IUWBB: H.S., AAU coaches offer perspectives on Penn-to-IU

Kentucky Premier’s David Tapley knew Jaelynn Penn had significant interest in Indiana before she headed to Bloomington this weekend.

But did he think Penn, who averaged 17 points a game for his Nike EYBL team this summer, would actually commit to IU this weekend? Especially with a visit to national power South Carolina scheduled in the near future?

“Absolutely not,” Tapley said, laughing. “She must have really liked it.”

Tapley’s surprise only underscores what kind of commitment head coach Teri Moren landed with the five-star Penn, who plays for Butler High School in Louisville, Ky. But, with the help of Tapley and Butler’s Larry Just, here is an idea of how it all came together for ESPN’s 39th-best recruit for 2017.

As previously reported, Penn decommitted from Dayton in September when coach Jim Jabir resigned. Once that news broke, Tapley’s phone blew up with calls from coaches “slobbering” with interest. Just helped to play “mediator,” as he puts it, encouraging Penn to have a plan once she started looking at schools.

The list of interested parties was many, including Kentucky and Louisville. In fact, Tapley said only a few top programs didn’t call. Basically just Notre Dame and UConn.

When IU called, they had a few ins with Penn. Assistant coach Janese Banks, who was hired by Moren in May, recruited Butler High School teammate Danielle Lawrence to IUPUI. Assistant Glenn Box, hired away from St. Louis in June, helped secure a verbal commitment from Butler senior Tasia Jeffries. And on top of that, Tapley knew Moren and assistant Rhet Wierzba from their Indiana State days.

Those prior relationships were a big advantage for IU, according to Just. While South Carolina’s Dawn Staley and her staff didn’t have time to rebuild connections from earlier in the recruiting process or watch Penn play, the Hoosiers had a head start, especially with Banks’ tie-in to Lawrence.

“Danielle and Jaelynn hit it off big when they were together with me,” Just said. “(Penn) just wants to feel like someone will take care of her and will give her a chance to do what she’s comfortable doing. She can help IU continue with their rise and take that to even another level. She will look forward to that.”

Penn isn’t just a great athlete. She’s a top student. That means she didn’t just find IU’s rising women’s basketball program appealing, but also the university’s medical school. For her visit, Penn went to IU’s football game against Michigan State. She also went with future IU teammates to a haunted house.

But, again, Tapley expected Penn to take her time making a decision. Then, he had an interesting exchange with Penn’s father on Saturday night.

“Her dad texted me a bunch of pictures,” Tapley said, “and said, ‘This is going really well,’ and I said “Really?’ … ‘Yeah, she really likes it here.’ … ‘Well, is there a chance she might commit today? … (Penn’s father said) ‘I hope.'”

“I knew he was sold when he said that,” Tapley said.

Once news broke Sunday afternoon that Penn committed to IU, Tapley and Just understood the significance. This may highlight the continued turning of the tide at IU following last year’s NCAA tournament appearance, which followed an offseason of tremendous turnover in 2015.

Tapley had former Hoosiers guard Larryn Brooks on his Kentucky Premier team. She was the most prolific scorer in IU women’s basketball history through her sophomore campaign, but transferred to Texas Tech after Moren’s first year. Tapley doesn’t think Brooks should have left. He also thinks Penn could have a Brooks-like impact alongside All-Big Ten juniors Tyra Buss and Amanda Cahill.

Penn may have averaged 14.2 points per game as a junior at Butler, but that was on a state championship team with multiple Division I prospects. As an AAU player, she has played with Kentucky’s Miss Basketball, Erin Boley, who is headed to Notre Dame, and Crystal Dangerfield, a UConn commit.

According to Tapley, Penn is more than in their league.

“She’s so skilled and so athletic, pro hops. This kid can play,” Tapley said of Penn. “This kid here’s all business, this kid ain’t loud. This kid’s got her head on right. That’s the key to all this.”

Penn’s high school coach echoes Tapley.

“I don’t think there is a better player you are going to find in the state of Kentucky,”  Just said. “May not score the most, may not rebound the most, but she is going to do everything. She is going to impact the game in every way it can be impacted, and there aren’t many kids who have a chance to do that.

“I’m excited she has chosen a place she feels good about and I think Indiana is getting a great player and a great person on top of that.”