INDIANAPOLIS — When Penn State men’s basketball coach Micah Shrewsberry was officially named the 14th coach in the Nittany Lions’ history, Purdue coach Matt Painter didn’t have any words of wisdom to offer his soon-to-be former assistant.
After spending the past two seasons working together in West Lafayette, the Boilermakers’ head man could see that Shrewsberry didn’t need any extra advice.
“I didn’t tell him anything,” Painter said with a smile at Big Ten media day. “He understands and he knows. When you’re in the NBA for six years, coached in two Final Fours, been in the Big Ten for four years, he’s ready. I can promise you that.”
Painter would offer Shrewsberry plenty of advice once the latter arrived in University Park and asked for it, but it would be far too simplistic to call the Nittany Lions Purdue East. Shrewsberry certainly plans to use the things he’s learned from both Painter and former Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, but at the end of the day, Penn State’s season will be done his way.
“I only know how to be myself,” he said. “If you came to our practice, a lot of the stuff we do are all the same, because I’d be a fool to not use the blueprint that Coach Painter used to have success at Purdue. There’s things I’m going to take from him that leads to winning, but I have to do it in my own way, because I can’t be him.
“We’ll do it in our own way. If you find what works and stick with that plan, then you’ll have success.”
One plus is that unlike many new coaches, Shrewsberry isn’t starting from scratch with a team that he knew little about. Spending the past two years on a different Big Ten conference bench and helping prepare Purdue’s scouting reports against Penn State has given him perspective on what the Nittany Lions already did well and where he can make changes.
For example, when it comes to defending the ball, Shrewsberry might be a little more hesitant with making changes to a defense that led the Big Ten in steals a year ago, as opposed to making adjustments on the glass for a group that was dead last in the conference in defensive rebounding.
“I have a frame of reference to talk to them about because I’ve seen them,” he said. “I’ve seen their stats, I’ve studied them and I’ve tried to game plan against them.
“Being in the Big Ten, I understand what it takes to win in this league. Now you take that blueprint and bring it over here to these guys. They played hard every single night (last year) and gave themselves a chance. Now let’s do it with more discipline, let’s do it in a different way, let’s go out here and fight and compete every single night.”
So far, he’s had no trouble finding a receptive ear in his new players. Senior guard Myles Dread said he knew he was going to be a part of Penn State’s program for 2021-22 long before a coach was hired, and working with Shrewsberry has only justified his decision to return.
“Coach Shrewsberry has more experience and knows the game more than almost anybody that I’ve ever met,” Dread said. “He can teach anybody something new about the game of basketball, and that’s what excites me most. I’m really looking forward to going to war with him this season.”
That statement wouldn’t surprise anyone at Purdue. The Boilermakers have both Big Ten and national title aspirations this year, and working with Shrewsberry is a big reason why they feel ready to meet that challenge.
“He’s such a great offensive mind,” said Purdue junior guard Sasha Stefanovic, who averaged 9.3 points per game for the Boilermakers last year. “Learning different ways to score, learning ways to get open looks and making simple plays are things I’ve picked up from him.”
When the teams do meet on Jan. 8 in University Park, it’ll be a battle between two teams that understand each other’s systems well. It’ll also be an experience neither Shrewsberry nor Painter will likely relish, given that both know that they’ll be going up against a friend and a quality basketball mind.
“He was great for us in both stints that he had for us,” Painter said. “He did a great job with our guys and he’s obviously got a wealth of knowledge from being with Brad with the Celtics and then coming over and running our offense the past two years.
“I obviously want what’s best for him. When you’ve got to compete against guys who are your friends, you don’t like it, but it’s one of the necessary evils. He’ll do fantastic at Penn State.”
As luck would have it, the Big Ten schedule didn’t send the Nittany Lions to Mackey Arena, as the matchup at Bryce Jordan Center is the schools’ only meeting in 2021-22. Shrewsberry might be relieved that he’s got a year before he’s got to go back to West Lafayette as the visiting coach, but his players already have that game circled on their calendars for the future — even if they won’t be playing in it.
“I know we don’t play Purdue on the road, but I would love to see Shrews back in Mackey,” Penn State senior-plus forward John Harrar said. “I would love to be there; I might have to fly out for that game.”