Michael Wang is no stranger to difficult competition.
The Penn basketball freshman has played on a variety of stages across the world in his young career, gaining valuable experience each and every step of the way.
Wang moved to California from China as a 14-year-old, competing for Mater Dei High School for four seasons. The team posted an impressive 112-20 record over that span, and Wang earned first team All-Section honors his senior year.
Additionally, he played high-level AAU in the offseason, and competed for China in the FIBA U18 Asian Championship in Thailand this past summer.
These experiences all helped prepare Wang for the transition to college basketball at Penn.
“My high school played a similar way as here, and this summer I played for the junior national team in China and we played similar styles of basketball,” he said.
Wang is the highest rated recruit so far of coach Steve Donahue’s tenure at Penn, and that pedigree has shown so far in the preseason. Wang has been a standout performer, displaying his immense talent frequently in practices and scrimmages.
“He has a feel for the game that you just can’t teach, particularly on the offensive end,” Donahue said. “He makes two or three [passes] a day where you go, ‘I didn’t see that one coming.’ He slows down and is poised when the game speeds up.”
Those skills largely stem from Wang’s natural talent, but, according to Donahue, they are also a product of his commitment and passion for the game.
“He’s just a sponge in terms of wanting to learn about the game and also picks it up so fast,” Donahue said. “He picks up exactly what I’m talking about at all five positions, which is rare.”
Although Wang has excelled in many areas so far in the preseason, there are still some improvements that he needs to make before receiving significant playing time.
“He’s an inconsistent shooter right now, and he should be a great shooter because he doesn’t do anything mechanical that’s wrong,” Donahue said. “He has a real ways to go like most freshmen on the defensive end. I’m trying to push that along because I think that if we get that he could really help us on the other end.”
A large part of Wang’s challenge on defense is a position change. He mostly had experience playing power forward in high school, but at Penn he will likely be expected to play small forward, which will force him to guard a different type of player.
“I think the hardest part for me right now is being able to guard guys who are smaller than me because they move faster,” Wang said.
As Wang adapts to a new environment at Penn, other freshmen are also preparing to start their college basketball careers for the Red and Blue. Here are the other first-year players who are hoping to make an impact on the team this year:
One of the biggest question marks facing Penn basketball this year is the point guard position. With Darnell Foreman gone, multiple Quakers will likely have to step up to pick up the slack. Freshman Bryce Washington figures to be one of those key players.
“He has been very steady,” Donahue said. “He’s a really good competitor, plays a really good feel, has shot the ball very well, has a chance to be an elite defender in this league.”
Washington’s transition to college basketball has not been easy, but he has gotten great support every step of the way.
“It has definitely been a lot to learn but nothing I’m not enjoying,” Washington said. “It has been great connecting with my teammates and learning from my coaches. They’ve all been very supportive to me and I can feel myself getting better each and every day.”
Ryan had a long list of athletic accomplishments in high school that he hopes to parlay into a successful college career. The guard led New Trier High School in Illinois conference and regional basketball titles his senior year.
However, that wasn’t the only sport in which Ryan excelled. He also helped his school win conference championships in baseball and football. A continuation of those winning ways into college would be very beneficial for the Quakers this year.
Michael Wang isn’t the only Penn freshman going through a position change with the Quakers. Alex Imegwu is currently dealing with that fate as well.
“Playing multiple positions in high school, we’ll probably ask him to be more of a straight perimeter guy,” Donahue said. “He’s going to have to continue to get better on defense guarding different positions, but he’s a confident shooter, he plays hard, he rebounds, and he has a pretty good feel for the game.”
Like Washington, Imegwu has immediately felt at home on the team.
“It’s been great,” he said. “The team’s been really welcoming. It’s really a family already.”
And Wang, Washington, Ryan, and Imegwu are the future of that family.
For more about the upcoming season, check out the project page for the 2018-2019 Penn basketball preview.