Series note: This is the third part of a three--part series about Penn State basketball’s efforts to make a name for itself in Philadelphia recruiting-wise.
In their efforts to bring Philadelphia players and styles to Penn State, head coach Patrick Chambers and his staff have done everything from scheduling non-conference games in the city to building rapport with old friends on the high school and AAU scene.
While getting into Philadelphia and setting up shop is one thing, it’s tough to convince high school kids to come to Happy Valley if something like this hasn’t been wildly successful before.
And despite many years of virtually ignoring the 215-area code, Chambers has quietly built a Philadelphia base among his roster in less than two years at the helm.
After having less than ample time to recruit for his first year, Chambers was able to bring in 6-foot-7 shooting freshman Brandon Taylor for this season.
Taylor, who hails from Trenton Catholic Academy in Hamilton, N.J., played for the “Team Philly” AAU team and had offers from Philadelphia-based schools Drexel and Temple, among others.
West Philadelphia native and Penn State associate head coach Eugene Burroughs said snagging Taylor — a starter who averages six points per game this season— was beneficial to not only the team, but also the connections to high-profile AAU player factories.
“Dealing with AAU teams is big. Like Brandon Taylor played for Team Philly, and for us that’s a place where we can always go to recruits kids from now,” Burroughs said.
Taylor was an underrated find for the Lions, but the city personalities that have produced the most attention on the team are those who never thought of Penn State in high school.
Guards D.J. Newbill and John Johnson — both products of north Philadelphia programs — were eyeing Big East schools throughout their recruitment periods.
“I didn’t really know much about Penn State [in high school],” Johnson said. “I don’t know what other guys thought, but for me I wanted to play in the Big East.”
For Newbill, he was long committed to Marquette before the Golden Eagles pulled his scholarship, forcing him to accept a late offer from Southern Mississippi.
In Johnson’s case, the commitment he made to Pittsburgh in 10th grade held true and he spent his freshman campaign playing in front of the “Oakland Zoo”.
And while they were for different reasons, Newbill and Johnson decided to transfer to Penn State after a year at their respective universities.
Newbill — a class ahead of his high school friend — came to Penn State after the 2010-11 season with Southern Mississippi, and helped recruit Johnson to join him the following year.
“I feel like since John [Johnson] knew that I was here, he gave Penn State an extra look,” Newbill said. “Just seeing someone you knew for a long time, maybe he felt that there must be something good here [at Penn State] for Philly guys to be going there.”
With the recruitment of Taylor and the transfer additions of Newbill and Johnson, the Lions have concocted a core of city players to go along with the staple of Philadelphia-molded coaches.
Johnson said that having Philadelphia players in place only helps the prospects of herding in more city players.
“When you get guys like D.J. and myself here — kind of household names out of Philadelphia area — it’s going to bring more of a Philadelphia recruitment to Penn State,” Johnson said.
With that being said, it’s time for Penn State to reap the benefits of having these guys in place, and the commitment of big man Julian Moore is a positive sign.
Julian Moore, a 6-foot-9 forward from Germantown Academy on the outskirts of Philadelphia, also committed to Penn State and is set to join the Lions this summer.
“One of the reasons why coach Chambers and the staff really liked me was because I can fill a lot of roles,” Moore said. “I’m big enough to take smaller guys inside and athletic enough to take bigger players on down low. Also, I like to step out and shoot over smaller defenders and can blow by slower big men.”
Not only is Moore a crucial signing for the frontcourt, but his commitment could also be used as a measuring stick to some of the Big 5 basketball schools.
Jim Fenerty, Moore’s head coach at Germantown, said Moore chose Penn State because Chambers and his staff won over him and his family.
However, Moore, who was in attendance for the Lions’ game at the Palestra against La Salle on Dec. 5, did have Philadelphia schools whispering in his ear.
Moore said every Big Five school either offered him a scholarship or expressed a level of interest in him, and mentioned that the schools’ influence around the city is what everyone cares about.
“Growing up in Philly, you always hear about the Big 5 teams. You know, they play well in their individual conferences, but when they come together for Big 5 games, it’s crazy,” Moore said. “You’re fighting for bragging rights. You want to be the best team in the city, and that’s all that matters [in the Big 5].”
While bringing in Moore is assuring, Penn State will likely grapple with Big 5 schools for recruits in the near future if they make Philadelphia a go-to hub for recruiting.
“You got St. Joe’s, Temple and Villanova who recruit from [Philadelphia] so we kind of have to get into some of those battles with those guys and some of the kids there,” Burroughs said. “There’s not a ton of players, like it’s not like there’s 200 prospects there. But, at our level every year there’s going to be probably four to six guys that you have to recruit.”
And if Fenerty’s experience is any indication, Chambers and his staff are doing it the right way.
“Pat and all those guys, man, they know my freshmen and they know my sophomores. They’ll establish rapport,” Fenerty said. “They’ve seen our guys already. [Penn State assistant coach] Brian Daly, I think I almost have to give him a varsity letter [I see him so much].”
Going off Fenerty’s comments, Chambers said the Lions are done recruiting for next season. The motive moving forward is continuing to build relationships with underclassmen coupled with Philadelphia recruiting.
“We’re focusing on underclassmen… We’re looking at [14-year-olds] and [15-year-olds],” Chambers said. “If we can get in early, that’s the best thing to do. Get in early and develop a relationship.”