Article written by Ryan McNamara. Photo by Ryan McNamara.


Head Coach Quincy Henderson’s line-ups have had a freshmen-focused approach for the 2023-24 season, which is hard to avoid considering St. Cloud State’s eight-man 2023 freshman class, the largest for the program in 63 years. The big moments came early and often for the rookies on St. Cloud State’s men’s basketball’s roster.   

Six freshmen received playing time this season and they all started at least four games (Izaac Neal and Nathan Bunkosky both redshirted). Three of the six started in every conference game, Ramlall, Morgan, and Vance Pieffer. While relying on freshmen so heavily wasn’t in the cards initially, Henderson and Co. have played the hand they were dealt. 

“You’ve got, you know, stats that back up decisions that you’re making. And that’s really the evolution of how we kind of got to this point, really following the numbers and practice too,” Henderson said on their freshmen usage rate, “As that data comes through, you see it with your own eyes, you can make your determination on what fits best and what puts us in the best chance to be successful.” 

The statistics show that SCSU’s freshmen group is worth building around. This season, freshmen accounted for 64.1% of the team’s per game scoring in 65.3% of the team’s per game minutes played. In nine of their 12 wins, a freshman led the team in scoring. For most late game stretches in the final two months, the Huskies’ closing lineup consisted of five freshmen. While allowing this group more control in the offense translated to more wins (4-4 record in final eight regular season games), the trust that is established from coach-to-player and player-to-player sets the program up for future success. 

“Quincy putting us in these positions will really help us later in our collegiate career,” Morgan said, “We’ve all proved at different times that we can step up in big moments and play our role, and against good teams as well, so that helped build trust more.” 

Morgan represents a roster-wide acceptance of Henderson’s team mantra, “Service Over Self,” a process that includes being “fully committed and down for the cause.” Each of the freshmen found their role as the season went along, some quicker than others.  

Starting from the first week of the season, Ramlall was inserted into the starting lineup. While the coaching staff saw that the Rosemount, Minnesota native had a chance to be impactful from the jump, Ramlall knew that nothing is guaranteed.  

“Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect coming in… as the season progressed and the preseason games happened, I slowly found myself really fitting in. On the first day, when we did scout [practice] for our first game, I saw myself on there and Quincy called me out there and I was really surprised, but I embraced the opportunity,” Ramlall said. 

Embraced is an understatement. The 6-foot-2 guard led the team in scoring until early December and played a key role on the perimeter (he led the team in three pointers made per game) throughout his team high 27 starts.  

Alongside Ramlall in the starting lineup on the first weekend was Pieffer, a Waukee, Iowa native. A constant in the paint, the 6-foot-7 forward asserted himself as a tough interior threat. While he may not have shown up extensively on the stat sheet (5.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG in 20.1 MPG), his five-game absence from December 2nd to December 18th demonstrated his impact. The Huskies went just 1-4 in that stretch, giving up 79.4 points per game (71.9 OPPG with Pieffer in the lineup). 

While not in the starting lineup initially, Morgan, the fourth Australian to play for St. Cloud State in the last four seasons, made his impact across the board as soon as he stepped on court. He, quite literally, did everything. By game four, he cracked the starting lineup and never relinquished his spot. For the 2023-24 season, the 6-foot-4 guard posted top-three marks in points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks for St. Cloud State. Whether it was a crucial stop, rebound, or steal, Morgan made it happen. 

“He’s a ferocious competitor, he’s a tough kid, and he loves basketball,” Henderson said about Morgan, “If you have those things, this is a good place for you, because you’ll probably excel.” 

When Ramlall went down with a mouth injury in late January, Henderson called on another freshman guard: Dahl, one of three Buffalo, Minnesota natives on St. Cloud State’s roster. Dahl pulled down a career-high nine rebounds and shot 8-for-8 at the free throw line in his first career start against Winona State on January 27th  

Before the start, which was one of four made by Dahl this season, he had scrapped for minutes with his ability to attack the boards and play relentless defense. By mid-January, he was making lineup decisions more difficult for Quincy Henderson and his staff. 

“He got reps, reps, reps in practice and he continued to get better, and better, and better and finally we said, ‘let’s get him into games now’,” Henderson said, “He’s proven it and been consistent over a period of time, and he’s run with it.”  

Now, possibly the biggest lineup turning point came on February 1st, where fifth year forward Luke Taylor was moved to the bench in favor of Hawks, a White Bear Lake, Minnesota native. Up until that point, Taylor had been the lone constant in a turnstile starting lineup over the past two seasons, starting every game since December 11th, 2021. 

Wyatt Hawks had carved out a meaningful role off the bench through the first 20 games, but he didn’t show up consistently until later in the season. His nine-straight starts to close the season displayed a glass-crashing interior option the Huskies hadn’t had consistently in Henderson’s two seasons. In his final nine games, The 6-foot-7 forward averaged 7.9 PPG (53.1 FG%) and 7.6 RPG (2.6 ORPG) in 24.4 MPG.  

The growth spurt didn’t happen overnight, and it was the gradual growth he showed that earned him the opportunity.  

“There wasn’t one game where it was like, ‘Oh, Wyatt had 12 points, or 15 points, now he’s ready…’” Henderson said, “He was showing up consistently in practice doing the work, and he was getting better… When we know what you’re going to do when you’re on the floor, we can put you out there and be confident that we can have a game plan.” 

If consistency is brought up, it’d be a mistake to not mention Jamiir Allen. With an innate ability to find driving lanes, the 5-foot-11 guard led the Huskies in scoring (10.2 PPG) over 29 games. Allen brought that scoring pop and a defensive intensity off the bench for St. Cloud State and quickly asserted himself as the sixth man, cracking into the starting lineup late in the season. He flashed an all-around ability in a seven-game stretch from December 16th to January 13th, averaging 14.4 points and 1.9 steals with a 56.0 true shooting percentage. 

Oddly enough, the leading scorer was the last active freshman to crack the starting lineup. He entered the starting five on February 8th versus the University of Mary, a game the Huskies would win handily, 75-61. The 23-game wait wasn’t purposeful, conversely, it was the culmination of season’s process, seeing the growth of this group of six freshmen. And it was before those 23 games where we saw the foundation of that trust being built: in preseason workouts. 

Most young athletes would be hesitant to join a team so equally young. Look at some of the downsides: inexperience, increased jockeying for position, and in most cases, learning equals losing. But these eight freshmen that stepped on to the St. Cloud State campus are committed to more than just one season, they’re committed to building a foundation. That starts with a simple piece: sticking around. 

“We just kind of needed a base of guys to build from,” Henderson said on the recruiting process for this past offseason, “and I always say the longer you can have kids on [the] roster the better off you are… I really want consistency in the roster year-over-year, that’s really what I’m chasing.” 

The proverbial cement in this foundation-building process? That was set before the season tipped off. The freshmen initially got to know each other during the team’s summer conditioning camp. Eight guys, one college campus. An opportunity many ‘older folks’ wish they could experience, according to Henderson. 

The freshmen confirmed Henderson’s assumption.  

“A big thing that helps is we all live in the same dorm, so we’re always together doing stuff. Whether it’s going to class, going to Garvey [Commons], we’re always hanging out,” Hawks said on the closeness of the eight freshmen, “and then when we come on court, it’s kind of the same experience for all of us, the first year of college, we just really banded together to learn how to play college basketball.” 

To Henderson, the ‘chemistry piece’ is the most valuable attribute on great teams. For these young players, it might be the attribute that comes the easiest.  

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