NIL collective Happy Valley United hosted an intimate dinner for Penn State basketball supporters at the We Are Inn in Philipsburg on Tuesday night.
PHILIPSBURG, Pa. — When D'Marco Dunn looked into the stands at Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon, the Penn State basketball guard was surprised to see the number of Nittany Lions fans dressed in white. Dunn didn’t expect many local fans to make the trip, especially for a noon tip.
On Tuesday night, Dunn was in the same room with those types of fans. Penn State name, image and likeness collective Happy Valley United hosted an intimate dinner for NIL supporters at the We Are Inn in Philipsburg, Pa. Dunn and the Nittany Lions got to sit at a table and share a meal with some of their top supporters, fostering even more of a connection.
“It's been great,” Dunn told Lions247. “Ever since I've been at Penn State, we've done more of these than I've ever been a part of before, so it was good to see the people who's behind all the support and behind the fan base. It's good to finally connect with them, and put a face to a name.”
Penn State coach Mike Rhoades was also in attendance, and he sat with Jim Galanti and Landon Tengwall for an interview on the Keystone Sports Network. Guard Kanye Clary and guard/forward Puff Johnson also did live interviews with Tengwall and Galanti.
Assistant to the head coach Joe Crispin was a guest, while Pat Flannery, Rhoades’ former coach at Lebanon Valley College, worked the room as the general manager for More To Give, the basketball-specific club under the Happy Valley United umbrella.
The Penn State players drew raffle tickets, posed for pictures and interacted with the fans for about two hours.
“It's great to see that we actually have a lot of fans that care,” guard RayQuawndis Mitchell told Lions247. “I’ve never really been in a program where they follow you everywhere, so I think that's really big, seeing different fans come from all over just to see you play. I think that's huge, honestly.”
Dunn called the Penn State basketball fan base “very passionate” and “very loyal,” and those fans helped provide an “unexpected boost” in the Nittany Lions’ one-point overtime loss to Georgia Tech last weekend.
We Are Inn owner Pat Romano expressed a desire to help all 31 Penn State athletics teams. When addressing the room, Rhoades said the night was “beyond what we expected” and “special.”
Mitchell believes that NIL is something unique that can have a positive impact on the lives of players and those around them.
“I think it's like a gateway for a lot of people that's less fortunate to kind of get an opportunity that people don't really necessarily have in the first place,” Mitchell said. “I think it's a good thing to have NIL, and I think events like this are a really good stepping stone for things to make it better in the future as well.
“It'll help my family, in general, honestly. Like me, personally, I don't really care about what I have, but making sure my family and kind of being able — I know I can't repay my mom back for all the years that I've been, but just being able to give her back a little something every now and then is something great. I think that definitely played a huge part in it.”
Flannery is the former longtime coach at Bucknell who also worked in development at the university following his retirement. He joined Happy Valley United in November, and the collective has worked to put itself in a position to be a quality tool for Rhoades and the program.
When Flannery began working in development for Bucknell, he was taught that it wasn’t about asking for things. It was about fostering relationships, and then that could lead to giving. Flannery has worked to apply that lesson when it comes to NIL and Penn State basketball.
“This is what Coach Rhodes is about, and this is what I'm about,” Flannery told Lions247. “I would never ask anybody to help with anything until they get to know us, get to know the kids, get to know the program, and realize that their support is going to change the trajectory of what the program is about. So in development, it's all about relationships. It's all about meeting people and listening, finding out what they're doing, and in the kids' case, it will never change. We are going to continue to find them jobs, get them financial counseling, get their families up here to see games, find ways to make their experience whole.”
The one constant with NIL since its advent in July 2021 is that it has been constantly changing. The landscape then is much different than the one now. The approach for many colleges, including Penn State, has had to evolve in the intervening years. One thing that is clear, though, is that robust NIL is important for both talent acquisition and talent retention.
Penn State basketball and Happy Valley United are both working to make it sustainable. They believe there is support that they can draw from, and whether it was in Manhattan on Saturday or Philipsburg on Tuesday, it’s been on display recently.
“It's a big fan base, a large alumni network, so people want to give back to the people that are currently at Penn State,” Dunn said. “There's a lot of NIL opportunities, for sure.”