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PSNK men’s basketball team has high hopes for upcoming season

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Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
Penn State New Kensington's Shaquille Hager looks for an opening during basketball practice at Penn State New Kensington on Monday, Nov. 10, 2014.
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Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
Penn State New Kensington's Lou Payne passes the ball to a teammate during basketball practice at Penn State New Kensington on Monday, Nov. 10, 2014.
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Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
Penn State New Kensington's head coach Art McCray directs his player during basketball practice at Penn State New Kensington on Monday, Nov. 10, 2014.
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Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
Penn State New Kensington's Matt Sutton looks to pass the ball during basketball practice at Penn State New Kensington on Monday, Nov. 10, 2014.

The expectations are raised this season as second-year men’s basketball coach Art McCray looks to re-establish a winning tradition at Penn State New Kensington.

“We finished last season disappointed but confident looking (ahead) to (this) year,” McCray said. “We have the most PSUAC championships with 12. People don’t know that.”

After canceling their final two games of the 2013-14 season because of bad weather, McCray wasn’t worried about his young team’s confidence heading into the offseason. Instead, he was looking for a few players to step into leadership roles.

“For a level like ours, some people don’t think the guys will put the work in during the summer months,” McCray said. “Everybody came in in basketball shape.”

McCray found leadership in senior forward Shaquille Hager and junior guard Lou Payne. Both kept in touch with their teammates by organizing open-gym practices at the PSNK Athletic Center during the offseason.

“Shaq and Lou stayed on the guys and got them in the gym and made sure they were doing something,” McCray said. “Shaq’s doing a very good job leading on and off the court by talking to guys about the conference, the officials and how games will go.”

McCray will look to the 5-foot-7 Payne to lead on the court, as well. Payne has picked up on the style McCray expects and will guide an offense that emphasizes execution over clever plays.

“I’m simple,” McCray said. “I’d rather run a few plays really good than run 30 plays so-so, that way we can spend more time working on fundamentals in the gym.”

McCray has nine returning players from last season to round out the 14-man roster, and two incoming freshmen have McCray optimistic for the season.

Dorian Broadwater, a Steel Valley grad, brings athleticism and scoring ability.

“I think some guys overlooked Dorian,” McCray said of other colleges. “But, I’m glad because he can really go.”

McCray got another potential program-lifter in 6-foot-8 freshman center Ahman Muhammad.

Muhammad arrived at PSNK via First Presbyterian Christian Academy in Hinesville, Ga., where he was all-region in his sophomore and senior seasons.

“Ahman has a hunger for the ball and demonstrates it well through rebounding,” said McCray, who learned of Muhammad through a recruiting website.

“He can potentially be a consecutive double-double guy for us. In addition, he has pretty good footwork for his size.

“It puts him in position to not just rebound, but to block and change shots as well.”

When it comes to keeping his team focused, McCray is quick to point out Hager.

“We talk about making this his best season,” McCray said.

Hager is the only player on the team who has played for four years. He has been an invaluable resource for younger players by explaining the ins and outs of college basketball.

“Whatever I’ve been through in four years, I want the underclassmen to have a better opportunity,” Hager said. “It’s about understanding each other, communicating and coming together.”

The Lions open the season with a scrimmage Friday night at Pitt-Johnstown. The home opener is Monday against CCAC-Boyce.

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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