By Rick Henneman
Braun Hartfield came to Youngstown State University after making state playoff runs in back-to-back seasons with two different high school basketball teams in the Cleveland area. He was an all-conference player at the high school level and drew interest from schools like Ball State University and Canisius College.
Hartfield made his decision to commit to the Penguins just two days after he first stepped foot on YSU’s campus.
“The coaches made a good impression on me,” Hartfield said. “It’s close to home and I thought it was a great school for me.”
He also said his family has been able to make it to almost every home game this season
Hartfield played with other college caliber athletes in high school but early in his freshman season this year he played against Ohio State and Michigan State.
“It’s very different,” Hartfield said about the change from high school to college. “Playing 30 plus games is way more than high school. It takes a toll on your body. You are going against guys that are sometimes four years older than you and you gotta stay strong mentally.”
The 6’6” guard was named Horizon League Freshman of the Week after having impressive performances against the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay in December.
“I actually found out from my recruiter,” Hartfield said. “He texted me a picture of myself and it was a pretty nice picture. I was happy because I knew I worked hard to get in that position and to see it finally pay off was great.”
Hartfield has started 10 of the last 11 games for the Penguins despite starting the season on the bench. He is averaging 10.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game in conference games this season. He isn’t surprised by his impact on the team.
“Coming in I knew what I could do and what the team needed,” he said. “I just went at it and gave it everything I had. I try to help whenever I am needed.”
While he is happy with his offensive production, Hartfield has preferred the part of his game that isn’t always present on the stat sheet; defense.
“I take pride in my defense,” he said, “It’s what I work on the most. It’s a trait that you earn and you get it from working hard.”
It is becoming more common that athletes hit a production slump during their first season at a higher level. This is known as a freshman or rookie “wall”. After having an impressive four game stretch in January, Hartfield seemed to have hit his wall during games against Cleveland State University and Oakland University.
YSU head coach Jerry Slocum said that he and Hartfield had a talk after the Oakland game about keeping focused throughout the grind of the season.
“He told me to stay calm and do what I do best,” Hartfield said about the meeting. “He challenged me to play my best and I accepted his challenge.”
Hartfield recorded his first career double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds in the following game after that talk against the University of Detroit Mercy.
The Horizon League Tournament begins next week and while the Penguins could be entering Motor City Madness towards the bottom of the pack, Hartfield is looking forward to the experience. He believes that YSU can make a run.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “It’s my first experience at something like that. I heard it’s a pretty good arena and that the crowd is lovely. We need to come together and say that we will make a run at this thing.”
Hartfield said that they need to play for the seniors and see what they can do.
Slocum also said Hartfield has done just what the staff has asked of him and that is great for the team.