Chambers makes PSU a viable option

TIPTON – Stop if you’ve heard this before: Penn State is killing it in recruiting.

But wait. This is the part you probably haven’t heard:

It’s in basketball.

The Nittany Lions have two of the nation’s top 100 recruits for next year already committed, and they’ve also got another top 100 commit for the class of 2016.

Put another way, Penn State has more top 100 recruits committed (3) than the number of times the program has made it to the NCAA Tournament in this century (2).

Bravo, Patrick Chambers. Very, very impressive.

The coach talks a big game sometimes, and finally, with these recruits, Penn State might be able to start backing it up on the court the next few years.

“We’re doing very well recruiting,” Chambers said during a dinner with PSU basketball boosters Monday night at DelGrosso’s Amusement Park. “It’s taken three years. We’ve paid our dues. We didn’t take no for an answer.”

Then they got one big yes, which changed everything.

“It took one kid. One kid to say yes. And that kid said yes,” Chambers said.

Just like landing prized prospect Derrick Williams in 2005 helped revive the football program’s recruiting efforts, Penn State’s basketball program got an enormous boost when it snared big-time recruit Josh Reaves.

The 6-foot-4 shooting guard plays for prestigious Oak Hill Academy in Virginia and is rated the No. 69 recruit in the nation by ESPN for 2015.

Chambers didn’t mention anything specific about Reaves or the other recruits – NCAA rules prohibit that – but it was clear to anyone who follows the program how much of an impact it made landing a recruit of the caliber of Reaves.

“That changed things, so now we became a viable option,” Chambers said. “When one of those top 100 recruits finally say, ‘I want to go,’ and other kids like him, well, he brings them with him.”

The top 100 players who have decided to join Reaves at PSU are 6-8 center Mike Watkins out of Philadelphia (No. 89 for 2015 by ESPN) and 6-7 power forward Joe Hampton from DeMatha Catholic in Maryland (No. 50 for 2016 by Future 150).

As food for thought, consider that the only top 100 basketball recruit Penn State has landed in recent memory was Talor Battle’s younger brother, Taran Buie. Battle himself was outside the top 100, so obviously recruiting rankings can be flawed since he turned out to be arguably the best player in PSU history, while his brother was an underachieving troublemaker who lasted only one year before transferring.

“We were close on so many kids the prior three years, but they just weren’t ready to take that leap of faith. These kids are,” Chambers said.

“They see we’re so close,” he added. “I hate saying that, but we are.”

Chambers praised the work of his assistant coaches for the recruiting success, and specifically Keith Urgo and Dwayne Anderson for their efforts in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia areas.

“It’s just breaking through the wedge, so to speak, and getting us into the right places, getting us in the right relationships, getting people up to campus,” Chambers said.

Ultimately, a basketball recruit has to be comfortable with his head coach, and Chambers’ fun personality and energetic style are appealing to kids.

“I think what it comes down to is they’ve got to believe in me because I dictate the minutes,” he said. “I’m in control of their careers – during the four or five years and then after – so it comes down to trust, it comes down to relationships and it comes down to being genuine.”

Penn State went a disappointing 6-12 in the Big Ten last year, giving Chambers a 12-42 conference record. He has a new boss in Sandy Barbour, and the coach met the new AD for the first time Monday, her first day on the job replacing Dave Joyner.

Chambers said he felt “a great connection” with Barbour. The key will now be for Barbour to give Chambers enough time to get the prized recruits on campus and see what he can do with them.

There’s a good chance PSU will struggle this season, which would be Chambers’ fourth, so the new AD could get antsy and make a change.

That would be a mistake.

Chambers is building the foundation in recruiting, and he deserves at least a couple of more years to see it through. He’s hoping Barbour is the type of boss who will support him because he said, “you want to feel like somebody’s got your back.”

“I think she understands what we’re up against and what we need to do, and I think she’s going to support us,” Chambers added.

Some fans only care about the current season’s success or failure, and they don’t want to be told there’s help on the way for a long-struggling program like Penn State.

But there is help on the way.

More help, on paper at least, than Penn State hoops has had in a long, long time.

Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.