News & Notes From Penn State Hoops’ Summer Media Availability
Mike Rhoades is in his 104th day on the job and one week into training with his entire 2023-24 roster ahead of his opening campaign leading Penn State men’s basketball.
Following former head coach Micah Shrewsberry’s brisk departure to Notre Dame after the Nittany Lions’ run in the NCAA Tournament, Rhoades was hired and tasked with the recruitment of nearly a completely new team.
Throughout the spring, Rhoades gained commitments from VCU stars Ace Baldwin Jr. and Nick Kern Jr., proficient producers such as Puff Johnson and Qudus Wahab, and young talents like Bragi Gudmundsson and Favour Aire.
The roster features a variety of ages, experience, and college basketball minutes, but Rhoades came to Happy Valley to win within the Big Ten and feels confident in the group he’s assembled.
Rhoades addressed a slew of topics throughout his summer media availability Tuesday including building trust among the team, emerging leaders, Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL), and what it takes for this group to win.
On Team Strengths & Weaknesses
As the Nittany Lions continue to find their rhythm throughout summer workouts, Rhoades touched on areas where the team is demonstrating growth and areas in need of improvement on offense and defense.
“Offensively, I think we have guys that can make some plays with the ball in their hands,” Rhoades said. “Without a doubt, we are shooting the ball pretty well right now. So I like that a lot… The ball’s hot and lots of different guys are making different plays for each other.”
Meanwhile, on both sides of the court, Rhoades is encouraging the progress of rebounds at the rim by players throughout the depth chart. Wahab, Favour Aire, and Demetrius Lilley will largely take on those roles come fall, but guards and forwards alike are receiving coaching to crash and finish at the rim.
“We got to finish better at the rim. I don’t mean big guys. I mean everybody. We have guys that can really drive it and I think guys that can get to the rim.”
On Fostering Trust
Because of the turnover and rawness of Penn State hoops at this point, Rhoades and his staff are working diligently to foster trust among the team ahead of the season.
Moreover, as a newly-hired head coach in the new role, Rhoades is still finding his place in Happy Valley and simultaneously adapting to the position alongside his players.
“I always say when you take over a new job, the number one thing is, as a coaching staff, that you got to build trust with the new players,” Rhoades said. “Trust with all of the players. To build trust takes time and communication and it’s our job as a coaching staff to create the time and communicate with our players at a high level and allow our players to communicate with each other. I think they’ve done a great job of it. I think our staff’s done a great job of it.”
On Emerging Leaders
Because of their longtime relationships with Rhoades and the VCU hoops staff, Baldwin and Kern fell into immediate leadership roles because of their familiarity with operations.
“Ace just has a great feel with people,” Rhoades said. “I just think he does a good job knowing how to get along with people and Ace doesn’t pull any punches either. He wants to win and his competitiveness I think leaks to everybody else.”
College basketball veterans like RayQuawndis Mitchell and Wahab will also likely develop into leaders in their own right following a combined nine years of collegiate hoops.
On The Importance Of NIL
Despite the advancement of NIL profitability for Nittany Lions after the creation of Happy Valley United, Rhoades maintained that NIL deals for his student-athletes aren’t at the top of his priority list.
“We’re decent with NIL,” Rhoades said. “We’ve made it an emphasis. I wouldn’t be here if that wasn’t important to our athletics and to our program… It’s not the number one thing on our list because if the number one thing on your list is how big of an NIL [deal] you want to get then don’t come to Penn State and play for us because we want you to come here to be an awesome student, the best basketball player you could be, try to win, and try to go be a pro. The real money’s on the backend.”
While Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Pat Kraft is making strides toward uplifting NIL to improve recruiting, Rhoades seemingly doesn’t promote NIL opportunities to prospects.
“To be competitive, we have to have a strong NIL and we’ve put things in place that have helped that quickly and I’m very proud of that, but we’re going to do it the right way. If recruit’s first line to me is ‘How much?’… I’m moving on to find other people,” Rhoades said. “There’s a lot of good players out there.”
On Penn Staters In The NBA
On July 9, NBA Draft selections Jalen Pickett, Seth Lundy, and summer league signee Andrew Funk faced off in Las Vegas for NBA Summer League. Pickett and Lundy became the first Penn State pair to hear their names called in the same draft, while Funk’s summer league contract tacked on a third NBA organization commitment.
Since Penn State men’s basketball became a household name following the 2023 NCAA Tournament, Rhoades is eager to push that stat to recruits aiming to end up in professional leagues.
“You can come to Penn State and be a pro because you have the stage,” Rhoades said. “Now what we want to do is we want to make it successful winning basketball… It just shows you can do it at Penn State. You can play in the NBA from Penn State. You want the opportunity, you want the development, and you want the stage, and we can provide all three of those things for our guys.”
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