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A Fax, A Signature and A Bright Future

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's the most wonderful time of the year for fans of college athletic programs; the early signing period. A time when players, coaches and fans, alike, huddle around the fax machine with their morning coffee and wait for those signed forms to come rolling in. It's kind of like Christmas, except without all the wrapping paper and mistletoe.

It's a joyous time for many, because some of the best players in the country have just committed to playing for their respective institutions of high learning, but every coach in the country hope that their highly-touted signees will come in and produce quickly. However, we all know it can take time for some players to adjust to the speed and size of the college game.

Washington-Nikki.jpegLady Lions head coach Coquese Washington may have been over 1,000 miles away from the 1980's technology that gets dusted off twice a year, but the sixth year head coach was sitting on a top-ten recruiting class and just had to wait for those grainy, signed documents to make their way into the hand of the Penn State compliance office.

"What most excites me about this group is their upside," said Washington. "While individually each one comes in with strong skills and a track record of success...The sky is the limit for this class and they have high expectations for themselves. It is going to be a treat for Lady Lion fans to watch their growth and impact on the program during their time at Penn State."

The seven players that inked their commitment to Penn State will enter with some high expectations, as they are replacing five battle-tested veterans of this year's team.

Growth will come with on-court experience and let's remember that, but impact will be measured against the players they are replacing on the court. The talent is on each of their résumés and caught the eyes of numerous college programs, but they are headed to Penn State for a reason. Those reasons are probably the same ones that many of our current student-athletes, alumni, coaches and staff members have; because Penn State is great place to be.

The splendidness that is Penn State has been eloquently spoken by many, but can be summed by a by those who have claimed that, 'Penn State is a special place because of its special people.'

That is one of the truest statements you can make about Penn State, a statement that coach Washington has been able to express to recruits and their families since arriving in Happy Valley. Her second recruiting class included Alex Bentley, Nikki Green, Gizelle Studevent and Marisa Wolfe, while her third class brought Maggie Lucas, Ariel Edwards and Boston College-transfer Mia Nickson to campus.

The talent level has continued to increase in her sixth year and this class includes two athletic point guards and five post players that all stand 6-foot-1 or taller. There is no telling who the top college player will be, but their high school numbers jump off of the page - printed or web-based - and make you want to venture to your local high school gymnasium and see if you can put up those numbers in a pickup game. Just be sure to stretch out first and stay hydrated, because the numbers are impressive.

Unlike the professional game, where you can trade for Steve Nash, you have to start anew nearly every four years in college athletics. That's just what a pair of 5-foot-6 point guards will do next season, step up and try to play as hard as Alex Bentley.

Bentley, who has been a staple in PSU's up-tempo style, has four more months of wearing the blue and white jersey of the Lady Lions, but NCAA rules won't allow her to sign a new contract with the team at years end. Enter Lindsey Spann (Laurel, Md.) and KeKe Sevillian (Goodrich, Mich.). One of them - Spann - is said to be a feisty defender, while the other - Sevillian - was summed up in one word - fast.

Spann was the No. 22 ranked player in the country according to Collegiate Girls Basketball Report and was an invitee to the USA Basketball U16 Trials in 2011. She helped Good Counsel High School to an undefeated 18-0 mark in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, becoming the first team in conference history to post an undefeated record, and averaged 15 points per game. Sevillian has garnered back-to-back all-state laurels and guided Goodrich High School to the first state championship in school history. She is closing in on the 1000-point mark for her career and posted a school record 107 steals last season.

Both guards averaged four or more assists per game last season and when you are passing the ball to a shooter like Maggie Lucas, those numbers are bound to go up.

Replacing players line Greene, Nickson and Wolfe will not be done overnight, so Washington had to ask herself when hitting the recruiting trail over the last year, 'How am I going to replace 162 starts in the frontcourt?' The answer to that question was to sign five post players that stand 6-foot-1 or taller and averaged over eight rebounds per game last year.

An easy task, right? Sure, but Washington set out and found the five players that fit the height requirement and then made sure that all five of them were ranked among the top-100 players in the country. Infiniti Alston (Baltimore, Md.), Jenny DeGraaf (Springboro, Ohio), Alex Harris (Lorain, Ohio), Kaliyah Mitchel (Stone Mountain, Ga.), Peyton Whitted (Suwanee, Ga.) will help the Lady Lions pack the paint - and hopefully the box score - for the next four years.

The trio of DeGraaf, Mitchell and Whitted will fill the swing roles on the team and have the ability to play in the paint of on the perimeter. The 87th ranked recruit by CGBR, DeGraaf has averaged 15 points, six rebounds and led the Greater Western Ohio Conference with a .548 shooting percentage last season to earn all-state honors An honorable mention all-state selection last year, Mitchell is a versatile player that gives the Lady Lions more than just points and rebounds - averaging four assists and three steals a game last year - which was why she is ranked the 54th best player in the country. Whitted was pegged as the 71st best player in the nation and averaged 14 points and ten boards in the playoffs last season.

Both of the true post players were ranked among the top-50 players in the country by Collegiate Girls Basketball Report with Alston and Harris sitting 48th and 49th, respectively. Alston is a 6-foot-5 post with quick feet and good hands, leading her to a 14 point, 11 rebound average last season for Digital Harbor High School. Harris has twice earned honorable mention all-state accolades and has given Southview High School 12 points and 12 rebounds night in and night out, while adding five blocked shots a game in 2011-12.

Although no one can replace what the graduating seniors have meant to Penn State, bringing in seven newcomers and losing five veterans gives you two more players than you previously had. That's always a plus in college basketball.

Oh and the fax machine has taken its spot back on the dusty shelf until it is called upon next November. But Washington and her staff - along with the seven players who weren't born when the equipment was in its heyday - really gave it a workout this year.

Follow's Greg Campbell on Twitter @SID_Greg



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