By Matt Popchock


Mr. Jeter, Pedro offers you his protection.

The alma mater of Pirate slugger Alvarez will welcome another athlete of great local interest this fall, as 6’6″ Beaver Falls swingman Sheldon Jeter, two months removed from collecting a WPIAL championship ring, agreed to take his unique basketball talents to Vanderbilt.

Jeter has been one of the most heavily scrutinized players in this area, not to mention one of its most prolific, for the past couple years, and the Commodores, led by head coach Kevin Stallings, got rings of their own for capturing the SEC Tournament championship around the same time, and they earned a second-round berth in the NCAA Tournament. Winners gravitate toward other winners, so from that perspective, it makes sense.

But this selection, all things considered, is an intriguing one. He also visited Kansas State and Wisconsin, and, while receiving a number of other offers from Division I programs, checked out Penn State in person as well. Reportedly he was very close to inking a letter of intent with the Nittany Lions. Vanderbilt was the site of his final campus visit, which occured just a couple weeks ago, and he decided on the ‘Dores not long afterward.

It’s a school that was not on his radar at the beginning of his senior season–and not necessarily in the middle of this recruiting battle, either–but it obviously grew on him quickly.

“The visit wasn’t really what sold me,” Jeter told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Mike White this week. “It was a good visit, but honestly my Penn State visit was probably better. But everything down there [at Vanderbilt], I just liked. The way the gym looks, the players, the coaches. When I really started thinking about it, it seemed like the best place for me.”

Jeter will graduate with 1,489 career points and was already regarded as the premier shooter in WPIAL Class AA entering the 2011-12 campaign before adding to his game. He completed a successful body-building program over the summer, and he worked to fine-tune his defensive skills. Sure enough, the Tigers became one of the least scored-upon teams in western PA en route to their first district title since ’05.

Apparently, though, it was academic improvements made by the youngster that sold Vanderbilt on the P-G’s Male Player of the Year. Penn State has always been a strong school academically too, and it would have been fascinating to see Jeter work with Geno Thorpe of Shaler, another of the WPIAL’s top prospects, in an effort to jump-start that program.

But Vandy is just now enjoying a return to glory in the gym, and there is room for Jeter to get good minutes there early in his college career. John Jenkins, the Commodores’ scoring leader of yesteryear, is skipping his final collegiate season for the NBA Draft; furthermore, the rest of their regular five from 2011-12 are also gone. Jeter was recruited mostly as a small forward, and their top returning forward, Rod Odom, only averaged 2.6 points per game.

Sufficed to say, this will be a much more unproven Vandy squad taking the floor next season, which leaves the door wide open for Jeter. It needs something to reinvigorate an offense that will likely struggle to attain its 72 points-per-game average, which ranked third in the SEC. Plus, the new defensive skills Jeter discovered between his junior and senior years at B.F. will make him an even more attractive asset to the ‘Dores, who were, within their own conference, a middle-of-the-road defensive team in 2011-12.

Success within the WPIAL does not automatically translate to eye-popping numbers in major college hoops these days. Still, even though Vanderbilt once seemed like a long shot to land Jeter, this could potentially work out very well for both school and student if both are patient.

Besides, to be fair, I committed to the very last college I visited…and I never looked back.

Check out some of Sheldon’s high school highlights, courtesy of Productions:

(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)

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