Penn State Hoops’ Returning Sophomores Shine In Season-Opening Victory
Entering the 2023-24 season, only three scholarship players on the Penn State men’s basketball team announced they were returning to Happy Valley to play for incoming head coach Mike Rhoades.
Many expected reigning Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Ace Baldwin Jr. or Georgetown transfer Qudus Wahab to be the stars on the court from night one, and while they played well, it was the returning players from the year prior that dominated in the Nittany Lions’ opening night blowout victory over Delaware State.
Sophomores Kanye Clary and Jameel Brown balled out in the opening game. Both players dropped career-highs in points during the home opener, with Clary dropping a team-high 22 points and Brown adding 20 of his own to combine for 42 of the Nittany Lions’ 79 points.
“We had five guys decided to stay here because they love Penn State and they love each other. I told those five guys how much I appreciate them for staying and giving us a chance,” Rhoades said. “Now they’re getting an opportunity to play and look at how they played because they love it here. It’s amazing when you let everything go and because you’re happy, you work really hard and good things usually happen.”
Good things most definitely happened as both players showed flashes of their talent in the season-opener. Clary, in particular, is already on pace to take a huge step from last season and showed that during his first career start. He did it all, scoring 22 total points from all over the floor, shooting 7-for-11, and picking up seven rebounds.
While Clary’s play was expected to improve, Brown had to earn his minutes this season. Last season, Brown scored only 12 points all season, and he scored more than that against Delaware State alone with his six three-pointers. The loss of last year’s shooters, Seth Lundy and Andrew Funk, created a big question mark heading into the season.
On top of the great shooting, Brown recorded a steal and a block and played great defense throughout the night, forcing Delaware State to turn the ball over. His ability to shoot well from behind the arc and play elite defense was showcased heavily in his 20 minutes in the court.
“I told him that I said, ‘I already know you can play on the offensive end, but you got to be able to guard the ball you got to get through screens… and if you do that, you’ll help us because you’re a weapon,'” Rhoades said. “‘If you play defense, you’re gonna play man.’ He’s tried his butt off all summer and all fall look what happened.”
Adding onto the great play from the returnees was sophomore forward Demetrius Lilley. Lilley appeared in only five games last season, almost all of which came in garbage time. However, despite playing only 10 minutes in the first game, the sophomore made the most of them, registering four rebounds, playing fantastic defense, and even adding a slam dunk.
“[Lilley] made a conscious decision and said if I can help this team, I need to get in the best shape of my life, and he did that,” Rhoades said. “For a new coach, it just tells you what type of young man they are.”
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About the Author
When paired with the Thespian Society by Penn State THON, the world changed for Theresa Illicete.
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