Penn State New Kensington looks to regroup from winless start
Rebuilding years are inevitable in college basketball, especially at the smallest programs.
But long seasons and extended holiday breaks can afford teams extra time to rectify problems.
It has been a challenging start for the Penn State New Kensington men's team, which takes an 0-8 record into the second half of the season.
The Lions are losing by an average of 32 points.
Coach Doug Schneider knows getting the program back to respectability is an uphill climb.
“We're always inexperienced and never know if kids will stay for two or four years,” Schneider said. “We're also lacking depth, size, and a couple of the guys don't even have previous basketball experience.”
That inexperience has shown. The team dressed only eight players this season. Six are freshmen.
“We got off to a rocky start and we're rebuilding from scratch,” Schneider said. “We don't have a lot of numbers showing what it takes to build a foundation. It's a challenge at small colleges no matter what, there's no getting around that.”
There could be some relief on the way.
“We've had some trouble with big men, but this semester, we have Shaq back,” said sophomore guard Dom Strapac, who averages 15 points.
Shaquille Hager, a 6-foot-5 sophomore forward from Oliver, is academically eligible to play.
“He's got his grades straightened out, and he's put in the time and the work needed,” Schneider said. “Even when he was ineligible, he was committed to the program.”
Strapac, a Leechburg graduate, believes the team will be more competitive in the second half of the season.
“I think we'll be a lot closer and make some noise,” Strapac said.
PSNK has been off for almost a month; its last game was Dec. 14. The Lions resume play Friday at Penn State Mont Alto.
Schneider has given his team plenty of time to rest and recharge.
“We took three weeks off because I'm a firm believer in family time over the holidays,” he said. “With the time we put into practices and games, it's a huge commitment for our team. There's a lot of stress that goes on with a run like that. It's important for us to not forget family.”
Strapac reiterated the importance of a break.
“I definitely feel refreshed after a few weeks off,” he said. “We were out of sync at some times during games last semester.”
The team has started practices for the second half, and Schneider has seen progress.
“It's a process, and a lot of these guys have done very well,” he said.
Schneider stressed how committed his team was to improving.
“The young guys that are here are still coming, working and battling everyday,” he said. “The kids are forced to play a lot of minutes and we're learning how to at least play the game. Ultimately we need to learn how to win.”
Jesse Huba is a freelance writer.