With the 2015 NBA Draft wrapping up recently, Nittany Lions fans were left feeling excluded once again. Although star senior D.J. Newbill looked like a potential second-round selection, Penn State finished the night without having a player selected for the 16th straight season.
The obvious question still remains. When will Penn State break the drought and have a player drafted for the first time since Calvin Booth in 1999?
Unfortunately for the Nittany Lions, their streak of irrelevance in the draft doesn’t seem to be ending in the immediate future. Penn State typically relies heavily on upperclassmen, and nobody in next year’s senior class stands out. Stretch power forward Brandon Taylor lacks NBA height (6-foot-6), and while 7-foot-1 center Jordan Dickerson brings plenty of that to the table, he’s not nearly skilled enough to play at the next level.
While there isn’t a surefire selection anywhere else on Penn State’s roster, the most likely out of anyone who’s already received playing time is point guard Shep Garner. Last season as a freshman, Garner immediately stepped into a starting role and was largely unfazed by the pressures of playing in the Big Ten. Like many freshmen, he struggled with consistency, and though his numbers (9.2 points, 2.3 assists, 36 percent shooting) certainly aren’t eye-popping, he did have his moments. The Philadelphia area native scored double-digit points 15 times and showed a knack for hitting big shots. At just 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Garner is very undersized for the NBA and needs to improve as a shooter and a passer. Still, he’s in position to follow in the footsteps of Newbill and Tim Frazier as Penn State’s next go-to guy. If he can continue to progress over the next three seasons, he’ll have a shot.
After Garner, you have to start looking at the Nittany Lions’ incoming recruiting class, arguably one of the strongest hauls in program history. Out of the team’s three new freshman, one that stands out is forward Mike Watkins. At 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds, Watkins brings a level of size and athleticism that Penn State rarely sees in its frontcourt players. The Philadelphia product will have to earn minutes on the college court first, and will probably have to develop his jump shot, but he’s a player to keep an eye on as a future NBA prospect. Another incoming player to watch is 6-foot-4 guard Josh Reaves, the Lions’ highest rated 2015 prospect. The Virginia native needs to add to his 185-pound frame, but he projects as a jack-of-all-trades wing with the athleticism and length that NBA teams covet.
Penn State also recently added to its roster by bringing in former Connecticut guard Terrence Samuel. In two years with the Huskies, Samuel averaged just 3.0 points and showed little to make anyone think he is a future NBA prospect. However, he’ll likely have a bigger role with the Nittany Lions and will have a better chance at showcasing himself.
Bottom line, the end still isn’t in sight for Penn State fans. If Frazier and Newbill, two of the greatest players in program history, weren’t drafted, it’s hard to predict the next Nittany Lions who will be. Players like Garner, Watkins and Reaves have a shot, but it’ll be a long time before anyone can tell what type of prospects they are.