‘Believe In Yourself’: Kebba Njie’s Growing Confidence Paying Dividends In Penn State Hoops’ Success
When Kebba Njie committed to Penn State men’s basketball on September 18, 2021, he became the best prospect to sign within Penn State’s highest-ranked recruiting class in program history. As a four-star big man, the Centerville, Ohio, native quickly garnered hype in Happy Valley before the season even started.
After five games repping the blue and white, Njie found himself in the starting lineup. However, the anticipation slowly turned into doubt among fans after an opening stretch of lackluster performances. In fact, Njie felt the same way.
“Before, I didn’t really know my role,” Njie said. “I was just out there, [and] I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing for the team.”
After moving past the new year and playing through half of the conference schedule, it was a random Sunday in early February when things began to click for the big man. In a road matchup against Nebraska, Njie collected nine rebounds, including five on the offensive end, with three points in a nine-point defeat to the Cornhuskers. Despite the loss, this was the game where everything began to come together for Njie.
“I was relaxed,” he said. “I didn’t put a lot of pressure on myself to go out there and just like play a perfect game. I just wanted to go out there help my team win in the best way possible.”
Although Njie didn’t fill up the stat sheet like he usually did throughout his high school career, that game in Lincoln, Nebraska, proved that he didn’t need to do so to prove his effectiveness.
More so, he began to pick up on the little things. Whether that be hustling for a rebound, being a physical presence in the paint, or cheering on his teammates from the sidelines, it was the small, yet crucial actions that Njie completed that brought the most success to his team.
Not only did Njie feel this, but the mentor who recruited him noticed a switch in demeanor. Head coach Micah Shrewsberry recognized that it would take his young, 18-year-old center some time to adjust to the elevation of talent in college basketball. However, since that Nebraska game, he has been impressed with Njie’s ability to flip the script and better understand his role to help Penn State win more games.
“It’s a testament to him and a testament to the work that he’s put in,” Shrewsberry said. “He’s really helped us. [He] gives us another threat around the rim.”
Diving deeper into the question of Njie’s surge of confidence and feel for the game, Shrewsberry related it to the famed story of the late head coach Charlie Coles, a former staple at Miami of Ohio who graced the sidelines for 16 seasons in Oxford, Ohio.
“He played Kentucky once, and a reporter asked him why his guys were struggling against Kentucky and he just said, ‘Have you ever been face-to-face with a bear?'” Shrewsberry said. “Like, you’re going to be scared of a bear. I think Kebba had a little bit of that early on, but he got better. He recognized what he needed to do, and now he’s starting to become one of those.”
Njie recognized that being a center at the Power Six level is “not easy at all”. He stated that sometimes the offense isn’t focused on playing in the post, but the pressure is on for defending inside the paint. Even if he had a stellar performance on either side of the court, Njie remarked that most times it isn’t rewarded. However, to him, it’s about doing what you can control that will yield the best outcome for the team’s success.
“At the end of the day, you know that your efforts contribute to winning,” Njie said. “And so that’s like, that’s one thing that you got to really adapt to in the college game is just like that, being more unselfish and more for the team than yourself.”
Another part that has increased Njie’s growing confidence throughout the season came from the man who he had to fill the shoes for: John Harrar.
After Penn State’s Big Ten Tournament semifinal win against Indiana, the former program staple called him and complimented the team and its success. However, on a more specific level, Harrar went on to say that Njie was going to be a “great player.”
“To me, I love when former players come back and talk to you,” Njie said. “That like gives you even more confidence to go out there and represent the name on your shirt.”
When asked about what he wished he could tell himself before the season started, Njie kept it simple.
“Believe in yourself. Be confident,” he said. “There’s nothing that you can’t handle.”
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