Blue White Illustrated

May 2023

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 4 of 67

M A Y 2 0 2 3 5 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M E ven before the details of Mike Rhoades' contract were released, the signal from Penn State was clear. Whether in its extension talks with Mi- cah Shrewsberry or its pursuit of a sitting head coach at a basketball school like Virginia Commonwealth, PSU was will- ing to pay a competitive rate to continue improving its men's hoops program. Rhoades has a demonstrated history of winning games and developing players. He can be expected to work tirelessly for the same now that he's with the Nittany Lions. Although he's taking on the seemingly ceaseless challenge of trying to build a consistent winner at Penn State, his pres- ence is, in itself, a show of faith that the program's ambitions can be achieved. Rhoades also knows that an upfront investment doesn't solve everything. For Penn State to become a hoops school, it needs to act like a hoops school. The Nittany Lions' new coach knows what that looks like, and just as important, he knows what it doesn't look like. Rhoades' success at transforming his vision into reality at Penn State will de- pend on the support he receives from the entities below: Athletic administration: It's impor- tant that the administration understands the competitive landscape and is com- mitted to doing what is necessary keep pace with the competition. An Indiana graduate, Penn State ath- letics director Patrick Kraft certainly understands the culture of a basketball school. He has demonstrated that he gets football and is working to create the kind of environment that James Franklin needs in order to max out the potential of his program. Having hired an expen- sive basketball coach, Kraft must now demonstrate the same commitment to hardwood success. That is true of his efforts to marshal the necessary resources, but it's also true of the simple decisions that do or do not match those of Penn State's competitors. Getting to "yes" will be critical. Donors and collectives: The notion that name, image and likeness initiatives are "controversial" — Shrewsberry used that word earlier this year to describe how some PSU supporters view efforts to compensate athletes — has to change. Penn State has a smaller NIL war chest than the programs it is expected to compete against. One of the primary reasons is that there's been resistance, both among would-be donors and those trying to elicit their support, to copying models that are working elsewhere. Penn State has to figure this out, and Rhoades' ability to connect with donors will be a key part of the process. Recruits/portal targets: As they work to strengthen Penn State's NIL framework, Rhoades and his staff must also build a roster. They were successful during their time at VCU, bringing in two four-star pros- pects from the class of 2022 in Chris- tian Fermin and Fats Billups. They also landed transfers Brandon Johns and Zeb Jackson, both of whom received four- star ratings in the On3 Industry Ranking. Ace Baldwin, the reigning Atlantic 10 Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, landed in 2020. Most recently, Baldwin committed to PSU via the transfer portal on April 9. With the right resources and an experi- ence to sell at Penn State, that trend can continue. Fans: This might sound like a double- tapped category, given the aforemen- tioned necessity of donors and collec- tives. It's not. Fan engagement is underval- ued. Creating an on-court product worth supporting is essential to drawing crowds at the Bryce Jordan Center. But there are other ways in which Penn State can improve fan engagement. The first is to create exciting game-day experiences, even if that means heading to Philadelphia occasionally. The Pales- tra is a great venue for PSU because it's an intimate, fiery environment. Games there don't look or sound like BJC games in their logistics, rhythm or pacing. The second goal should be to make the fans who do show up feel as though they're influencing outcomes. That re- quires butts in seats, of course, but it also requires a degree of discomfort. When fans leave Beaver Stadium with hoarse throats, it's considered a badge of honor. The football program has partnered with Halls Cough Drops to encourage vocal support. The noise that Franklin's team is able to summon on home Saturdays is worth points. It could work for Rhoades' team, too. The Big Ten is an unbelievably tight league, and every edge you can create matters. * * * Before flying to State College for his introductory press conference, Rhoades sent a message to Penn State fans through the program's social media channels. Set to board the plane, he was purposeful and brief, understanding what was ahead. "Can't wait to get up there and spend the day with you," he said. "Let's get to work. See you soon." Needing purposeful strides in all four areas, PSU begins its work anew. ■ Athletics director Patrick Kraft was an undergraduate at Indiana and understands the culture of basketball schools. PHOTO BY RYAN SNYDER O P I N I O N NATE BAUER N A T E . B A U E R @ O N 3 . C O M HOT READ To Reach Its Hoops Potential, PSU Needs Collaboration

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