The Penn State Wilkes-Barre Men's Basketball team is ready to kick off their 2021-22 Season.
The Mountain Lions enter the year with two goals, to win a conference championship and get back to the USCAA National Tournament to Win Another National Championship. The program returns a core of its players who are now looking to step up and play big roles due to the graduation of 7 players two years ago from the 2019 National Championship team. Our Mountain Lions are again lead by 2019 USCAA National Head Coach of the year and 2019 National Championship Coach, Coach Leshawn Hammett.
Coach has Hammett brought in a talented 2020 recruiting class from across the country a year ago and now has added on with some more talent with his 2021 class. Once again The Mountain Lions roster feature student-athletes from Pennsylvania, Chicago, Maryland, Connecticut, Mississippi, Washington DC, Virginia and Coach Hammett's Backyard of New York.
After a year off due to Covid-19 The Mountain Lions Will look to get back to the USCAA National Tournament for the 4th year in a row. In the 2019-20 the Mountain Lions Lost in the first round of the USCAA National Tournament. Coach Hammett Expects the team to get back once again to compete for a National Championship.
" That's the goal. We want to get back to Nationals and be the last team standing. I believe this team has the pieces to do it. It won't be easy as we lost some really key guys to graduation two years ago but every year I've been here as Head Coach that's always has been the goal. This year won't be any different." Coach Hammett Said
The Mountain Lions this year are looking to new leaders. The expectations is for Senior Guard Kevin Major, Who emerged as a huge player in 2020 for the team to now take over and lead the way. Coach Hammett believes he's the right man for the job and he's ready.
"I think Kevin Major gained a ton of experience playing on the 2020 National Tournament team. He Learned a lot from playing with Starting Point Guard Jayden Hampton. Major started for us down the stretch and played well in the National Tournament. He had a lot of moments that year where you seen he has the potential to be one of the next great player here at PSWB. Kevin was passed a lot of knowledge and gain experience playing with that team and playing with those seniors who won the National Championship. So I expect Kevin Major to a big part of our success this year." Coach Hammett Said
The Team has a few other returning players expected to be solid contributors this season. Forwards Marin Bandalo and Clifton Tracey are expected to step in and fill the shoes of last years core group of returnees who played a significant amount of minutes as juniors in 2020.
"Marin Came back 10 pounds heavier and stronger. I expect him to he a big time player for us. He showed flashes in the 2020 season but with his role increasing this year we expect him to shine. Clifton had some big games in our 2019-20 season and played well in conference play so I expect him to build off that experience." Coach Hammett Said
The Mountain Lions 6'9 Junior Center Chinonso Emeruem who battled injuries all season is expected to be the big man in the middle. "Chinonso is finally healthy and we expect him to compete to be one of the best bigs in the country. He's physical, athletic and finishes well near the rim. We expect him to contribute a lot this season".
The returners will lean on a very solid recruiting class to help fill out the roster. Every year Coach Hammett brings in one of the top recruiting classes in the country. This years class he expects to be nothing less.
"I really like this group. We have a mixture of experienced players and a few young guys. We expect big things from this recruiting class. We lost some top guys to graduation. Guys who played big roles and also guys who helped in winning a National Championship so trying to refill those holes in our roster was definitely something we had to do. I don't expect this class to be the guys we lost but carry on the legacy and program for the guys who graduated." Coach Hammett Said
Due to covid cancelation Coach Hammett has two recruiting classes set to step on the floor this season.
"I'm very excited about both classes and think we have some really good players in both classes. I look forward to watching this programs take the next step as now all of our guys who have won a national championship have graduated" Coach Hammett Said
Key Newcomers From Both 2020 & 2021 Recruiting Classes.
John McNeal, 6'6 Junior Guard: John is a Juco transfer who played his Junior College Basketball in Maryland where Coach Hammett use to coach. John averaged 15 points and 7 rebounds, scoring 677 points in two seasons. A super athletic and high energy player. John is going to fill up box scores but also have some highlights this season that will be jaw dropping.
What Coach Says: John is a pure athlete and brings solid experience to our team. He defends multiple position very well. He comes from a well known Junior College program and we expect him to come in and bring a Championship mentality to our program
Shaquille Ricks, 6'5 Sophomore Forward: Shaq Comes to us from Genesee Community College where he averaged 7 points and 7 rebounds per game. He comes in with some great experience as he has been apart of a team that won two NYC PSAL Championships.
What Coach Says: Shaq is a forward who is very versatile. He has the ability to play multiple position and is skilled. He can post smaller guards and attack bigger forwards. He's has some experience being apart Championship teams at South Shore HS. I expect Shaq to step right in ready as he has shed some weight and has really worked on his game this summer. He's Shot the ball extremely well over last few weeks in open gym. I expect that to carry over into our season.
Jedidiah Ashton, 6'6 Sophomore Forward: Averaged 11 points and 8 rebounds at Monore College in New York.
What Coach Says: Jed is a big time player for us. Hes one of those guys who knows how to dominate the game without having plays ran for him. He rebounds well, is athletic and can score in bunches. Were very excited to have him here, he has a chance to be very special.
