MIDDLETOWN, Pa. (WHTM) — New Penn State Men’s Basketball Head Coach Mike Rhoades is committed to building a successful, contending program in his home state.

With just a few months on the job, Rhoades has established an almost brand-new roster, travelled to the Bahamas and looks forward to practices beginning at the end of September.

In August, Rhoades made an appearance at the Penn State Fall Kickoff, hosted by the Penn State Alumni Association Capital Area Chapter, at the Vineyard at Hershey in Middletown. Rhoades spoke with abc27 Sports Director Allie Berube on his goals in 2023.

Full interview with Mike Rhoades

Allie Berube: Welcome back to central Pennsylvania. What’s the motivation to get out in the community, meet some of the fan base? And what have you seen from the Penn State fans so far?

Mike Rhoades: Well, just to get out and meet everybody and say hello to so many passionate fans, especially in this area that I’m very familiar with, has been a lot of fun. Number one, I want them to know who the basketball coaches are at Penn State. That’s really important to me and our staff, not just that they see us coaching on the sidelines, but there’s interaction. We’re building relationships with everybody. There’s a lot of fans for Penn State athletics and we want to make sure they’re very familiar with who [we are as] basketball coaches, staff and players. That’s really important to us.

Berube: What are you liking about your program right now? What’s the compete level like and what gives you some confidence?

Rhoades: I really like how the guys have bonded, have meshed and built relationships this summer, not just among the team, the players, but among the staff as well. And I thought we had some really important days where we got to really know each other throughout the summer. I’ve been very impressed with them, and I’m very appreciative of them giving each other and our staff a chance to try to build this the right way and put our foundation down this summer. I really like how competitive we are. I think we have a group of some tough kids, tough-minded kids, and it shows on the court. If you play really hard, you care about each other and then compete, it gives you a chance for success. It doesn’t guarantee you, but it gives you a chance. And I think our guys went after that just this summer.

I asked them to be on time to work really hard and to be great teammates, and they really did that. I thought it showed in our games in the Bahamas. We didn’t play against Big Ten competition, but no matter what, our guys played the right way. They played together and I thought they played really hard. So it’s something to build on.

Berube: Your first month was moving to Pennsylvania, getting the lay of the land. Then it was [needing to build] a team. You went to the Bahamas, had your scrimmages. Where are you at now? A couple of months away from the start of the season?

Rhoades: Well, I would like to find a place to live. That was that would be great before the next week. We’re getting closer to that. Honestly, it was just jump right in the deep end and find guys that want to be with you from our staff to our players. Then to me, the whole summer was setting the tone on how we want to build this program with great relationships, working really hard, being where your feet are.

So a lot of a lot of things that will happen over the course of the next year when it comes to stuff off the court that will occur. But to me it was establishing relationships with the guys that wanted to come play for us from day one, and we did that all summer long. Now it’s exciting to get into the fall and get some official visits, get ready for when we start in September officially and and get ready for our first game on November 6th. So what I’m really excited about is from the summer til now and now until November 6, how much better can we get?

Berube: You’ve been in a number of athletic departments. How do you look at Penn State? You’ve seen it growing up. You went to college not too far away, but now that you’re in it, is it different? Is there this family atmosphere that everyone likes to talk about?

Rhoades: Oh, absolutely. Even more intense than I thought. You know, I knew a lot about Penn State from being a kid and following all the programs. My brother and sister went to Penn State. My dad was always on campus at Penn State as a as a state senator and involved in education. So I’ve been in all the buildings when I was a kid, I’ve been on that campus. I’ve always followed the basketball program because I’m a basketball player in the state of Pennsylvania. So I probably I know more about Penn State basketball than probably people thought. But being here on campus and having my feet on the ground on campus, meeting everybody, you know, everybody wants to help each other.

