Two months ago, Pat Skerry was formally introduced as the Towson men's basketball program's new coach.
In the ensuing 50-plus days, the former Pittsburgh and Providence assistant landed four recruits and two transfers, while hanging on to two incoming prospects who originally signed with Towson during the Pat Kennedy era.
"We hit the road April 8 with the recruiting period," Skerry said. "The rest of the month was wild."
Skerry got commitments from combo guard Kelvin Amayo (Riverside, N.J.), forward Marcus Damas (Bay Shore, N.Y.), wing Deon Jones (Hockessin, Del.) and forward Jervon Pressley (Charlotte, N.C.). The new Tigers coach also landed two Big East transfers in guard Mike Burwell (South Florida) and forward Jerrelle Benimon (Georgetown). Philadelphia shooting guard Will Adams and Richmond, Va., point guard Kris Walden, meanwhile, also stayed on board with Towson, giving the Tigers eight players to join five returners in redshirt freshman forward Jamel Flash, redshirt freshman forward Alex Giergan, sophomore forward Erique Gumbs, senior center Rob Nwankwo and senior guard RaShawn Polk.
Check out Ken Murray's story in today's Sun for more on Towson's rapid roster transformation.
Skerry spoke with Recruiting Report recently about the Tigers' 2011 class.You take the job, Braxton Dupree has left and Isaiah Philmore follows suit. You have several scholarships to work with but it's really late in the game. What was your first move?
I actually never met Braxton. Braxton left before I got the job, and Isaiah was just about out the door. The one thing is, there are always players. My thought coming in was we have to have a couple really good classes of guys to build our foundation – this year and next year. We want guys who want to be here. We're going to do some different things. [Dupree and Philmore] seem like good guys, obviously good players. We jumped into it with players we can get. We're very happy with the guys we have on staff. They did a really great job of getting these guys so late in the process.
Damas has three years of eligibility left coming out of Westchester (N.Y.) Community College. Was he a qualifier straight out of high school? Did he redshirt? What's his story?
He redshirted. I love the fact that he has three years. The prior staff had done a good job recruiting him initially. He had come down here unofficially. We jumped in right away. Obviously it was getting late, and there were some bigger programs that had kind of come in trying to do some things. But he always really liked Towson and he was excited to come down here. He's a guy that can play a couple different positions. He's long and athletic. He's got to get stronger and more consistent with his shot, but he's a versatile guy with length.
What position will he play?
I think he's a 3 that you can play some at the 4.
Jones seemed to be a guy with a lot of other options. How did you swoop in there?
I tried to recruit his brother (former Virginia, current Rider guard Jeff Jones) a little bit when I was at Providence. I know the family a little bit. And he was still available. Obviously, Kenny Johnson, who's on our staff, had coached him [with Team Takeover]. So we had a pretty good connection there. He fit the type of athletic wing defender that we wanted. He goes to a very good school academically. He's a kid that's going to get stronger and improve his consistency on his jump shot. He had a very good senior year. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Delaware, and he was on the same team with [Syracuse signee] Trevor Cooney, who's a terrific player. He had a very good senior year. We're very excited about his upside.
Amayo was a pretty big-name guy who seems like a potential centerpiece. Who did you beat for him and what did you like about him?
The New Jersey, Philadelphia area should be good for us. It's only a three-hour ride, it's close to home but no distractions. I actually recruited [Amayo] at Pittsburgh in case Ashton Gibbs left his name in the draft. We were fortunate to get him down here. Luke Murray has done a terrific job with him. He had a good visit here, he visited Seton Hall, and he came down and visited College of Charleston, which had a terrific year. But we were able to sign Kelvin and are really excited about it. He's a combo guard that can make plays for himself and for others with the ball. He's very strong at 212 pounds, about 6-4. The program that he played for, NIA Prep, has done an unbelievable job. Coach Rudy King has really built the program into a powerhouse pretty quickly. They had four or five Division I signees this year, won 26 or 27 games.
Is he a guy you could potentially build around in the coming years?
