New Penn State basketball coach Micah Shrewsberry already has assembled a good coaching staff, has helped convince two of the program’s most important players to stay and has added two big pieces from the transfer portal.
There was a lot of concern a couple of months ago that the Nittany Lions could be in for a rough season in 2021-22, no matter who the new coach would be, because of mass transfers leading to a severely depleted roster. But with so many things that have gone well during Shrewsberry’s first month on the job, we now can look at the possibility that PSU basketball may not actually fall off at all next season, and in fact could be even better.
Shrewsberry answered questions about that and other important topics during an appearance on “Sports Central with Cory Giger” on Monday. You can listen to the podcast here, but following is the detailed Q&A so you can read Shrewsberry’s commments on numerous pressing issues.
Q: What has the last month been like for you since arriving in State College, getting everything situated while dealing with roster concerns, coaching staff and other things?
A: It’s been quite the experience. Every time you’re an assistant coach and you go to these seminars at the Final Four or coaching clinics that you go to, people tell you to have down your 30-day plan, your first 60 day-plan, 90-day plan, things you want to get done when you get a job. You write all that down, you think you’re prepared for everything, and then you take the job and it feels like you’re dinking out of a fire hydrant. There’s so much just coming at you in a hurry.
Q: Did they say in the seminars that you’d take a job and six players would be in the transfer portal? Did that ever come up?
A: That wasn’t a part of it. There’s no manual. I’ve been looking for it. Maybe it’s under the desk. Maybe it’s holding up one of these chairs that’s wobbly. There’s no manual for COVID, and there’s no manual for the transfer portal. You just kind of have to deal with it as you go. The one thing you can’t do is you can’t panic. You can’t stress out over everything. You’ve just got to go with the flow, continue to stay with the plan, get stuff done as much as you can.
Coach (Matt) Painter’s been helpful. I swear there was a time period where I called him for five straight days, and on day five, I said, Coach, I swear I’m not gonna call you every day. But he was helpful in my transition and just giving me different ways and different ideas of how to help slow things down. But it’s getting manageable right now.
Q: You got John Harrar and Seth Lundy back from the transfer portal. How big was it to get both of those guys back?
A: It was really big. It was really big. Each of their decisions, they took the time to really think about it, and they didn’t rush anything. I’ve talked to a lot of people around them, I had a lot of conversations with them, and I wanted them to really think about what was the most important things to them. It turned out that those things, a big part of it was Penn State. Those guys, they love Penn State, and they love being here and they love being a part of this campus, this community, and I think that they can be a big part of this program.
I was thrilled to get those guys and really excited, not just for our program, but excited for them to be able to continue something, be a part of something and really put their stamp on this program going forward.
Q: Izaiah Brockington announced that he was going to come back and then changed course and entered the transfer portal for a second time, which surprised a lot of people. Is there any insight or information you can give us about that situation?
A: Without divulging into all details, he was really good while he was here. We had good conversations. He was working out with our group, and I felt like he was getting better. We were putting a lot of time into him getting better. He enjoyed it here. The last day he was here he had unbelievable energy. But he kind of made the decision that he wanted to look at other things, and I told him I wanted him to be happy.
That’s the most important thing. Because you want to make a decision, you want to be two feet in. If you’re not, there’s a chance to second guess things. This would be the decision that’s best for him, and I support him 100 percent. Because at the end of the day, if a guy’s not 100 percent two feet in and he’s not completely happy, then it’s probably not gonna work out for anybody. So, I support him. I hope he finds a great place, and I’ll root for him in whatever happens, whatever spot he ends up in.
Q: The transfer portal works both ways. I know you can’t speak specifically about these particular guys, but a couple of players did commit to Penn State over the weekend — very good players, a couple of guards (Jaheam Cornwall from Gardner-Webb and Jalen Pickett from Siena). How happy are you with the work that you guys have been able to do in the portal yourself?
A: We’re pretty pleased with it. It’s a full staff effort. I’m excited about the staff that we’ve put together, and I’m excited about the work that they’re doing. They’re working long hours in transition, and they’re back and forth a little bit now between being on campus and being home with their families and everything else. But they’re really diving in to making Penn State a better place.
I think we got better this weekend, and we’re excited about what comes next and being able to sell guys to future recruits and everything else. We feel good about the direction we’re going.
Obviously getting guys is great, but we don’t want to overlook the Myles Dreads. We don’t want to overlook Sam Sessoms, Dallion Johnson, Caleb Dorsey, DJ Gordon, Abdou Tsimbila, those guys that have stayed committed and been two feet in this entire time and have really worked hard this spring. We’re excited about the future and who we’re bringing in, but I’m excited about those guys and their commitment to being here and their commitment to staying with Penn State and wanting to kind of see it through.
Q: There was concern after last year that if all these players left, Penn State could really struggle in year one under any new coach. How good do you feel about the roster that you’ve already got and the roster that you can get to make you think you’ll be competitive in year one in the Big Ten.
A: I think we still need to continue to add pieces to this team. But we’ve got some proven players. When you think about a John Harrar, when you think about a Myles Dread, a Seth Lundy, a Sam Sessoms, guys that have played in this league, that have experience in this league, that have put up good numbers in this league, you feel good about it and the experience factor. If we continue to add really good pieces and fit these pieces together … We’ve taken our time in the transfer portal, and I don’t think you can take just anybody if they’re not a good fit.
So we’re trying to find good fits for us and good fits for who we have on our roster and good fits for Penn State. We want guys that this community can rally around, that this alumni base can rally around, and I think those are the kind of guys that we’re looking for and finding. And when you have that built in, that’s gonna give us a chance to compete. I keep telling these guys that we’re recruiting, I didn’t come here to rebuild this for a long time. We want to be competitive right away. And it’s a challenge.
This is a really good league. But if we continue to play hard, we continue to play the right way each game, we’ll give ourselves a chance. And when you’re giving yourself a chance in this league, if we don’t beat ourselves, we want to make it really hard for other people to beat us. So, we’re putting this thing together to try and compete this year. But we need to continue to add good pieces, we need to continue to get the support from this community and the alumni because it’s gonna be a challenge. But if everybody’s with us, if everybody’s rolling in the right direction, we can be competitive.
Q: What do you think Penn State basketball can be? It’s a program that has not made a ton of NCAA Tournaments over the years. What can this program be, and how do you get there?
A: I just look across campus and see what everybody else is doing. I see everybody else having success. I see everybody else competing in this league. I see everybody else going to the NCAA Tournaments and celebrating that. That’s who we want to be. It’s a challenge. This is the best conference in America. Each and every night it’s hard. But if you put a program together to have consistent success in this league, you’re gonna find yourself being an NCAA Tournament team. And that’s our goal. That’s what we want to do, that’s who we want to be.
But we have to find guys that fit us, that care about academics, that care about graduating, that care about their player development and they want to get better, that have aspirations to play after college. We want all those guys, and we want to funnel it to play great team basketball, to play together, to play the right way, to share the ball, to really defend people. We want to be one of the hardest-playing teams in our league, and that’s a testament to things that Coach Chambers’ teams did, Coach Ferry’s team from last year. These guys played as hard as possible, and it gave them a chance to win.
Now, if we can channel that each and every night and when people look when the game’s over and say that’s what Penn State basketball is, we want that identity. How we play offensively and defensively along with playing really hard, we want people to leave the Bryce Jordan and say, we just watched Penn State basketball, because it’s consistent, they’re gonna fight every single night and they’re gonna play a fun brand. That’s who we want to be. We also need to show that to these recruits so we can continue to have good class after good class after good class to constantly have the right players and constantly have the right depth.