INDIANAPOLIS —When Penn State forward John Harrar made the decision to return to Happy Valley for his final year, he knew he wanted to learn as much as he could from first-year coach Micah Shrewsberry.
To that end, Harrar secretly started a private Word document where he could write down any pieces of advice from Shrewsberry that he felt he could use beyond his Penn State career. By the end of the season, the document reached four pages, and Harrar had closed his career confident that he’d helped Shrewsberry build the foundation for brighter days for Penn State basketball.
“I’m so happy with my decision of coming back here and being coached by Coach Shrews,” Harrar said. “I mean, I’ve been following him all year. I’m stealing his gritty, not pretty sign. I love that. That’s carrying with me.”
The Nittany Lions’ performance in Indianapolis at the Big Ten tournament made it clear that Harrar was far from the only one to absorb Shrewsberry’s lessons. During his first season in University Park, Shrewsberry took what could have been a tenuous situation and righted the ship, in part by establishing a culture of honesty from the beginning.
In his opening Zoom call with the Nittany Lions, Shrewsberry eschewed the typical coachspeak of a new leader taking over his team, winning the respect of his players in the process
“John was on the Zoom, and I told him I can’t get on that Zoom call and tell you guys, ‘I love you, we’re going to do great and this and that,’” Shrewsberry said. “I don’t even know you; that’s fake, that’s phony, whatever.
“But being here for a year, being able to coach (Harrar), being able to coach Jalen (Pickett), like what they’ve done not just for this week, like the entire season, man, I love these two dudes. I’ll go to war with them any day of the week, and I appreciate everything they’ve done for this program.”
The Nittany Lions’ progress toward the end of the season made it clear that the feeling was mutual. In all three of its games in Indianapolis, Penn State showed poise and discipline down the stretch, making a move at the end of the game to beat both Minnesota and Ohio State.
Only a moment of sheer brilliance from Purdue stopped Penn State from charging into the Big Ten semfinals, as the Nittany Lions more than lived up to the expectations Shrewsberry set for his team at the Big Ten tournament.
“I just want my teams to play as hard as (Purdue),” Shrewsberry said. “I want my teams to play as hard as Michigan State’s teams do. That’s how you honor the Big Ten, and I hope we did that. I hope people that watched this felt that way, that we honored the Big Ten the right way.
“And we’ll be back, we’ll be back. We’re going to keep playing like this. So it’s great to be here. We’re looking forward to coming back again.”
Early indications suggest that the Nittany Lions will do exactly that. Pickett said he’ll return for his free year of eligibility, and Myles Dread and Sam Sessoms have the option to do the same. Plus, Penn State boasts a highly touted recruiting class for 2022-23, suggesting Shrewsberry has the potential for long-term success in University Park.
If the Nittany Lions can sustain their success next year, Purdue coach Matt Painter certainly won’t be surprised.
“They’re a good team,” Painter said. “Trying to piece things together in your first year is really hard to do, especially when everybody is new to you. You can kind of see how he strengthened our program (as an assistant), and Penn State obviously made a great hire. They’re difficult to go against.”
Harrar also expects big things from his now-former teammates, and he’s already making plans for the day that Penn State claims its first Big Ten title.
“I’ll be right behind the bench cheering for him,” Harrar said. “That will be one of the happiest moments of my life, seeing Penn State win a Big Ten championship. I’m Penn State forever, and it’s been a lot of fun this year.”