The goal has always been
to get back
. Ever since that horrible March 27 night, when everything that went right during the season suddenly got short circuited, the drive was to make it back to the PIAA Class AAAA (large school) state basketball championship for a third-straight time and rectify what happened.
Part of getting back was getting the recruiting process out of the way agreed Shawn Oakman and Aaron Brown, two cornerstones on Penn Wood's (Lansdowne, Pa.) 2010 state-runners up that will be the best high school basketball team in the state next season.
So the two friends made a pact with one another over the spring. They’d take their official and unofficial college visits during the summer and end what some highly sought-after high school rising seniors consider a nightmare, and what others think of as a dreamworld.
It’s ironic, because that’s the way it seemed to play out for Oakman, the 6-foot-8, 250-pound center and starting defensive end for the Penn Wood football team, and Brown, the gifted 6-5 guard who will be among the best high school basketball players in Pennsylvania for the 2010-11 season.
For Oakman, it was smiley time, visiting various schools before finally committing to Penn State on a football scholarship with the agreement that he’ll be allowed to play basketball, too.
Brown had a little harder time in selecting West Virginia, a premier Big East school that reached the Final Four last year and seems destined to be a top-25 program with Bob Huggins on the sideline.
"Me and Aaron spoke about this and getting [the recruiting process] over with this summer; it was a big deal for me, I know, to get it done and make a choice," said Oakman, who had 17 sacks in 11 games for the Patriots last season and choose Penn State over Pittsburgh, Temple and South Carolina. "I’m glad I made my choice and I’m happy it was Penn State."
As for basketball…
"The coaches at Penn State said that they’d let me play that, too, if my grades were good enough. But there’s no doubt, the priority will be to play football. When I called Coach Johnson to tell him I was going to Penn State, I told him to get that No. 91 ready."
Now the seniors are left to pick up the pieces in going for two state titles in the last three years with players like Oakman, Brown and 6-8 swingman Darian Barnes all returning.
The lynchpin is Brown, a once back-to-the-basket post player who reinvented himself—with the help of Penn Wood hoops coach Clyde Jones—into being a formidable perimeter threat. Brown dominated major games last year, including the District 1 Class AAAA title game in the Pats’ overtime victory over Plymouth-Whitemarsh (later avenged in the state title game).
But choosing a school for Brown was much more difficult than what Oakman endured. Brown felt pulled and swayed in so many different directions—all for legitimate reasons.
Brown chose West Virginia over Temple, St. Joseph’s, Florida and Rutgers. He knew he would have received considerable playing time as a freshman in 2011 at Philadelphia-area schools Temple and St. Joseph’s. Brown also knew he would have been playing in front of family and friends every night had he chosen Temple or St. Joe’s.
"I was going through it," admitted Brown, who averaged 18.7 points and 6.5 rebounds a game as a junior.
"My parents were going to be happy with any choice that I made. I wanted to play in front of my family and friends, and I knew I wasn’t going to get that chance if I chose West Virginia. But I really liked West Virginia, it’s a great school with great players, and they play on national TV all of the time."
Plus Brown had an added incentive in choosing to become a Mountaineer. He was bypassed by Villanova, a school Brown wanted to attend, but was ignored by. That could come back to haunt Wildcat head coach Jay Wright.
"Some people said I wasn’t good enough to play in the Big East. I’m someone who loves a challenge, I love to be doubted and prove people wrong. West Virginia is giving me the chance and I’m taking it. It wasn’t an easy choice, but in the end, I know I made the right decision," Brown said.
Now it’s time for Oakman and Brown to have some fun. Oakman has football season ahead of him with an invitation to play in the Under Armour 2011 All-America game in Florida next January. Then, it’s full throttle toward a second state basketball title in three years.
"With me and Aaron settled, and Darian getting himself set with [college], it really does take a load off your mind," Oakman said. "It is a relief to know every time you step on the field or the court that you don’t have to worry about looking over your shoulder and wondering what college scouts are watching. It’s going to be great just to play."
Joseph Santoliquito covers high schools for the Philadelphia Daily News and is a contributor to MaxPreps.com. He can be contacted at JSantoliquito@yahoo.com.