, and their contract with ESPN, the Nittany Lions have used their success in conference athletics to gain financially and athletically.

Penn State, through the success of other programs (particularly football) has been able to focus their recruiting efforts to create more balance among their sports programs. Basketball, it appears, is finally catching up.

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