Looking Ahead: Penn State's Class of 2015 Recruiting Targets

Rob Christy-US PRESSWIRE

Penn State is already ahead of the game, with two Class of 2015 commitments and two more scholarships in hand. For once, that "other" Nittany Lions' team seems to be getting some love.

If someone were to casually tell you that Penn State University has the No. 12 recruiting class in the nation, you're likely response would be somewhere between subtle shoulder shrugging and lazy head nodding acknowledgement.

Top-20 Recruiting classes are a common occurrence at Penn State. Even after the dark, disturbing transgressions of the recent past, PSU still recruits very well. They've been reeling in four- and five-star prospects since the star system was invented. Yawn.

That looked of bored acceptance on your face should take a sharp turn into a shock-stricken gape when you realize the No. 12 recruiting class belongs to Penn State's basketball team. Your stubborn reluctance to accept this fact is understandable.

Here are Penn State's recruiting class ranks by year, starting in 2014 and going in reverse chronological order back to 2004: 89th, 73rd, 69th, 73rd, 123rd, 86th, 124th, 56th, 122nd and 89th. In 10 years, PSU has only sniffed the Top-50 once. It's still early, but with two available scholarships, a number of feasible three- and four-star targets still available and two verbal commitments already on the books, Pat Chambers has the hardwood version of the Nittany Lions in uncharted territory.

Let's take a look at the two young commits who have already pledged their verbal allegiance to Penn State and a list of those who might join them in Happy Valley in 2015.

Verbal Commitments

Mike Watkins

Position Power Forward
Measurements 6'8", 225 lbs
High School John Bertram HS/Math, Civics and Sciences Charter School (Philadelphia, Pa.)
247Sports Ranks
No. 20 PF, No. 92 Overall
Commitment Date 6/12/2013

Watkins verbally committed to Penn State almost exactly one year ago. Back then, Watkins was three-star recruit with some decent collegiate looks, but little notoriety outside of the Northeast. The 2014 version of Watkins is a top-100 talent, four-star recruit that has the basketball minds behind his recruitment at Penn State exhibiting a mixture of trepid excitement and silently festering fear. Watkins is drawing interest from bigger fish, and they might snatch the prize right from the guppy that is Penn State basketball. Watkins is a solid rebounder (12.6 per game) with an unpolished offensive game. Most of his buckets come from working the offensive glass and running the floor, which he does exceptionally well for a big man. Despite averaging less than one assist per game, Watkins has actually demonstrated the ability to make some very nice passes. As his offense comes along and he becomes more of a viable option of offense, that passing ability will become a great asset. Let's be honest, Watkins hasn't drawn raves for any of those reasons. Coaches salivate over Watkins for his one elite skill: shot-blocking. This kid is everywhere, lurking like Jaws on the hardwood, salivating, circling the court, waiting for his next victim (Thankfully for his opponents, Watkins only feasts on basketballs, not human beings). Watkins averaged 5.3 blocks per game during his junior season, and they come in a variety of ways. He has the athleticism and length to chase down guards and quicker players on the break and swat their feeble layup attempt out of the gym. He's a one-man bringer of destruction in transition. His help defense is tremendous. His timing, along with the quickness of his jump, allow Watkins to swat with ease, turning the opposition to mere fodder for his never ending hunger. They say no man is an island, but if English poet John Donne (writer of the now-infamous line) were alive to see Mike Watkins fending off attackers all by himself, he might have to change his mind. I don't know if Pat Chambers is a religious man, but i imagine he's clutching some sort of divine object every night before bed, and praying that Watkins doesn't fall for another team before signing day.

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Deividas Zemgulis

Position Small Forward
Measurements 6'6", 200 lbs.
High School St. Mary's Ryken (Leonardtown, Md.)
247Sports Ranks No. 42 SF, No. 227 Overall
Committment Date 5/12/2014

Similar to Watkins, Zemgulis brings one elite skill to the table: outside shooting (See: Above). Zemgulis releases each shot with rattlesnake-strike quickness. It's a beautiful, smooth release. He shoots as if holding the ball for any longer than half a second will sear his flesh. Up and in, zero hesitation. The young Lithuanian marksman is as pure a shooter as one can find in the high school ranks. Before coming stateside, Zemgulis spread his shooting wings on the Lithuanian U-16 National Team; they finished only 9th, but experience on that stage is invaluable. This past season Zemgulis averaged a double-double, proving that he knows how to use his well-developed body on the boards, which could be a great asset should Zemgulis ever be called on to stretch the floor in the 4 position. He averaged 13.1 points and over two made three-pointers per game while adjusting to basketball in the United States. Scouts have touted Zemgulis as a hard worker. If the sniper strives to be more than just a shooter running off of screens and shooting threes all game (Hey, plenty of guys have crafted long NBA careers out of that one skill), he has the ability to be a steal for Chambers and PSU down the line.

