LEHMAN TWP. — Over the past three years, Penn State Wilkes-Barre has been in the shadows of college basketball in the Wyoming Valley, while its National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III counterparts have flourished.
People may have been curious about PSU Wilkes-Barre, but hardly seemed captivated.
That changed this season.
The forgotten school on the mountain has been building a contender under head coach LeShawn Hammett.
Hammett propelled the Lions to an 18-9 record and a trip to the United States Collegiate Athletic Association Division II National Tournament. This marks the second time the Lions have made it to the USCAA tournament, their first since 2010.
The Lions drew an eighth seed and had the lead on ninth-seeded Vermont Tech Wednesday before falling in the tournament’s first round, 69-57, at Penn State-Fayette in Uniontown.
Hammett arrived at PSU Wilkes-Barre three years ago after a successful run as Cecil College’s coach. While at Cecil, Hammett guided the Seahawks to the 2013 National Junior College Athletic Association Tournament. His team also won the Region XX championship and Hammett won the Region XX and District 14 Coach of the Year honors.
Before his arrival at PSU Wilkes-Barre, Hammett had ties to the area. He is the all-time leading scorer at Luzerne County Community College. After his time at LCCC, Hammett played on the NCAA Division I level at St. Francis College (Pa.) and then overseas.
“I have blended my coaching style from all the coaches I’ve had playing overseas and in college,” Hammett said. “This was probably the easiest team I have ever had in buying in to what we are trying to do.”
Last year, PSU Wilkes-Barre lost in the Pennsylvania State University Athletic Conference semifinals to PSU-Greater Allegheny, the team it beat this year to advance to the championship game in the PSUAC playoffs.
“Getting that close showed the coaching staff that to get to the next level, we needed depth,” Hammett said. “We went the transfer route and took that next step and we’ve seen the difference.”
Hammett hopes the nationals berth helps lead to his program getting more attention.
“We don’t get enough respect,” he said. “I feel we are just as good as King’s, Wilkes, and Misericordia, but because we are that little school on the mountain, we are forgotten about.”
The PSU-Wilkes-Barre roster was filled with guys that have a lot in common.
“These guys may have been looked over, and now they have an opportunity here,” Hammett said.
Meyers graduate Levaughn Soules is one of those guys.
Soules just won the PSUAC Newcomer of the Year award after leading his team in points (11.4 per game) and rebounds (7.8).
“I didn’t know about PSU Wilkes-Barre until coach Hammett recruited me,” Soules said. “I’m glad that I came here.”
The coach’s feeling is mutual.
“Levaughn fit our style of play,” Hammett said. “I think he’s very special. Maybe he’s the beginning for top talent in the area to come here. Why wouldn’t recruits want to play with Levaughn? He may not only wind up being the best player in PSU Wilkes-Barre history but in the PSUAC.”
Soules led four players scoring in double figures in Wednesday’s loss. He finished with 13 points and six rebounds.
Kevin Silverberg added 11 points while Tomir Gibbs and Ameer Biddle added 10 each.
The loss dropped Penn State Wilkes-Barre into Thursday’s consolation game to determine ninth and 10th place in Division II of the USCAA.
The USCAA is made up of 88 schools, including members of the PSUAC, Hudson Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and Yankee Small School Conference.
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