Can Penn State basketball win? Patrick Kraft, Penn State's next athletic director, certainly thinks so. But the programs need some juice, he said.
Kraft, who begins his tenure July 1, said recently that Penn State has the potential to field winning teams in men's and women's basketball, provided one thing happens.
"What we have to do is change what people think about Penn State basketball," Kraft said. "This is a place to come and you can be successful."
Kraft takes over as Penn State's athletic director at an interesting time. The football team, which went 11-11 the past two seasons, has head coach James Franklin signed to a 10-year deal.
The athletic department reported a $23.9 million deficit for its most recent fiscal year, is trying to get a handle on Name, Image and Likeness opportunities and must figure out what to do with Beaver Stadium.
Meanwhile, Penn State has two basketball teams that demonstrated some upward mobility last season. The men went 14-17 in Micah Shrewsberry's first year as head coach, winning a pair of Big Ten tournament games to close with a mini-flourish. The women's team went 11-18, though it finished the season with three losses.
Sandy Barbour, Penn State's retiring athletic director, said she believes "the sky's the limit" regarding Shrewsberry. The Lions lost eight games last season by seven points or less and had three non-conference games canceled because of COVID protocols. A few fortunate bounces might have sent Penn State to the postseason.
"I think Micah Shrewsberry is going to do great things at Penn State," said Barbour, who hired Shrewsberry from Purdue. "I was obviously very bullish on Micah when we hired him, and I'm even more so now."
Kraft sounded just as bullish, saying Barbour "hit a home run" in hiring Shrewsberry.
"He's the real deal and he's special," Kraft said. "... Micah has to have the ability and resources to go and change that perception."
What perception? Where Penn State football ranked second nationally in average attendance last season, the basketball team ranked 46th — and 90th in terms of filling building capacity. The women ranked 50th in average attendance.
Penn State basketball also has some recruiting hurdles to clear, though Shrewsberry is making inroads there. Shrewsberry last November signed the program's highest-ranked recruiting class in history. The group includes an ESPN Top 100 player in Kebba Njie, the program's first since Tony Carr in 2016.
Meanwhile, Penn State women's basketball coach Carolyn Kieger, entering her fourth season, recently signed a contract extension. And the Lady Lions' 2022 recruiting class includes guard Shay Ciezki, who was 56th in the HoopGurlz/ESPN recruiting rankings.
"I am encouraged by the foundation we have built over the past three years and believe we have the pieces in place to propel this program back to prominence," Kieger said in a statement announcing her extension.
Penn State has a long road to energizing the view of its basketball programs. As Kraft said, "that one takes time." However, Penn State's next athletic director said he sees a bright basketball future.
"You’ve got to get people and young athletes to really understand, 'Oh wait, I can achieve everything here,'" Kraft said. "I’m excited to really dive into that because both coaches deserve that. You can win in basketball. You can."
Check out the video above for Kraft's thoughts on Penn State basketball.
AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the SI.com network. Publisher Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich. And consider subscribing (button's on the home page) for more great content across the SI.com network.