MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – If West Virginia basketball continues to have depth issues, there will be a role for forward Pat Suemnick in the team’s game plan, and it may be bigger than you’d expect.
Suemnick – who is yet to eclipse 15 minutes of playing time in a single game at WVU – recorded a season-high 11 minutes with three points and two rebounds in the Mountaineers’ 70-57 win over Jacksonville State earlier this week.
Sometimes, he is tasked with defending the opposing team’s center if starting WVU big man Jesse Edwards is getting a breather or in foul trouble. Other times, he plays the more natural position of power forward. Matchups, foul counts and other game-to-game occurrences will dictate his usage off the bench.
In short, the senior forward will wear many hats this season, and he doesn’t mind one bit.
“I’ve kind of taken pride [in] being whatever the team needs,” Suemnick said. “I have the ability to shoot the ball. I have the ability to play in the post, to play on the perimeter [and] play defense. Whatever coach asks me to do is what I’m going to do.”
The 6-foot-8, 235-pound forward came to Morgantown prior to the 2022-23 season after a short stint at Robert Morris and a NJCAA All-American season at Triton College, a junior college in Illinois. At Triton, he averaged 21.3 points per game and reached the NJCAA Final Four.
The transition to high-level Division I basketball has been a slow, but steady, journey for the Wisconsin native. He averaged 5.3 minutes per game of work in his first season at WVU, and he primarily worked as a bruiser within the physical scheme of former WVU coach Bob Huggins.
This year, he has been one of the first two players off the bench in all three games to start the season, and the team’s expectations for the senior are a bit more nuanced than simply corralling offensive rebounds.
“We need to get Pat to where he’s very comfortable being on the floor and plays with great instinct,” interim head coach Josh Eilert said. “I think sometimes Pat thinks the game a little too hard when he’s one of the strongest, most athletic guys on the floor in a lot of ways.”
Suemnick, Florida State transfer Jeremiah Bembry and walk-on Ali Ragab are WVU’s only active players that did not make a start in any of the team’s first three games, and Ragab still hasn’t logged a minute of playing time.
Bembry and Suemnick’s minutes will be scarcer than Eilert’s top rotation of six players, but they are on-call should any in-game roadblocks arise.
“Their contributions are as big as any of them, because if they come in there and I can get some little carry-over with some minutes, and I can rest Jesse [Edwards], I can rest Quinn [Slazinski], that’s going to be as effective for me as anything,” Eilert said. “I’m not asking them [to do too much]. They don’t have to score anything. They’ve just got to be locked in to what we’re trying to do defensively [and] offensively, and be into it.”
For Suemnick, specifically, there have been a few flashes early this season from which to build. He contributed four points against Missouri State on back-to-back layups that aided WVU’s 10-3 run early in the second half to regain the lead after trailing at halftime. In the win over Jacksonville State, he drilled a three-pointer to go up 18-17 for the Mountaineers’ first lead of the night since the game’s opening basket.
They were his only three points of the game, but sometimes when the basket comes is just as important as how many.
“That three was great,” Eilert said. “That got us going, and that allowed me to keep him out there.”
WVU’s hope is that former five-star recruit and UConn transfer Akok Akok will return to action at some point this season following his medical scare during the team’s charity exhibition against George Mason. For now, Edwards, Slazinski and Suemnick are the only players listed at 6-foot-8 or taller that are actually earning minutes, and the former two have started all three games.
Whether he’s ready or not, Suemnick is one mishap away from taking the Mountaineers’ opening tipoffs.
“He needs reps [and] confidence,” Eilert said. “He just hasn’t had a whole lot of chances to get reps, and we’re working that in as we go.”