Guards

Josh Reaves

Position Shooting Guard
Measurements 6'4", 185 lbs.
High School Paul VI Catholic/Oak Hill Academy
247Sports Ranks No. 23 SG, No. 89 Overall
The Favorite Villanova/Penn State
In the Mix Maryland, Georgetown, Boston College, Temple, VCU, Wake Forest

I wrote this about Reaves in my Maryland recruiting piece last week:

Reaves is fresh off a breakout junior season at Paul VI Catholic (Fairfax, Va.) and an impressive showing at the Nike EYBL that have made him the object of affection for several east coast basketball programs. He appears to have limitless energy on the court, bounding up and down on both sides with an effortless athleticism. Reaves spent this past season polishing his offensive game, adding a consistent jumper and an enhanced ability to finish his strong drives to the rim. Despite being a 6-4 guard, the bouncy Reaves rebounds and blocks shots like someone four or five inches taller. Reaves may one day turn into a go-to offensive player, but his true value lies in his defensive capabilities. At just 17-years old, he brings a Tony Allen-like intensity to the game that -- especially at the collegiate level, where coaches often inherit players who only care about the game with the ball in their hands -- far exceeds most of his class contemporaries. Right now, there isn't really a program that stands out as a clear cut "favorite" to land Reaves. Presently, Villanova may hold a slight edge, but this is really anyone's game

With the additions of a shot-blocking menace and a floor-stretching 3, PSU's attention has shifted to landing Reaves. Demand for his services increases by the day, but if Reaves decides to join Watkins and Zemgulis in white and blue, this could be the start of a whole new basketball world in Happy Valley.

****

Donovan Mitchell

Position Shooting Guard
Measurements 6'3", 180 lbs.
High School Brewster Academy (Wolfeboro, N.H.)
247Sports Ranks No. 21 SG, No. 87 Overall
The Favorite Providence
In the Mix Boston College, Cincinnati, Creighton, Marquette, Louisville, UConn, Indiana, Penn State

Landing Mitchell is, admittedly, a bit of a pipe dream. The young skywalker has a list of ever-increasing suitors -- Indiana just offered Mitchell a scholarship on June 9, Oklahoma offered on June 6 -- that, quite frankly, leave Penn State as nothing more than a comfort option. Mitchell is a a shooting guard who isn't a great shooter, but he makes up for his lack of a legitimate jumper with impressive aerial acrobatics, a wonderful finishing touch and elite slashing ability. His size isn't ideal for a shooting guard, but his lateral quickness and athletic advantage over nearly everyone he plays allows him to be an aggressive, effective defender. Mitchell plays on the uber-talented Brewster Academcy basketball team (33-2 last season), stacked with Division I talent and backed by prestigious tradition. Entering his senior year, the high-flying guard should only garner more interest from around the nation. I doubt Chambers is holding his breath on this one.

****

Bryant Crawford

Position Point Guard
Measurements 6'2", 170 lbs.
High School Gonzaga College High School (Washington, D.C.)
247Sports Ranks No. 17 PG, No. 76 Overall
The Favorite Louisville
In the Mix Indiana, Villanova, UConn, Georgetown, Maryland, Penn State, Nebraska

Penn State is in a battle with several Big Ten rivals -- Indiana, Maryland, Nebraska -- for Crawford's coveted point guard skills. However, it looks like Crawford might be stolen by Rick Pitino and Louisville, who just offered a scholarship to the talented floor general on June 11. The demand for Crawford is understandable. He's a gifted athlete with highly advanced point guard skills and, more importantly, a willingness to dish to his teammates. Crawford can shoot off the dribble, economically using crossovers and stepbacks to create space and launch a three over his defender. He always dribbles with a purpose, as opposed to many young point guards who pull of a dazzling array of moves yet either wind up in the same exact spot on the floor or over-dribbling into a poor situation (Lance Stephenson syndrome). "He's the ultimate pass-first point guard," Steve Turner, head coach at Gonzaga, told CBSSports.com. "He's a throwback to the point guards in the era I grew up in. Some of the guys now can score 30 points, but no one else gets a touch. He would rather have 15 assists than 30 points. But he's multidimensional, showing folks he can score the ball."

****

Levan "Shawn" Alston

Position Point Guard
Measurements 6'4", 165 lbs.
High School Haverford School (Haverford, Pa.)
247Sports Rankings No. 19 PG, No. 81 Overall
The Favorite Temple
In the Mix Cincinnati, Notre Dame, VCU, Penn State, Boston College, VCU, Seton Hall, Wichita State

Alston is fresh off a prodigious EYBL campaign with Team Final, finishing as regular season champions with a 14-2 record. Alston averaged 14 points on 48% shooting (43% from three), 4.1 rebounds and a team-high 2.6 steals. Alston had games of 33, 28 and 25 points during his teams dominant run. While listed as a point guard, and certainly capable of making exceptional passes, Alston is far more interested in scoring the rock himself, which is just fine, considering the ease with which he gets buckets. While Alston's frame resembles that of a scarecrow, his Mr. Fantastic wingspan makes him a capable defender (He had seven games with 3+ steals during the 16 game EYBL season). He runs the court with a natural ease and manages to finish through contact, despite his slight frame. As Alston's range continues to improve his value should continue trending upward, making the potential-laden guard a more difficult get for Chambers and the Nittany Lions.

