Penn State Wilkes-Barre men’s basketball heading to USCAA National Tournament

Wilkes-Barre looking to defend its title after winning the USCAA DII National Championship last season and in 2019
Two players in jerseys, one holding a basketball, with the text "Champions are made here" and the Penn State Wilkes-Barre logo
Credit: Penn State

DALLAS, Pa. — Penn State Wilkes-Barre men’s basketball team is heading back to the USCAA Basketball Small College National Tournament again this year. This year’s tournament kicks off Sunday, March 10, in Petersburg, Virginia. The Mountain Lions’ first matchup is against Southern Maine Community College, winners of the 2022 USCAA DII National Championship, at Richard Bland College at 1 p.m.

No strangers to the national stage, Wilkes-Barre’s appearance in this year’s tournament is the team’s sixth straight, two of which resulted in national championship wins for the team in 2019 and 2023.

Wilkes-Barre’s coaches and players alike have celebrated successes on the court during the regular 2023-2024 season:

  • The team was ranked No. 1 in the country (USCAA DII Coaches Poll) for three weeks and stayed in the top three for nine consecutive weeks following its No. 1 ranking.
  • Head Coach LeShawn Hammett notched his 200th career win Dec. 18 against Central Penn College.
  • Junior forward Jedidiah Ashton became the seventh player in program history to sink his 1,000th career point.
  • Senior guard Jalen Willis got his second career triple-double as a Mountain Lion
  • Three players were named to the PSUAC All-Conference Second Team: junior forward Jedidiah Ashton, senior forward/center Teequan Holley and senior guard Jalen Willis.
  • The PSUAC also awarded junior guard Rashod Ballard an honorable mention and senior center Chase Monroe the John Fritz Sportsman Award.

Wilkes-Barre still enters this year’s tournament in a unique position: as the No. 10 seed (USCAA Coaches Poll). Last year, the team was the No. 1 seed in the USCAA.

“We are embracing being the underdogs this time,” said Hammett. “It’s been at least five years since we have been in this position [as the underdog].”

Four players on this year’s team played on last year’s national championship-winning team, which Hammett feels confident will help Wilkes-Barre as they head to Virginia this weekend.

“Going into the tournament, we have some experience. Experience is always key,” said Hammett.

Defense also will be key to success on the national stage. “We have to be one of the best teams in the country — defensively — to win this,” said Hammett. “We have been saying, ‘No rebound, no ring.’”

One of the returning players with a ring from last year’s national championship team is senior center Allen Ozojie. He leads the PSUAC and USCAA in Block Shots, and Ozojie was recently named East Defensive Player of the Year in the Pennsylvania State University Athletic Conference (PSUAC), which he also achieved in the 2023 season.

“Taking the extra steps — like boxing out and crashing the boards (quick rebounds) will be key.  I think if we control the rebound game and get our stops, we will win our games,” said Ozojie. “We are all highly capable players. That’s why we’re here. But I think that if we control those rebounds and the stops, ultimately frustrate our competition to give them nowhere else to go, we will win.”

Winning in this arena is an experience unique to the Wilkes-Barre campus.

“We are the only Penn State Commonwealth Campus to have won a National Championship, and we have won two. To be in a position to bring home a third is humbling,” said Hammett.

The team will leave early Saturday, March 9, to prepare for the matchup against Southern Maine on Sunday. Two players will be participating in USCAA opening competitions after their arrival to Virginia: junior guard Elijah Perez will participate in the 3-point contest, and junior forward Dennis Cash in the dunk contest.

More information about the tournament, including livestream details, can be found on the USCAA’s website.