Yeah, any freshman's got a chance, but he knows that. He's a guy I think can be very, very good here immediately.
Pressley's the biggest guy you're bringing in. Will he have a pretty good chance to play right away?
Yeah, he'll have an opportunity. We expect him to compete and play right away. He's 6-8, 225, very long and athletic. He has a 7-2 reach. He's got some ability to shoot it, put it on the floor. He's a versatile forward, a versatile frontcourt guy. He took an official visit to Missouri. They offered him a scholarship. With hard work, he's got a chance to be pretty special.
Adams battled cancer, signed two years ago, but now is ready to play. What's he been up to and how's he looking?
It's an unbelievable story. Pat [Kennedy] and his staff, I thought when he signed a couple years ago, it was a very good sign. He was a terrific player out of high school. I thought he could really shoot the ball. Obviously, his character is beyond belief. What he's been able to overcome is unbelievable. His weight is back, he's in summer school and he's working hard. We need him to make shots and be another guy that will guard and be an interchangeable guy. I also think he could become a very good leader.
Walden was a Kennedy recruit. Did you know much about him and if not, what did you discover?
I didn't know about him. He was signed early. He can really shoot the ball, he works hard, he's strong and he's a terrific student from a great family. He really wanted to be here at Towson. That really excites me. He can be a point guard for us. He has a chance to play right away. There are a lot of new faces, and we need to get better at handling the ball.
Burwell is a transfer from South Florida. He has to sit out a year, but what are you looking for when he's ready? And how did you get involved with him?
Kevin Clark recruited him, as well as I did, at Providence. We love his size, and he can really shoot the basketball. He had a great post-grad year at South Kent, a New England prep school. He led the state of New Jersey in scoring the year before. He just may have gotten caught in the wrong position or a numbers crunch down there. He was looking for a change of scenery. So we're excited about him. After his sit-out year, we're hopeful he can step in because we'll lose a pretty good scorer in Ray Polk. The chance to be an impact scorer on the perimeter will be there for him right away.
How important were preexisting relationships you and your staff had in terms of putting together this class?
Once we got here, we had a great product here to sell that maybe some people didn't know about. Recruiting is about relationships. I think all the guys on staff have a lot of relationships. We needed players who are ready to play right away. We need to have a great recruiting class every year. That's the only way you can get really good in this league.
Is this the type of class that you'd want every year, or, from a quality standpoint, do you plan on aiming higher?
I want to be better. We maybe got a somewhat late start, but there's always good players out there. We were fortunate to get some guys that had a chance to play right away. They've got to come in and work right away. But understand they're committed to being students first, and being extremely hard-working and great teammates.
Are you going to focus on the Northeast in recruiting?
Well I thought coming in, from Northern Virginia up to New England, I think has the most talent in the country. I think we've got guys in Kenny Johnson and Duane Simpkins who have ties in Northern Virginia up through Maryland. Luke [Murray] and Kevin [Clark] and I spent the majority of our years recruiting Philly up through New England. I felt like we had to have an in [in those geographic areas] for all those players.
How important is Baltimore in raising Towson's profile?
I've been at a couple schools where I've had guys from Baltimore and had a keen understanding of the great high school and AAU programs. We have to get the best players in our backyard and keep them home, especially the guys that want to stay home. So recruiting is about hard work and making sure you find guys that are the right fit. We want them all.
Overall, are you pleased with this recruiting class?
I'm excited, but the reality is that none of these guys have scored a point or grabbed a rebound yet either. I love that there's work to be done as well. I think these guys have the ability, and it's there for them to earn it right away.
Has everything gone pretty much according to plan for you so far?
I mean, it's been great. Everyone here at Towson has been very supportive. They understand this is a great opportunity. With the visibility of our league and the new arena coming, we can really turn the corner. Basketball can be a great entrance-way into your university, and we have a super, super university here. It's a great front door to our wonderful house. This is as good a time as any over these next few years to make that happen. As we build this thing, build it quickly, I get the sense that everybody wants to be on board.
Baltimore Sun photo of Pat Skerry by Jed Kirschbaum / April 5, 2011