Penn State Hoops’ Mike Rhoades Demanding Increased Pace Of Play Ahead Of Season Opener
According to Penn State men’s basketball head coach Mike Rhoades, a hot basketball is a harder one to guard.
In his first season at the helm of the Nittany Lions’ program, Rhoades is integrating his unique system onto the hardwood of the Bryce Jordan Center and into the methodology of his 13 scholarship players.
The Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, native specializes in a highly defensive full-court press strategy, which engineers lots of turnovers, uncomfortable opponents, and room for the blue and white to thrive in transition.
The program, while familiar to VCU transfers Ace Baldwin Jr. and Nick Kern Jr., is miles faster than what most of the brand-new Nittany Lions are accustomed to. Rhoades said he has even higher expectations of speed than he did last season in Richmond, too.
Returners Kanye Clary, Jameel Brown, and Demetrius Lilley were raised and refined in former head coach Micah Shrewsberry’s slow, deliberate style, led by booty ball specialist Jalen Pickett. Now, the trio is falling into the system fairly organically along with the rest of the roster.
“I’m a pretty fast player, so I think it definitely works in my favor,” Clary said.
Lilley, differently from Clary, dealt with injuries and little play time under Shrewsberry and didn’t quite fit the mold of Rhoades’ high-pace philosophy when the VCU coach’s hiring in Happy Valley was announced.
The former three-star committed to the Rhoades mindset and chose to buy into the new scheme rather than transfer or ride the bench.
“Coach Rhoades told me, ‘If you don’t go home and lose some weight, you’re not playing this year.’ I was like, ‘Say no more.’ So I went home and lost 40 pounds, got myself together, got myself right, came back, and now I’m here,” Lilley said.
For bigs like Lilley, such as Qudus Wahab, Zach Hicks, and Favour Aire, their on-court mobility is integral to the success of the operation. Wahab’s synthesis with Rhoades and Co. was demonstrated in the former Georgetown forward’s team-high 15-point and 10-rebound exhibition performance against Robert Morris Friday.
Meanwhile, the nimble lineup registered a total of 12 points off of turnovers and six fastbreak points in the exhibition, showcasing its “bold, different, and aggressive” approach.
Still, others are finding their groove in the “havoc” blueprint as the Nittany Lions work out the kinks.
“I’m not used to this fast, but I’m used to fast,” freshman Bragi Gudmundsson said.
Remnants of Shrewsberry are still scattered about the Bryce Jordan Center in the form of play design, but Penn State fans won’t see any backs to the basket at the top of the key anytime soon.
“I believe in a lot of what [Shrewsberry] did structurally,” assistant to the head coach and Penn State hoops alum Joe Crispin said. “I just want to do it faster.”
Rhoades’ tough love, high-standard coaching style demands efficiency but also leaves room for self-discovery and creativity on offense. Because of the team’s lack of a brand in its first year, Crispin encouraged players to share their high school film with the coaching staff to get back to what they’re good at from the days they were “really balling.”
“We’re making adjustments based on what we’ve learned about the guys to really enhance creativity,” Crispin said.
The Nittany Lions will begin their first regular season under Rhoades in less than a week against Delaware State at 7 p.m. on Monday, November 6, at the Bryce Jordan Center.
“We’re going to play really hard,” Rhoades said. “We’re going to be intense with our approach. We’re not going to back down from anybody.”
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