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Shrewsberry: ‘Nothing within my journey has been sexy’

Micah Shrewsberry

An underdog throughout his own basketball career, Micah Shrewsberry wants Penn State men’s basketball to embrace the underdog role as it strives for the long sought-after goal of enjoying and sustaining success.

“Everything you dream of, Penn State is to me,” Shrewsberry said during his introductory press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Shrewsberry didn’t play Division I basketball; he played at the DIII level.

He’s never been a Division I head coach before now; he coached at the NAIA level, where he had to do all the laundry.

He’s been told no an awful lot in his career.

Until Penn State finally said yes to him.

“One of my dear friends with the Celtics, we had a lot of talks in the last few years as jobs have opened and closed, and I was still an assistant with the Boston Celtics. Jobs opened and closed, and I was still associate head coach at Purdue,” Shrewsberry recalled.

“You have a lot of long hours, long conversations, and he told me — and I’ll never forget this — to be thankful for your no’s. Be thankful for the no’s in life that you’ve gotten, because something greater is waiting, and there’s something greater around the corner. And I’m forever thankful for the people that did say no to me. I’m not gonna forget who said no. That’s the chip on my shoulder, underdog mentality.

“I won’t forget who said no, but I’m thankful for that. Because something greater was right around the corner, and that something greater is Penn State University and this basketball program.”

The underdog theme came up a good bit during Shrewsberry’s press conference, and he certainly is taking on a job with an underdog program. Penn State has enjoyed little success in college basketball on a national scale — with only six NCAA Tournament appearances (or earned bids, such as 2020) since 1965 — but at every turn, people in the administration have said they are committed to having more success.

Athletic director Sandy Barbour, in introducing Shrewsberry on Tuesday, talked about finding the right leader who could help Penn State “compete successfully, year in and year out, in the Big Ten.”

That’s a lofty goal, given PSU’s history.

So, how does Shrewsberry expect to make that happen? That’s what I asked him Tuesday, and this was his response:

“I think it starts with the guys in your locker room first — building the character and culture of the program. They’re your best recruiters, and the guys in your locker room, if you’re giving them everything that you have every single day, they’re going to attract more people like that, they’re going to attract more people to your program. We’re recruiting the right guys. Like I said, it’s got to be the fit. The fit is the most important thing. I don’t think you can go for the quick fix sometimes, or what’s easy, or what is attractive. You need to do what’s best for your program, and that’s what I’m gonna do, that’s gonna be my goal in who we bring into our locker room.”

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That was the personnel stuff, then Shrewsberry added what the team will need to do on the court night in and night out to be successful. This is a good answer and somewhat revealing, because Shrewsberry is known as an offensive coach, yet he wants to build the program around strong defense.

“We have to be a great defensive team,” he said. “To have a chance in the Big Ten 10, you have to be one of the top defensive teams in our league. If you go back and look through the stats. I want to say the top seven teams on the defensive side of the ball were all teams that made the (NCAA) Tournament. And there was an eighth team that snuck in there and then nine went to the NCAA Tournament.

“If you watch the teams that are playing right now that are left in the Elite 8, they’re all elite defensive teams. Unless you’re Gonzaga and you’re an elite offensive team. But you have to have a defensive mindset, and that’s how you win in this league. … If we’re consistent in that area, we’re giving ourselves a chance every night, whether the ball goes in or not and we give ourselves a chance to win. And if you do that, you can stay consistent within this league.”

Some notes from the press conference

**Shrewsberry was asked about the transfer portal and called this “a unique time in college basketball.” Penn State still has five players in the portal — one, Izaiah Brockington, has announced he’s staying at PSU — and Shrewsberry once again said he has talked to those players and wants them all back.

“I’ve talked to every single one of the guys that have entered, and we are actively trying to get them back. We’re talking about them, we’re talking to them, we’re having conversations, face to face, over Zoom, on FaceTime. But we are actively recruiting, as well,” the coach said.

“My goal is is to have a great team in place when it’s time to tip off next season. And that’s what we’re going to do. That’s what we’re striving to do. There are a lot of great players that are out there, but we want our own. We also want guys that are two feet in for Penn State, that bleed Penn State, that believe in this, that believe in our vision. When we have that group, we’re going to have a special group and we’re going to do some fun things together.

**Shrewsberry decided to stay with Purdue during its NCAA Tournament run as opposed to coming to PSU early. It did help that the Boilermakers were eliminated in the first round, which sped up his timetable to get to Penn State. Still, by the time he arrived, the six players had already entered the transfer portal.

“It was a really difficult decision,” Shrewsberry said. “But I owe a lot in my career to Matt Painter, and my goal was to help him try and get to a Final Four when I left there.

He added, “My loyalty to him, my loyalty to those players, it made it an easy decision for me to stay. I had great support from (the PSU administration), they really backed my decision to stay. And I felt like I owed it to that team, that group of guys.”

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Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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