‘One Game At A Time’: Penn State Hoops’ Freshmen Maintaining Consistent Mindset Ahead Of NCAA Tournament
On June 3, 2021, Kanye Clary became the first commit in what soon became to be the highest-rated recruiting class in Penn State men’s basketball history. To culminate his freshman year, he’s dancing in March.
“This is what everyone wanted to do,” Clary said. “But, we’re not satisfied with getting here. We want to keep winning.”
Despite being on a senior-led team, Clary has made quite the impact off the bench with his quick speed and explosive nature. In fact, his 11-point performance against Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals played a crucial role in the Nittany Lions’ season sweep of the Wildcats.
However, the biggest fish of that 2022 recruiting class was a 6’8″ forward from La Porte, Indiana: Kebba Njie. After coming off the bench in his first four games, Micah Shrewsberry started his four-star big man 24 out of the last 30 games of the year, including every game in the Big Ten Tournament.
Njie credits a lot of his improved play down the stretch to his veteran teammates wanting him “to play more like a senior.” However, the motto going into the first round of the NCAA Tournament remains the same.
“You know it’s just that ‘1-0’ mentality,” Njie said. “Win the next possession, and one game at a time. That’s our motto we had for the Big Ten Tournament, so we’re just going to continue that.”
Evan Mahaffey is another freshman who has provided a much-needed energy spark off the bench for Penn State. Even though he’s not an offensive threat, Mahaffey has been the energizer bunny off of Penn State’s bench all season long. Whether that’s diving at loose balls or snatching an offensive rebound in crunch time, the young forward can do it all.
Although he’s dancing on the biggest stage in just his first year, Mahaffey isn’t treating this game any differently.
“At the end of the day, it’s basketball,” Mahaffey said. “Ten-foot hoops, the ball is still the same shape… We’re not trying to do anything special. We’re just trying to win the game. And I’ll do anything I can do to help my team win.”
Every single freshman credited the senior leadership of the Nittany Lions for laying the groundwork of what Penn State basketball is and should be. Furthermore, Clary emphasized that the biggest part of what made this Penn State team successful was the seniors treated the team as individuals.
“There was no man above the team,” Clary said. “They were all together, so we’ll carry that for the next season and try to build on that.”
After playing a crucial role during the recruiting process, assistant coach Mike Farrelly expressed how happy he was with the unique situation of bringing a class of freshmen to the tournament in his first year. He even stated that his process of coaching the seniors and freshmen has been a learning curve.
“You got to handle 23-year-olds differently than you’re gonna handle 18 and 19-year-olds in their first go around,” Farrelly said. “I think the way that we’ve tried to mentor them — watch more film, talking about expectations, what to expect in games, etc. is something that you need to do to kind of help speed their learning curve.”
He said the chances of accomplishing this feat are rare, but the leadership these freshmen had all season set a strong precedent for how this program should be moving forward.
“I think these guys have been in a good position to see the older guys taking the lead and what they do on a daily basis,” Farrelly said. “So, now for us to make in the future years, I think they understand the expectations and the level that you need to be at this program.”
Despite the future looking bright, Njie is ready to put on another show against Texas A&M in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m excited for the game, I’m excited for my teammates, I’m excited for everybody,” Njie said. “It’s really just another opportunity for us to go out there and show everybody what Penn State basketball is really about.
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