STATE COLLEGE – A visit to a Penn State game last fall convinced Camden High (New Jersey) basketball recruit TaQuan Woodley he would play at Penn State in college.
Woodley’s visit landed on the weekend of the Nittany Lions’ football white out matchup against Michigan, and the experiences left an indelible impression.
“I just liked the feeling that I got and the connection I had made with a couple of the players and the coaching staff,” Woodley said. “They’re a great group of guys, and the connection I got with them ever since I went on the visit was just great. I liked the atmosphere of the college and the campus, and I felt like it was somewhere I wanted to go.”
Woodley verbally committed to Penn State on May 11 to give the Nittany Lions their first verbal from the class of 2021. According to those who know Woodley best, the 6-foot-7, 220-pound forward/center did his due diligence before arriving at his decision.
“He’s a thinker,” said Jason Harrigan, a Camden assistant. “Beyond the game of basketball, he understands the game, and he is figuring out life. He asks a lot of questions, and he understands how the game – the pieces – work together.”
While basketball played a role in Woodley’s decision to commit to Penn State, Woodley said the school’s academic reputation carried as much weight as its athletic prestige. He aspires to pursue a degree in business management before he leaves State College.
“The academic side of the school is great,” Woodley said. “The numbers for that part of the school are very good, very high.”
Pennsylvania high school basketball scout Ari Rosenfeld has observed Woodley’s development since the youngster’s prep beginnings at Philadelphia’s Saints John Neumann and Maria Goretti Catholic High School.
“In many ways, TaQuan is still the same player he was when he entered high school at Neumann-Goretti, but he’s continued to fine-tune his game within his role to become one of the best defensive lynchpins on the East Coast, if not the country,” Rosenfeld said. “He’s an elite post defender, rim protector and rebounder who can also spend time defending on the perimeter as he gets himself into peak shape.”
Woodley helped guide Camden to 29-1 record as a junior this past season, and was named a first-team National Division selection in the Olympic Conference by NJ.com and conference coaches at season’s end. Camden didn’t have the opportunity to play for a title this year as its season prematurely ended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Woodley said it was still a success.
“The season felt great knowing that as a team we went out there and did what we were supposed to do,” Woodley said. “It was a great accomplishment to go 29-1. It was just a great feeling with everybody doing what they’re supposed to do, everybody having fun and winning and completing our goal as a team and as individual players.”
Harrigan is familiar with the leap in physicality that accompanies the transition from high school to Division I college basketball. He said he looks forward to seeing Woodley’s physical maturation during his final year as a prep player.
“I think the difference in physicality and athleticism from high school to college is something he has to prepare for,” Harrigan said. “So I would say things he has to work on is just making sure that he gets his body ready for that next level. The Big Ten is filled with big guys – big, strong, athletic guys. I think he’s working on those things.”
Woodley believes his brand of basketball fits perfectly within the Big Ten’s footprint.
“I like the physicality of the Big Ten,” Woodley said. “I like to bang down low, and they just play hard. I like the way they play; it’s rough; they hustle. I just felt as though my style of play would fit the Big Ten.”