Time for Penn State Basketball to Pivot to the Future

Penn State likely will have a new men's basketball coach soon. What will that mean for the program and for recruiting?
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For Penn State's men's basketball, it's time to begin looking to the future. That starts with the coaching staff.

The Lions sustained their worst loss of the season Friday, a 73-52 defeat at home to Purdue that dropped them to 8-13. The loss was Penn State's first this season by 20 or more points. Prior to Friday, the Lions had lost six games by eight or fewer points.

Once riding the NCAA tournament bubble, thanks largely to its strength of schedule, Penn State now looks to finish the 2020-21 season positively. The Lions play two more regular-season games, including their home finale Wednesday against Minnesota. Ferry said the team is "absolutely going to celebrate these seniors Wednesday night."

After that comes the Big Ten tournament, then likely the announcement of a new coach. Athletic Director Sandy Barbour said in January that she wants to name a head coach "immediately following the season." She praised the way interim coach Jim Ferry handled a difficult situation but hinted that the next coach will come from somewhere else.

"He’s got a hands-on audition in order to make his case," Barbour said of Ferry in January. "Other candidates are auditioning elsewhere."

Penn State began this season from a difficult spot. After Pat Chambers' sudden resignation in October, the players were frustrated and awaiting answers about the decision. They also were determined to play this season for each other. But once the season ends, Penn State could see a run of players entering the NCAA Transfer Portal, depending on the coaching hire.

Further, Penn State does not have a player committed to the 2021 class, having lost all three of its previous recruits. So is hope lost for a quick program rebuild? Not at all, Ferry said, thanks to the transfer portal.

Yes, the portal takes players. But it also has the potential to give them, making it a primary recruiting tool for coaches looking to add age and experience to their rosters quickly.

"The transfer portal is going to take over the whole thing," Ferry said recently. "It's changing college recruiting. That's why I'm not really that concerned with the interim tag right now and it affecting recruiting. Because we have such a good place, we are going to be able to get some really good players out of the transfer market."

Ferry said last week that he continues to recruit, despite the interim tag and the uncertainty it places on his future.

"I’ve got kids that said if I’m the coach, they want to come [to Penn State]," Ferry said. "That will take care of itself. They're not going to commit right now, I don't believe. They're going to wait and see who's the coach here. As I said before, if I am the coach, we're going to be able to get kids to come here."

Whoever the next coach is certainly will recruit quickly from the portal. Penn State's women's basketball coach Carolyn Kieger went that route last year, bringing in three players before the season.

Kieger was successful. Villanova transfer Kelly Jakot led the team in scoring before sustaining a season-ending injury after nine games. Now Johnasia Cash, who transferred from SMU, leads the team in scoring and rebounding.

The men's team certainly could find similar help quickly, particularly if the new coach has strong relationships across college basketball.

"It used to be about having relationships with high school coaches," Ferry said. "Now, it's about having relationships and connections with college coaches, your peers. ... That's where this is going to go. Still, programs like Penn State, and someone like myself, you want those core kids, those high school kids. But you're also going to recover quickly now and take older players and keep your program old.

"... That's something that will be an advantage for us, and it certainly will be an advantage to me as the head coach, if I am named the head coach, where I'll be able to recover quickly because there's going to be so many more kids that fit who we are that are going to be available."

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