There is a sense of community and family at Penn State that I felt from day one. I continue to feel it and I think it’s one of our greatest strengths. The other thing that I’ve noticed and it’s really, really cool is how much our athletes and all our sports love being athletes at Penn State and they’re on a great campus, a great college community atmosphere is, you know, second to none in the country. But they love playing their sport at Penn State. I’ve felt that since I’ve been here. And that’s that’s a wave we’re going to we’re going to ride with men’s basketball.

Berube: When we talked to you at the state capitol that felt like a homecoming of sorts for you. You say your siblings went to Penn State and you know that campus. Do you lean on those roots?

Rhoades: Well, coming back to Pennsylvania, my wife and I are pinching ourselves after 28 years that I was away. Here I am coming back. That has been that’s been really cool and running in the people who throughout my basketball journey from junior high all the way through running into coaches and guys I played against in high school and college and and former college teammates and classmates at Lebanon Valley College that’s been a lot of fun. But I came back to Penn State not just because it was Penn State. I know a lot about Penn State, but I wanted to work for Pat Kraft, and I wanted to work for an AD that was like, ‘Let’s go to work.’ And he wants to do something special with basketball at Penn State, and we want to make it sustainable for a long time. And that’s what got me back to Penn State, back to Pennsylvania, because I wanted to work for Pat.

Berube: I think it’s easy for an athletic director to say, Hey, we’ve got a successful football program, so let’s just pour into that. Last time I talked to Pat, he said, I want to win 7, 8 or 31 national titles next year. He’s focused top to bottom. I’m sure he sold you on that. But are you seeing that support in what he’s doing?

Rhoades: Yeah, without a doubt. From little things to big things. And in the urgency, you know, the biggest thing is everybody says they want to win. But then are you committed to winning? And Pat’s been committed to winning from assembling the staff. We have doing some things differently than has been done in the past. And men’s basketball at Penn State, you know, that’s the urgency part you have to have to follow through with the commitment. And I’ve seen it, you know, and we’ve got to continue to to keep pushing the program forward with great urgency. Addressing our facilities is the next step and Pat has a plan for that. And we’re going to continue to move forward with that. And, you know, the number one thing is, is making sure we take care of our student athletes and giving them the best experience they can, but giving them a chance to be champions. And to do that, it starts at the top, when they’re committed and they have urgency, then that’s when you see great, great things happen and great results.

Berube: Do you need support from central Pennsylvania in recruiting, in facilities, in some of these fundraising efforts?

Rhoades: Yeah, without a doubt. And I’m on the other side of it, too, because now I have, you know, my my kids are are involved in sports and college sports as well. And to give players and student athletes a great experience, you need people to be committed and you need fans and supporters and donors, whatever you want to call them. I always like to say friends of basketball.

We need their their support, their commitment show up to secure our guys on and and be in the stands. That’s number one to me, because players love that part of it and that environment. But also the the behind the scenes from the support of getting more people involved and the support of of donating to the program and finding ways to make a commitment to to enhance different projects in athletics, I think that’s that’s really, really important and it’s needed without a doubt. Then you feel if you do that and you’re cheering those guys on and you have relationships with that staff and those players, it becomes so much more meaningful than just being a fan in the stands. And I think that’s the part where I’m seeing that at Penn State, a lot of people take great pride in being a part of Penn State athletics in so many ways.

Penn State Football fans will get closer than ever to the team this fall, as abc27 launches Nittany Insiders. Every Saturday, the preview show will break down Penn State’s matchup, feature player’s stories off the field, and focus on NIL progress.

The weekly preview show will be co-hosted by former NFL linebacker and Penn State All-American Michael Mauti and abc27 Sports Director Allie Berube.

Each week Allie and Michael will break down the week’s upcoming game and share what the Nittany Lions will need to focus on for a win. Michael will be able to provide a unique expert analysis from the perspective of a former player.

The show will also feature a player spotlight, features on Lettermen, and content highlighting the program’s NIL efforts to create the most comprehensive Penn State show in the state each and every week.

Nittany Insiders will air every Saturday at 11:30 a.m. starting Saturday, August 26th. The 30-minute shows will feature interviews and insight you can only see on abc27.

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