Pat Chambers and Penn State pulled off a brilliant move over the weekend that probably deserves more attention. The Best of the Midwest Showcase featured several top Kansas City area talents and who is this Mark Smith that's blowing up? All that and more in the return of National Basketball Analyst Eric Bossi's Starting Five.
1. PLAYING IN PHILLY A STROKE OF GENIUS FOR PENN STATE
At least I thought it was a brilliant move and that's what counts, right? In all seriousness, though, Pat Chambers and Penn State's decision to move their Michigan State game from State College to the Palestra in Philadelphia was a great move that paid off. I'm surprised Chambers and PSU haven't gotten more national love after their 72-63 win over the Spartans.
At 10-7 and 2-2 in the Big Ten, Penn State isn't a club that you would normally expect to get a bunch of national attention. However, Chambers has made it pretty clear for a while now that he wants to get as much Philadelphia talent as possible and the idea to move a home game to a legendary venue like the Palestra was a stroke of genius.
The Nittany Lions already have six players on their roster from the Philadelphia area. Of the 72 points they scored, 55 of them were scored by Philly kids. On top of that, the future of the program is going to hinge greatly on the continued development of their fantastic freshmen trio of Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens and Mike Watkins -- all former Rivals150 prospects -- who are all from Philly.
End of the day, winning is going to matter most for Chambers and his staff. But, the move to play in Philly and the ability to showcase Philly kids won't have anything but a positive impact on relationships with the basketball people in the city most important to Penn State recruiting.
2. BEST OF MIDWEST SHOWCASES KC AREA TALENT
I had the opportunity to spend a large portion of the day at the 810varsity.com Best of the Midwest Showcase at Mid America Nazarene University in Olathe, Kans., on Saturday. It was a good chance for me to check in on some of the local talent.
The top prospect was 2019's No. 18 ranked player, Jeremiah Robinson a 6-foot-8 power forward at Roeland Park (Kans.) Bishop Miege. Athletic with the skill to play facing the hoop from the high post, Robinson is a gifted rebounder and very smart player. He was good for 19 points and 10 rebounds and is really starting to assert himself. Creighton, Kansas, Kansas State, Wake Forest, Washington and Iowa have offered.
Another four-star sophomore from the area with offers from Creighton, Kansas and Kansas State is shooting guard Zach Harvey of Topeka (Kans.) Hayden. Harvey came on late finish with 24 points. He's 6-foot-4 with long arms, a good looking jump shot and plays with a smooth, versus explosive, athletic style.
He doesn't have any Division I offers yet, but they better be coming soon for Bishop Miege senior forward Francesco Badocchi. A native of Italy who played half a year as a junior and now as a senior, Badocchi is a three-star prospect with upside. He's 6-foot-6 and plays primarily on the interior now, but he's got a tremendous feel for the game, is a lateral glider and he has a calming impact on his team. Columbia is expected in this week and UMKC head coach Kareem Richardson watched earlier this season but his game deserves a lot more looks than that.
Class of 2018 point guards Damien Daniels and 2019 Lamel Robinson are sub six-footers who overcome some lack of size with big heart and plenty of toughness. A 5-foot-7 product of Kansas City (Mo.) Hogan Prep, Daniels scored 16 of his 28 during the fourth quarter of a win. He is all attack and has heard from Air Force, Lehigh and Nebraska-Omaha. A 5-foot-10'ish sophomore at Kansas City (Mo.) Park Hill South, Robinson picked up his first offer from Kansas State in the latter part of 2016. He's tough, low to the ground and is clearly the leader when he's on the floor.
3. WHO IS MARK SMITH?
I've been getting this call from college coaches over the last week, "Who is Mark Smith?" they ask. My answer, I don't really know the full answer yet but I'm going to see him in early February.
In the meantime, here's the background on the 6-foot-4 senior from Edwardsville (Ill.) High who has created a stir with a strong season. Smith was previously committed to Missouri to play baseball but decided back in July that he wanted to focus on hoops.
Smith has put up big numbers across the board and the coaches who have been in to see him have been offering quickly. Illinois, Kansas State, Northwestern, Missouri and DePaul. His situation is definitely one that will have to be monitored closely with this many programs getting involved.
4. FORRESTER EMERGING IN 2018
One guy from the class of 2018 who caught my eye during the month of December was power forward Jake Forrester of Westtown (Pa.) School.
He's 6-foot-8, runs very well, can shoot with some range and is a high volume rebounder with good athleticism. He's looked like a potential Rivals150 guy and will certainly be in the mix the next time we update the rankings from his class.
Forrester, who will run with the PSA Cardinals on the Nike Circuit this summer, has recently picked up offers from Penn State, Temple, Providence, Rice, Indiana, St. Joseph's, Kansas State, UCF, Richmond and Penn so his stock has certainly taken off with college coaches.
5. KANSAS ADDS POTENTIAL IMPACT TRANSFER IN CUNLIFFE
The 6-foot-6 freshman shooting guard was a top 40 prospect coming out of high school and has showed plenty of potential during his one semester in Tempe. Cunliffe is a high-level athlete, has a picture perfect looking jump shot and can be about as good as he would like to be.
The Jayhawks will for sure lose freshman star Josh Jackson to the NBA and point guard Frank Mason graduates. But, juniors Devonte Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk could look into pro options as well. Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman will be eligible next year and with LaGerald Vick returning for his junior year and now Cunliffe, the Jayhawks are assured of having size and shooting on the wing.