For the Penn State men’s basketball program, coach Patrick Chambers said the goal throughout its history has been to establish consistency.
The Nittany Lions have yet to achieve that feat, going to the NCAA Tournament just five times since 1965. In the last 14 years, Penn State has endured 10 losing seasons and gone to the Big Dance twice.
The lacking history doesn’t help in recruiting, but Chambers knows that’s where consistency on the court starts.
Chambers landed the best recruiting class in the program’s history Wednesday, signing three players to NCAA National Letters of Intent in a group currently ranked 29th in the nation by 247Sports. Penn State’s class dropped one spot in the rankings Wednesday. The early signing period continues through Nov. 19.
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It is Penn State’s first Top 30 class, barring a change in the rankings.
Josh Reaves, Mike Watkins and Deividas “Davis” Zemgulis make up the talented Class of 2015. Reaves and Watkins are both rated as four-star recruits by 247Sports and ranked in the top 100 players in the country by ESPN. Zemgulis, a 6-foot-6 forward from Lithuania, is a three-star recruit, according to 247Sports and ESPN.
“It’s a monumental day,” Chambers said of the significance of the 2015 class at his press conference Tuesday.
The class is ranked sixth in the Big Ten and one spot behind conference power Wisconsin. It’s a jump from the 2014 class (ranked 86th) and 2013 class (ranked 73rd), and Chambers hopes it’s the start of finding that consistency needed to build a winning program.
The Nittany Lions already have an oral commitment from four-star power forward Joe Hampton of Oak Hill Academy (Va.) for the Class of 2016.
“You’re going to start winning, so people are going to start wanting to come and they’re going to start helping you recruit other great players,” Chambers said.
But Chambers and his staff had to deal with rejection time and again over the last three-plus years.
“That is hard to swallow sometimes,” Chambers said. “But they kept a great attitude, they kept working hard, they stayed positive and we just saw little victories, small victories, small successes and if you do that, that one yes will finally come.”
The coach credited his assistants Keith Urgo, Brian Daly and Dwayne Anderson for their efforts to put together this class.
The first yes came from Watkins, a 6-foot-8 forward from Philadelphia, in June 2013.
He is ranked the No. 89 recruit in the class by ESPN. After three years at Math, Civics & Science Charter, Watkins transferred to The Phelps School for his senior year. Chambers said Watkins gives the Nittany Lions a rim protector and finisher who can run the floor.
Zemgulis followed with his commitment in May.
He competed on the Lithuanian U16 team at the European Championships in August 2013 before arriving in the United States as an exchange student. Zemgulis played for St. Mary’s Ryken (Md.) last season, and Chambers called him “a premier three-point shooter with unlimited range.”
Reaves, who is at Oak Hill Academy for his senior season, is the top recruit in the class. The 6-foot-4 guard is ranked No. 81 and rated a four-star recruit by ESPN. He earned First Team All-Met honors as a junior at Paul VI Catholic High School.
In his first five games at Oak Hill this season, Reaves averaged 16 points. He scored a season-high 28 points and had six assists against Capitol Christian, and he poured in 21 points in a win over Covenant Christian.
“Josh is a high-level player whose versatility on the floor makes him a guy who I expect to be a stat sheet stuffer for us,” Chambers said Wednesday. “His athleticism and speed make him an excellent defender, which allows him to get out in transition and attack the rim — where he is at his best.”
Chambers figured this class would be the highest-ranked group in program history Tuesday.
All three players signed to make that a reality.
“We are ecstatic about the direction of our program,” Chambers said Wednesday. “The diversity of this class is something that really excites me. Our staff has worked so hard over the past three years, especially in the Philly and D.C. areas, to get our program to this level.”