****

Traci Carter

Position Point Guard
Measurements 6'0", 160 lbs.
High School Life Center Academy (Burlington, N.J.)
247Sports Ranks No. 21 PG, No. 93 Overall
The Favorite ???
In the Mix Penn State, Cincinnati, Drexel, Iowa, Villanova, Temple, Xavier, La Salle, St. Joseph's

Carter is molded form the same ilk of the many Philly point guards that have come before him. He is an aggressive, gritty, hard-nosed player who, despite his stature, attacks the rim with reckless abandon. He has a useful jump shot to back his game up, which becomes especially helpful when defenders start sagging off to prevent his relentless dribble drives. Unfortunately, Carter tore his meniscus during a workout in April, forcing to talented prospect to undergo knee surgery that may force him to spend his summer on the sidelines, recovering. The injury may end up scaring off some potential suitors, which could actually work in Penn State's favor, assuming Carter's rehab goes smoothly.

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Forwards/Centers

Georgios Papagiannis

Position Center
Measurements 7'1", 235 lbs.
High School Westtown School (Norristown, Pa.)
247Sports Ranks No. 10 C, No. 39 Overall
The Favorite Maryland
In the Mix Penn State, Kansas, Georgetown, Temple

I wrote in depth last week about Papagiannis' visit to Penn State. The Greek giant has had some big names come knocking in recent weeks, most notably Kansas and Georgetown. Competition for the 7-footer looks to be fierce in the coming months, but if Chambers can lure Papagiannis to Happy Valley it would likely solidify the best recruiting class since Y2K came and went.

****

Markis McDuffie

Position Small Forward
Measurements 6'7", 185 lbs.
High School St. Anthony High School (Jersey City, N.J.)
247Sports Ranks No. 30 SF, No. 155 Overall
The Favorite ???
In the Mix Penn State, Creighton, Boston College, Seton Hall, Fordham

McDuffie has only recently begun garnering attention from bigger name programs. Penn State offered the wiry wing on April 28, followed by a Creighton offer on June 2. He's long and lanky, which helps him slither through the defense en route to the basket. His strength leaves much to be desired, but his athleticism still makes up for it at this point in his career. McDuffie has a smooth-looking jumper that he can stroke with consistency. Playing under high school basketball legend Bob Hurley at St. Anthony's, McDuffie has turned himself into a hot commodity. Offers from Miami, Florida, Stanford and St. Louis are supposedly waiting in the wings. An extended recruiting race for McDuffie is the last thing Chambers needs, but it looks like that's exactly where this is headed.

****

Khalil Iverson

Position Small Forward
Measurements 6'5", 200 lbs.
High School Delaware Hayes High School (Delaware, Ohio)
247Sports Ranks N/A
The Favorite ???
In the Mix Penn State, Wisconsin, Indiana, Northwestern, Dayton, Richmond, Virginia Tech

Iverson is a bit of a mystery man at this stage of the game. He recently received an offer from Penn State, but he's a bit more of an outlier on the national recruiting radar than most of PSU's other potential recruits. The consensus on Iverson seems to be that he possesses jaw-dropping athleticism and a powerful physique. His height has been listed between 6'4" and 6'7", which is a very substantial difference. If Iverson has sprouted to 6'7" his athletic ability and well-defined body make for an incredibly tantalizing prospect. As of now, his game is still raw, but if his exceptional tools can receive a little polish in the coming months Iverson's name could gain some national traction.

****

Matt Holba

Position Small Forward
Measurements 6'6", 185 lbs.
High School Guerin Catholic High School (Noblesville, Ind.)
247Sports Ranks N/A (Scout.com has him ranked as a 3-Star)
The Favorite ???
In the Mix Providence, Penn State, Valparaiso, Lehigh, Toledo,

Far from the sexiest name on PSU's radar, Holba nonetheless is a promising prospect. Most reports have him bulking up to nearly 200 lbs., which is an excellent indicator of his off-court work ethic and maturity heading into his senior season. The 6'6" forward has great bounce and plays with an almost limitless energy. His skills aren't as polished as most of the top prospects on PSU's radar, but he he has the high-motor and effortless athletic grace that college coaches love to see in young wing players. He averaged 15.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game for a Guerin Catholic squad that went 22-4 this past season. Holba has the makings of a solid four-year player, one that can take on leadership duties and expanded scoring responsibilities as his game catches up to his athleticism.

Other Current Top-101 Scholarship Offers

Carlton Bragg No. 3 PF, No. 9 Overall Favorite: Kentucky
Derrick Jones No. 6 SF, No. 26 Overall Favorite: Syracuse
Esa Ahmad No. 12 PF, No. 58 Overall Favorite: Ohio State
Josh Sharma No. 14 PF, No. 70 Overall Favorite: Wisconsin
Aaron Falzon No. 24 PF, No. 101 Overall Favorite: Boston College
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