NBA future? 6 things to know about Evan Mahaffey's transfer from Penn State to Ohio State

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch

Carl Kremer has seen a lot in his 39 years at Cincinnati Moeller. A teacher who became principal and has been the boys’ basketball coach for more than three decades, he’s recently seen two Crusaders make their way from their high school gym to the bright lights of the NBA.

In the last four years alone, Jaxson Hayes and Miles McBride have gone from Moeller to Atlanta and Oklahoma City, respectively. Hayes was the No. 8 overall pick in the 2019 draft while McBride was taken in the second round at No. 36 overall two years later.

In Kremer’s eyes, there could be another Moeller alumnus to eventually get there before long – Evan Mahaffey, a Penn State transfer who committed to Ohio State on Wednesday with three years of eligibility remaining.

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“We’ve had two guys recently go in the NBA, Jaxon and Miles, and I said I do think Evan’s a kid that could be our third,” Kremer told The Dispatch. “I think you guys (at Ohio State) will see it: he’s just gonna keep getting better. He’s got such great upside and it really comes from his versatility.

“It’s his versatility, both on offense and defense, that make him stand out. He’s kind of the prototype NBA guy, really. I truly believe he has a shot. He may have the intangibles that get him over the top.”

On paper, Mahaffey’s statistics from his year at Penn State aren’t necessarily much to write home about. Mahaffey played in 34 of 37 games for the Nittany Lions, averaging 2.8 points and 1.7 rebounds in an average of 9.4 minutes per game. He hit on multiple field goals in 10 games with a career-high of 12 points coming in a 19-point home win against Indiana on Jan. 11. It was his only double-digit scoring game of the year.

But if you talk to those who know Mahaffey and his game, they will tell you that he’s just scratching the surface and that he’s got the right attitude to improve significantly.

“I know Evan’s gonna be successful at basketball,” Kremer said. “People are just going to like him so much as a person. He really is a quality guy. I still have teachers come up to me and say, ‘Man, what a great kid Evan was.’ He’s going to represent that university really, really well.”

Here are five more thoughts on Mahaffey and his commitment to Ohio State.

Where will Evan Mahaffey fit into Ohio State’s rotation?

A wing at Penn State, Mahaffey will likely see time both at small and power forward while occupying minutes not taken by incoming freshmen Scotty Middleton and Devin Royal. The two first-year players, alongside fifth-year Minnesota transfer Jamison Battle, are expected to handle the majority of the minutes at the forward positions.

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Mahaffey will help out there as well.

“I think they see me as a playmaker but being able to do multiple things,” he said. “Being able to defend multiple positions is a big part to being able to come and make an impact right away. That’s a big thing I was looking for as well. Being able to develop and get to where I know my game can get and then eventually help them get to a Final Four; a national championship really is the thing we’re looking for and really excited about. Big Ten championships and all that, yes sir.

“They have really, really good players coming back and really good young talent, too, where I think I could fit in.”

As Mahaffey said, he also could see some time in the backcourt in a pinch. Kremer said Mahaffey’s most natural position is point guard.

“He’s got incredible length, size and he’s got point guard ball skills,” the coach said. “He can really handle the ball and pass the ball. There’s no question in my mind he’s got the skill set to do that.”

Feb. 23, 2023; Columbus, Ohio, USA; 
Ohio State Buckeyes forward Brice Sensabaugh (10) grabs a rebound away from Penn State Nittany Lions guard Evan Mahaffey (12) during Thursday's basketball game at Value City Arena.
Mandatory Credit: Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch

Development was a driving factor in his commitment to Ohio State

A coaching change helped to send Mahaffey into the transfer portal, but it was belief in where his game can grow that primarily led him to pick the Buckeyes.

“Ohio State, I really like their system,” he said. “I like what they do developing players. That’s a big part of my future, my development, and getting to that next step, next phase of my game. I feel like I can do that very well at Ohio State. If you look at the players that have gone through and the players they’ve put in the league, just how much better the players get throughout the years, I feel like you see a common pattern.”

