Suemnick navigating turmoil at West Virginia
Former Denmark Viking and current West Virginia Mountaineer Patrick Suemnick emphatically pulls down a rebound in a game against Texas Tech las season. Photo by Daley Sparks
By Kelly Fenton
The Denmark News
DENMARK – Patrick Suemnick has managed to turn Denmark, Wisconsin into Morgantown West.
The Green Bay native and former Denmark Viking took a circuitous route – from Denmark to the University of West Virginia via Don Bosco Prep (Indiana), Robert Morris University (Pennsylvania) and Triton College (Chicago) – to reach the upper echelon of college basketball.
Suemnick, a 6-8, 235-pound senior, will soon be embarking on his second season at UWV this month..
While back in the area this summer, he hosted an elite youth basketball camp in Denmark and was able to practice with current members of the Viking varsity. He also discovered that people don’t forget a Denmark Viking who goes on to play Division I basketball in a Power 5 Conference.
“It was amazing just going back home,” he said, “where I am in Rookies or 21 Gun Saloon and people are coming up to me and saying, ‘We’re up here watching every West Virginia game.’ Outside of Morgantown, our biggest fan base might be in Denmark.”
This is the first time since high school Suemnick will be playing a second season for the same team but it’s probably going to feel like he’s starting over yet again. The Mountaineers had already lost a wealth of talent to graduation, and when long-time head coach Bob Huggins was forced to resign in June after a drunk driving incident, two more West Virginia stars entered the portal. When you add to that the transfer in of eight new players to Morgantown through the portal, it will be an almost entirely new team with, mostly, an all new staff.
One familiar face will be new head coach Josh Eilert, who was Suemnick’s position coach a year ago.
Suemnick, one of only four returning players, will find himself in a unique role: as a veteran.
“It’s something I’m used to,” Suemnick said of adapting to a new group of players. “So I’m good with it. I think they’re definitely looking to give the returning guys a bigger role than we might have had in the past. But we actually have an older team with a lot of three- and four-year players so even though it will be their first year at West Virginia we’ll have a team of veteran guys. But I’ve been here and I know the ropes so I hope to step up as more of a leader this year.”
Last year, Suemnick logged 5.5 minutes a game and averaged 1.4 points and 1.3 rebounds while knocking down 12 of 24 shots, including 2 of 3 from beyond the arc. He also blocked four shots. West Virginia went 7-11 in the Big 12, the premier conference in the country, and 19-15 overall, losing a heartbreaker to Maryland in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
‘Sky Is The Limit’
Suemnick’s early efforts at basketball in middle school did not necessarily portend a Division I career. It took him some time to develop a skill set to complement his size but with hard effort that included getting up at 4:30 to go work on his game at the Kroc Center in Green Bay, he became a force in the North Eastern Conference, eventually helping lead the 2018-19 Vikings to a conference, regional and sectional championship and Denmark’s first trip to state in 34 years. Suemnick averaged 18.4 points while shooting 61 percent from the floor. He led the team in rebounds with 10.4 and blocks (2.9) and also dished out one-and-a-half assists per game, earning him All-State honors.
“Patrick is one of my absolute favorites,” said his high school coach, Cody Stelmach. “Not only as a player I have coached, but as a person I have met in my life. It is not often you encounter someone that is not only talented, but with a work ethic second to none. It’s no surprise he has developed himself into a phenomenal basketball player, and the sky is the limit as to how far he will go.
“That young man is just special.”
As further proof, Suemnick was recently named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches Honors Court, which recognizes academic excellence.
Suemnick knew after the high of playing at the Kohl Center in front of all those fans in the D3 state championship that he wanted to pursue a college career. After stints at Don Bosco Prep and Robert Morris, Suemnick really blossomed at Triton College, where he averaged 12 points and six rebounds a game while blocking 34 shots and the Trojans made it all the way to the National Junior College Final Four.
He admits he was a bit intimidated heading off to Morgantown to play in the strongest conference in the nation but he soon realized he belonged.
“I knew I could play with these guys,” he said. “I didn’t think there was any reason to be intimidated. Last year I learned that as long as I can contribute in the minutes I get, I will continue to get bigger minutes and play a larger role.”
‘I Absolutely Can’t Wait’
Against Maryland in the NCAA Tournament this past March, Suemnick played 14 minutes and scored two points and grabbed four rebounds in a game in which the Mountaineers let a 13-point lead turn into a two-point loss. Despite that, Suemnick considers that one of the two greatest highlights of the season.
“I mean, it was a bittersweet experience,” he said. “That was my goal ever since I played at Denmark was to one day get a chance to play in March Madness. And I got to play a lot but it was tough because we had that big lead in the first half.”
He says playing at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence against then-defending national champion Kansas was “absolutely insane. There were times in the game where you’re on the court and you can’t even hear yourself talk on defense. And then a big play would happen and the floor was just shaking. Honestly, it reminded me of our sectional championship game against Freedom (at Appleton North) and how packed that place was and just how engaged everyone was and just how intense it was.”
Suemnick played a 3-4 hybrid last year, alternating from power to swing forward. Because of the roster makeup this season, though, he figures to spend more time at the five. Suemnick was a post player at Denmark but rarely played as a back-to-the-basket post up. Because of his versatility and shooting ability, he’s more comfortable facing the basket but he understands that depth and matchup issues will dictate where he’s positioned on any given night.
“I’ve been doing really well against our center (6-11 Syracuse transfer Jesse Edwards) in practice,” he said. “I’ve got a 7-1 wingspan and a 40-inch vertical with a solid frame but I think the main advantage I have at the five is using my quickness against slower guys.”
Suemnick said it was hard losing a Hall of Fame coach in Bob Huggins, along with guards Tre Mitchell and Joe Touissant, who would have been the top returning scorers, as a result. He acknowledged there was a long period of uncertainty but that everyone trusts Coach Eilert, who has been at West Virginia for 16 seasons and knows the system.
“I think he knows Huggs’ offense and his game plans and schemes almost better than Huggs did,” Suemnick said. “Huggs leaving wasn’t the end of all the drama though. We lost another teammate three weeks ago (Jose Perez) and (top 50 shooting guard) RaeQuan Battle from Montana State has had his waiver denied. He’s still trying to appeal and even the governor has gotten involved.”
Prior to the doubt about Battle’s status, West Virginia’s portal class had been ranked tops in the country so there remain lofty ambitions. Suemnick, who had to abandon his pursuit of a neuroscience degree due to the travel demands of a five-month season, is eager despite, or maybe because of, all the recent turmoil, to get the season underway. West Virginia hosts Missouri State in the season opener on Nov. 6. Though he will graduate this year with an integrated studies degree, he’ll have one more season of playing eligibility.
“I can’t wait, I absolutely can’t wait,” he said. “With everything that has changed the past couple of months, it’s been an interesting transition. But this is a big year for me and I’m excited to get it going.”