Penn State entered the spring signing period at an immediate disadvantage. As the team looked to build on the hope their young core instilled in the program last season, a trio of soon to be seniors pulled the rug out. Payton Banks, Isaiah Washington, and Terrance Samuel transferred, and the Nittany Lions were left scrambling to replace the lost depth.
Let’s take a look at how Penn State has done filling out their 2017-18 roster so far.
Following three scholarship openings due to the offseason transfers, Pat Chambers and the Nittany Lions have amped up their recruiting aggression with the 2017 class. The increased effort has centered on their guard play, as all three transfers played roles in the backcourt and wing. Though not central team figures, losing that much depth could be incredibly detrimental to a team looking to turn the corner.
Most recently, Penn State has extended an offer to 3-star point guard Jamari Wheeler. Wheeler had previously committed to Duquesne back in September of 2016, before de-committing on March 30th. In addition to Penn State, the Florida area point guard has since received offers from Seton Hall, VCU, Houston, Auburn and South Florida.
Signing Wheeler would provide a tremendous boost to Penn State’s reserve backcourt. When Tony Carr comes off the floor, the team often relies on Shep Garner to shoulder ball handling duties. While Garner brings a nice outside shot and slashing ability, he struggles running the offense, particularly in the half court.
Joining Wheeler is 2017 target Ty Lazenby. With Lazenby, the Nittany Lions look to replace the outside shooting lost by the transfers of Banks and Washington. The JUCO sophomore was named NJCAA’s Region II Player of the Year and showcases outstanding range from deep. Though Garner, Carr, Josh Reaves, and Lamar Stevens all present a legitimate threat from behind the arc, adding someone with an elite perimeter shot like Lazenby’s would go a long way toward improving floor spacing.
The Nitany Lions also hosted and offered JUCO wing Kajon Brown this past March. After initially attended Tulsa, Brown went on to transfer to Lee College where he averaged 8.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.4 assists. At 6’5”, his height and versatility would bolster a weak and depleted bench.
Outside of potential incoming guards, returning wing Nazeer Bostick should see an increase in minutes following the offseason departures. The Philadelphia native saw a bump in playing time late in the season and his performance was admirable. As impressive as he was, though, his year was cut short by a fractured hand. Now, with a season under his belt, and three roster spots open, the sophomore should see a remarkably expanded role. With great defensive instincts and a high motor, Penn State should reap the benefits. Above all, Bostick plays within himself, a trait the Nittany Lions’ roster lacked last year.
As successful as Mike Watkins was last year, when the freshman was injured or resting there was a notable dip in play on the front court. Julian Moore was the default backup big and Lamar Stevens snuck in to sets as a power forward, but ultimately the Nittany Lions had nowhere else to turn. Whether out of identity or necessity, Penn State often played smaller and more athletic lineups. In doing so the team was afforded the ability to be more aggressive on the perimeter and generate steals and turnovers. When they encountered larger lineups, though, the Nittany Lions did not have enough firepower on the interior to matchup.
The good news is, with no seniors on last year’s roster, and no outbound transfers that play in the paint, Penn State was not in a position to lose any ground inside. More importantly, after gaining two incoming big men in Virginia Tech transfer Satchel Pierce and a freshly signed LOI from incoming freshman Trent Buttrick, the team will enter next season with bolstered front court group.
Paige, a 7’ 255 lbs. center, transferred from Virginia Tech following a decrease in minutes. Heralding from Saltsburg, PA, Paige fits squarely with Patrick Chambers’ in state wheelhouse. His size should pair nicely with Watkins and Moore, and the team should benefit with added skill and minute contributions in the interior.
Buttrick, also originally from Pennsylvania, brings a slightly different skillset. More of a stretch forward than a traditional power forward planted on the block, Buttrick possess a nice outside shot and has the ability to put the ball on the floor. If Penn State continues to run pick and roll sets at the top of the key, Buttrick can pop if the defender goes under the screen. With Watkins, Moore or Pierce, pick and rolls become one dimensional as they present no threat to shoot.
At 6’8” and 210 lbs., Buttrick may struggle a bit early on. For him to be truly effective he will need to bulk up a bit and show that he can bang underneath against what should be larger opponents.
If Penn State can couple their interior additions with some backcourt signings, the team will not only soften the blow of losing Banks, Washington, and Samuel, they will showcase a better overall team. What it will ultimately come down to, as it did last year, are the trio of Carr, Stevens and Watkins. If the incoming freshmen and transfers commit to playing roles around the talented sophomore core, Penn State should see a lot of success.