Identifying the high school basketball players that you want to help your college basketball program is one thing.
Getting their names signed to a letter-of-intent is another.
Penn State women’s basketball coach Coquese Washington was wearing a big smile Wednesday afternoon at her weekly news conference, which happened to coincide with the opening day of the national signing period.
Two days before her team is set to open the season against Towson in the Preseason WNIT, Washington began landing a recruiting class that is rated among the nation’s best.
Depending on which service you use, the Lady Lions’ recruiting class for next season is rated between eighth and 11th in the country.
As of late Wednesday, three of the Lady Lions’ four oral commitments had returned their paperwork — guards Teniya Page (Chicago Heights, Ill.) and Amari Carter (Wasington D.C.) and center Jaylen Williams (Braintree, Mass.). Post player Ashanti Thomas (Lexington, Kent.) is the final freshman commitment in the class. Throw in the services of senior Briana Banks, who is sitting out this season per NCAA regulations after transferring from NCAA champion Connecticut, and the Lady Lions will have many new faces for the 2015-16 season..
The freshman class is certainly one of the top-rated in school history. It may be only rivaled by the fall Class of 2000, which landed Kelly Mazzante, Jessica Brungo, Jackie Shook and Courtney Upshaw.
“It’s exciting,” Washington said. “It’s exciting for us as coaches and I would hope our fans would be excited about these guys coming in. It’s one of the most highly ranked classes that we’ve ever had — if not the highest. Certainly they have the talent to come here and lay their mark on this program. I think it’s a testament to the work that our staff has done in terms of identifying the level of talent that we like here then doing the work of building the relationships to get these caliber of players here at Penn State.”
Washington praised assistant coaches Kia Damon, Itoro Coleman and Jocelyn Wyatt for their work in landing the class. While Williams made her decision way back in 2012, Carter, Page and Thomas all have committed over the past six months.
“It’s an involved process and a lot of work,” Washington said. “It’s a lot of time, work, energy and patience. You recruit these kids for years before they finally say ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ It’s a really tough process and I’m really fortunate to have three assistant coaches that love doing that work. They embrace it and they’re very good at it.”
Williams, who committed to Penn State at age 15, was a player that Washington began recruiting when the 6-foot-4 center was in eighth grade. She is the daughter of Brent Williams, an 11-year NFL veteran who is still among the New England Patriots all-time sacks leaders. Williams’ oldest brother Brennan was an offensive tackle at North Carolina and brother Camren (originally a Penn State commit) is a junior linebacker at Ohio State.
Williams did not play as a junior at Archbishop Williams after suffering a knee injury in the summer. She averaged 8.5 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.5 blocks and 4.3 assists as a sophomore.
“Jaylen comes from very athletic genes,” Washington said. “They’re a football family, so she’s tough. They pounded on her when she was growing up. ... She brings a toughness and an athleticism that we like.”
Carter was next to join the class, committing this past summer. She was rated the nation’s ninth best player at the time, but has dropped 10 to 22 places after suffering a summer knee injury. She averaged 17.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 2.0 assists for St. John’s High School.
“Amari is a really smooth player,” Washington said. “She can score the ball in a variety of ways.”
Future Lady Lion teammate Lindsey Spann, from Laurel, Md., can attest to Carter’s talent. The two played summer basketball together in middle school and were teammates again two summers ago for the Maryland Lady Terps AAU team.
“She’s like my little sister,” Spann said of the 5-foot-8 guard. “She’s a lefty so she can go either direction. She can pull up and shoot over people. She gets off the ground very well. She can shoot the three. She makes open shots and she’s good in transition.”
Page, a 5-foot-7 guard, is now the highest rated player in the class, ranked 17 to 21 by the recruiting services. She averaged 14.4 points, 4.7 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 steals as a junior at Marion Catholic High School.
She also is friends with Carter, having participated in tryouts for USA Basketball squads over the past two summers.
“Teniya is a point guard in the truest sense of the word,” said Washington. “She keeps opponents off-balance with her ability to both set up her teammates and score at will.”
Thomas, a 6-foot-3 center from Lafayette High School, was the final oral commitment in the class having recently announced her decision. Thomas, who averaged about 10.3 points and 10 rebounds per game for the Generals, who lost 62-50 to eventual champion Butler in the quarterfinals of the state tournament.
Thomas is ranked as highly as 85th nationally and among the top 20 post players.
While excited for the kickoff of their season at noon Friday at the Bryce Jordan Center, the young Lady Lions (only one senior) say they’re excited about their future teammates.
“We’re excited to get a lot of new players — to see them come in like we did and be there for them,” said Spann, a redshirt freshman. “They have a lot of talent and they’re going to bring a lot to this program. ... I look forward to playing with them.”
“It’s awesome to know that,” redshirt sophomore Sierra Moore said of the class’ high national ranking. “We don’t have any (true) freshmen this year so knowing that we have some freshmen coming in next year and that are actually going to help us that’s always good to know.”