His jumper might be the missing piece

There isn’t much of a body of work from his lone season at Penn State, but only 12 of Mahaffey’s 65 shots came from 3-point range. He hit four of them for a 33.3% shooting percentage, but he wasn’t a prolific 3-point shooter in high school, either. As a senior at Moeller, Mahaffey was 6 for 11 (54.5%) from 3 in 24 games. The year prior, he was 3 for 10 (30.0%) as a junior in 2020-21.

That adds up to a mark of 13 for 33 (39.4%) during his last 81 games. In order to help space the floor and create more opportunities to drive, Mahaffey has to be counted on to shoot a higher volume with more accuracy.

Penn State guard Evan Mahaffey (12) dunks the ball in the first half of a first-round college basketball game against Texas A&M in the NCAA Tournament, Thursday, March 16, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Mahaffey said he’s working on his confidence during the offseason through repetition.

“I think I’m making really good strides right now,” he said. “Throughout the season it’s hard to change a lot of things about your mechanics when you’re playing, but this time I’ve had off, it’s constantly getting reps, it’s breaking my shot down to make sure it’s the same rhythm every time. I feel like I’m in a really good spot with my shot. I think the biggest thing is the confidence piece.

“I feel like I have a really good shot, my form is pretty, but the confidence piece to understand not everyone makes every shot. The confidence to shoot it when I’m open and knock it down, really.”

Evan Mahaffey continues Ohio State’s trend of Big Ten transfers

Since the 2017-18 season, nine players have transferred from one Big Ten school to another. Of those nine, five of them have transferred to Ohio State: Andrew Dakich (from Michigan), Jamari Wheeler (Penn State), Joey Brunk (Indiana), Battle (Minnesota) and now Mahaffey.

No other school has more than one transfer in within the league. Wisconsin landed Micah Potter from Ohio State, Indiana signed Miller Kopp from Northwestern, Nebraska has signed Tyler Ulis from Iowa and Maryland has signed Jordan Geronimo from Indiana.

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Asked if it was weird to be staying within the league, Mahaffey said, “I think it definitely is a little, but it’s part of the game nowadays. I think it’s fun: I know the league too, which is good. I know it’s going to be weird coming back to State College, but it’s all love here. I loved it up here and had a great experience up here but I needed something a little different basketball-wise.”

It wasn’t easy to decide to leave Penn State and new coach Mike Rhoades, he said.

“I think coach Rhoades and them are going to do a really good job here,” Mahaffey said. “It was a lot harder than people thought it was because I know the rivalry behind these two schools. I loved it up here. I loved the campus. I loved the freshman class I came in with. They’re like my brothers, so it’s hard to leave that, but sometimes you’ve got to get out of your comfort zone and make those decisions so that you can continue to chase your dreams.”

This closes the door on further additions like Bronny James

Ohio State fans holding out flickering hope that the Buckeyes could still be adding 2023 guard Bronny James to the roster should be able to finally snuff out those candles. Although there has been legitimate interest on both sides, Ohio State’s roster construction and youthful backcourt always made it a longshot at best that James would play a role significant enough for the Buckeyes to position him as an NBA one-and-done player.

Sep 3, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; LeBron James and his son Bronny James before the NCAA football game between Ohio State Buckeyes and Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Robertson-USA TODAY Sports

Now, with Mahaffey’s addition, the Buckeyes have 13 players under scholarship for next season. His addition also bolsters Ohio State’s commitment to a youthful core led by second-year players Bruce Thornton, Roddy Gayle Jr. and Felix Okpara and incoming first-year additions Taison Chatman, Scotty Middleton and Devin Royal alongside veterans Zed Key, Battle and sixth-year Baylor transfer guard Dale Bonner.

The Buckeyes were always unlikely to make an addition that would compromise the development of those younger players. Mahaffey’s addition fits with those plans.


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