Oneonta senior boys basketball player Graham Wooden announced Sunday, March 22, his decision to play collegiate basketball for Mansfield University.
“It was the best opportunity for me,” Wooden said. “I just felt like it was a place where I could get my degree, I’d have the opportunity to play, the campus is beautiful, and that I would thrive there.”
Wooden will receive a partial athletic scholarship as well as some academic scholarship money, according to Mansfield coach John Szentesy.
Located in Mansfield, Pennsylvania, the school plays in NCAA Division II and is a member of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. The Mountaineers are coming off a 6-21 season, and have not had a winning season since 2010-2011.
Szentesy is a 1998 graduate of Mansfield, and returned to the program in 2014 as an assistant coach after serving as a student assistant from 1994-1997. Ahead of his third year in charge after becoming head coach in 2018, Szentesy said that while he was impressed by Wooden’s ability as a player, it was his ability to potentially change the program’s culture that set apart the OHS senior.
“As soon as we saw him, we noticed he had some things you couldn’t really coach,” Szentesy said. “He’s a smart player, a good teammate, he’s a winner, he’s unselfish. He’s the kind of kid you definitely want in your program.”
For Wooden, the opportunity to elevate the program was a draw.
“Talking with the coaches, they are big on culture and changing it. They felt I could change that and it’s important to me because it would be cool if me and a few other guys can go in there and turn things around,” Wooden said. “It’s a small little community and they want to have a team they can really back and have us entertain them.”
Two of Mansfield’s top guards in points per minute will depart due to graduation, leaving Wooden the chance to begin contributing early in his collegiate career.
Szentesy noted the difficulty of making an impact as a freshman, citing size and strength deficits between upperclassmen and underclassmen. And while Szentesy said Wooden was the first to commit from what he expects to be a class of about four to six freshman, he also thought Wooden would be able to compete for playing time, comparing him to departing star Tyler Moffe.
“Graham is a similar player to Tyler. Tyler was more of a scorer and Graham is a little more of a pass-first point guard, but Graham can play on or off the ball and it gives him a little more versatility,” Szentesy said of Wooden, who is 6-foot-0-inches tall and weighs about 160 pounds.
Wooden had surgery on damaged cartilage in his left knee last week, and said he was beginning physical therapy at home when speaking with The Daily Star on Sunday.
“Obviously I’ll have to work really hard and nothing will be given to me, and especially with this surgery, I don’t want to take anything from granted,” Wooden said about the chance to play early on. “But I didn’t want to do all this (rehab) work and not have the opportunity to showcase my talent.”
Wooden also noted noted that Mansfield, which is a little more than two hours from Oneonta, was a good distance from home, and he voiced appreciation for his coaches as well as the Boys & Girls Club and the YMCA.
Wooden will not be able to officially sign for Mansfield until April 15 as the NCAA froze recruiting March 18 in response to the spread of COVID-19.