Jeremiah Green 6'1 Freshman Guard: Jeremiah comes to Penn State Wilkes-Barre from St. Joseph Of Vermont HS. Twhere he averaged 25.1 points 4.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. So he's no stranger to scoring points.
What Coach Says: Jeremiah will bring in some scoring at the guard position. A decent playmaker and shooter We expect him to get better and grow as he'll be here for 4 years. Jeremiah has a solid mid range game and is crafty with the basketball.
Season Outlook: Coach Hammett's Thoughts
What are expectations this season?
Coach Hammett said, "The expectations are always high round here. We have added pieces to try and win a PSUAC Championship & try to win a USCAA National Champions. We lost some huge guys in the program so the first step is to get some chemistry and consistency as we're still trying to navigate workouts and practice still during this pandemic. As always there is a huge excitement around our program and campus after winning our first National Championship two years ago and getting back to nationals in 2020. We are looking to keep going forward. I do love our team and we have some experience that should allow us to get out early and win some big games. The ultimate goals to finally win the PSUAC Conference Championship and Win Another National Championship. Once you've experience the highest honor in college basketball you don't want to settle for anything less.
Every year our program has taken a step forward in the 5 years I have been here so I expect the same and then some this season. We have a some experience and a ton of talent on this team. The players have bought into our philosophy of playing for each other and to leave their mark on the program. The goals were set before guys stepped on campus, so our players are working hard to achieve them. I do like our depth. We have some skilled bigs who can shoot the ball and handle basketball on the perimeter so I'm excited about that. We lacked that a bit last year. Our Guard play is solid as usual so can't wait to see how we stack up against other teams in the league. We will play a lot more uptempo and faster this year but becoming a great rebounding and defensive team will be our biggest focus this year. We're we're not always the best rebounding and defensive team in 2020 and thats how you win big games. So that's something we're going to have to improve on to be champions." Coach Hammett
Thoughts on your team's preseason?
" This preseason will be one we're going to have to try and really be ready to have all scenarios thrown at us. Alot of hurdles to jump but our guys are ready to work. We as coaches have to try to find a way to coach, development and prepare for our season using the rules implemented for us. Our guys have been doing their part and training and working out properly. With our experience I think we will be ok, we just have to lock in and stay committed to our bigger goal, winning two championship." Coach Hammett
"This season will definitely be an emotional one for me, the returning players and the program. Pops has meant a lot to our program and success over the last 5 years. For me it's a bit different because I lose my father, best friend and assistant coach, for my staff they lost a grandfather and spiritual advisor but for the players they lost a mentor, coach and father figure. This season the players and coaches have dedicated this season to him. Everything we do this season is for pops. What I've loved is the incoming players have also made it their goal to win it for him. Some have actually met him some haven't but we're all on same page of winning it for him. The first goal is to do what we never did with Pops on the staff which was win the PSUAC Conference Championship. Once we've achieved that goal we're going after the second one which is win the 2ndNational Championship in schools history." Coach Hammett
Thoughts on your Team
I think this team is going to be really good. Our roster has some solid talent and experience. We have some versatility in our big guys. Marin Bandalo, Marco Botta, Jedidiah Ashton & Frantz Jeremiah Jean Pierre. Their ability to play on perimeter as wel post will be huge for us. The all 4 can score on multiple levels. I expect some All-Conference and Freshman player awards this year. We also have some really good guards that want to defend and can score the basketball. So I'm excited. For us to win championships you have to have talent, depth and experience we have all three. So the full package is right there we just have to put it together each day and compete. The coaching staff has the experience as coaches to lead this team to win our conference and win a second National Championship.
Our Guard play is solid and can carry us with their experience. To have Clifton Tracey back who is a 6'7 scorer and big time shot maker is huge. Kaii Gilliam can score and together Kaii Gilliam and Kevin Major are a dangerous combination. Having John McNeal, Shaquille Ricks and Anthony Picott as guys we can rely on also helps and allow us to be dangerous in the backcourt.
I think the program is in good hands. In 5 years the torch has been passed every year from one great player to the next honoring the past and bettering the programs future. Our program has had some big time players come thru it. Now From a Point Guard standpoint it's been passed from Shakur Jackson to Jheron Dawson-Johnson To Jayden Hampton to now Kevin Major. So with Major being our returning Point Guard I'm really excited for him to take the torch and run. Last Season I saw Kevin Major average 10 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists as a role player on a team with some Amazing guards. So I'm extremely confident he's going to have a career season this year. In my opinion Kevin Major is one of the best Returning Point Guards in the country if not the best period. I know he's ready to show it. I expect our returning core and our incoming guys to really stand out and I think by March when the big lights come on we'll be ready. Practice has to be very competitive every day and really pushed the guys to challenge each other to simulate what games will feel like. Our preseason will be a challenge due to COVID-19 but we will get a lot accomplished. This team has shown in its short time around each other they are discipline, coachable and hungry. My excitement grows and grows as the days go by. This should be a fun season and we're all ready to go be great and try to bring two championships home for Pops.