After losing three players to transfer late in the recruiting process, the outlook for Penn State’s bench was murky at best. Payton Banks, Terrence Samuel, and Isaiah Washington each brought a unique skill set to the Nittany Lions’ reserves. Banks, the team’s spark plug, outside shooting specialist and ball handler in a bind, was the first to bolt and the hardest pill to swallow. Samuel and Washington played little and sporadically, however their minutes could be relied on in a pinch. Samuel showcased toughness, play making and defensive acumen, while Washington provided a quality threat from deep.
Though the entire starting five was returning, the second unit sported a lineup lacking ball handling, outside shooting and size. With the signings of three-star point guard Jamari Wheeler and 2-star power forward John Harrar, those needs should be a bit less desperate.
Wheeler’s stock saw a significant rise following his de-commitment to Duquesne back in March. Following his release, the point guard saw a flurry of offers, including Seton Hall, VCU, Houston, Auburn and South Florida. After USF signed Banks and Samuel, and Wheeler being from the area, initial thoughts had him potentially following suite. Penn State was able to snag the 6’ guard, though, and his impact will be felt immediately.
Chambers said of Wheeler, “Jamari is coming off a remarkable season, leading his team to a school record in wins. He's a competitive player and proven winner, who brings elite speed to our program with his ability to break down defenses either to score or make plays for his teammates. He makes everyone around him better.”
Much of last season saw the Nittany Lions turning to wing Shep Garner for ball handling duties while starter Tony Carr was off the floor. With Wheeler, Penn State can now slide Garner back to his natural position. What that freedom allows is more creativity and flexibility with their lineups. Garner is undoubtedly a playmaker; however his skill relies more with his shot off the dribble and slicing to the bucket, not running the offense or setting up others.
Even with Wheeler playing limited minutes, his ability to spell Carr and prevent wing scorers from playing out of position cannot be understated. Lineups will have a more consistent flow on offense and Penn State will be more effective at avoiding long scoring droughts.
In addition to Wheeler, Penn State also picked up a commitment from forward John Harrar. Like fellow 2017 commit Trent Buttrick, the 6’8” forward can run in transition, put the ball on the floor and shoot from the perimeter. Clearly Chambers has a vision for his bigs, and each player looks the part of a stretch forward. That bodes well for a team looking to improve their outside shot, as well as adds a new dynamic wrinkle to high pick and rolls. Harrar and Buttrick both possess the ability to create spacing and pop on ball screens when the defender drops down instead of hedging.
Harrar was a relative unknown following his switch from football. The Wallingford, PA native had previously committed to Army as a three-star tight end before heading back to the hardwood after an April 1st release. Penn State jumped on the 19th, and Harrar was a Nittany Lion on the 30th.
“John possesses a level of physicality and strength that will impact our program. He rebounds extremely well, has a soft touch around the basket and has the ability to stretch the floor,” Chambers said. “His time on the football field, combined with his Philly toughness and winner’s mentality make John an excellent addition to the Nittany Lions.”
Already with 7’ center Satchel Pierce transferring in, Trent Buttrick’s commitment, and returning bigs in Mike Watkins and Julian Moore, Penn State suddenly finds itself loaded in the interior. Given the logjam, it should be interesting to see how the Nittany Lions will dole out minutes. Considering the success of Watkins after redshirting, Penn State may look to follow suite with either Harrar or Buttrick.
Whether there is a redshirt or not, Penn State will have additional pieces to play with. After running Lamar Stevens last season primarily at power forward, he may see more minutes off the block and on the outside. Additionally, Shep Garner can play exclusively on the wing. Overall, the Nittany Lions should have added flexibility to adjust to different opposing lineups.
Ultimately the 2017 class removes any excuses for coach Patrick Chambers. After last year’s constant conflict of identity, he now has a roster equipped to combat anything thrown his way, and the minutes to keep players inside their wheelhouse. If he flounders on establishing a style, however, the pliability could backfire. For Penn State to succeed, Wheeler, Harrar, and Buttrick must play within a clearly defined system. It’s up to Chambers to make it happen.