On the first anniversary of Penn State introducing him as its head men’s basketball coach, Micah Shrewsberry reflected on his first season in Happy Valley and what the Nittany Lions plan on doing over the spring and summer to prepare for next season.
When a college basketball coach recruits a player out of high school, he gets to know the player.
What he likes, what he doesn’t like, what his family is about and all that jazz.
So when Penn State’s five true freshmen begin their college careers this fall, they’ll do so already having a close relationship with Shrewsberry and the Nittany Lions coaching staff.
The transfer portal is a different animal.
“It’s like speed dating,” Shrewsberry said. “You may get a guy, and you don’t know everything about him. You don’t know their makeup; you don’t know exactly how they tick. You don’t get a chance to spend as much time with them, so it’s a gamble whether or not you try and build around that every single year. There could be issues that you run into, so we want to do it on a need basis to fill spots that we may need.”
And what is explicitly Penn State looking for out of the portal?
“We’ll want to add a couple older guys, so we don’t have to lean on those freshmen to be primetime players right off the bat, which is really hard to do as a college freshman no matter how good you are,” Shrewsberry said. “Freshmen struggle a little bit, and freshmen struggle at times, so we just want some guys with them that can relieve that pressure from them so they can kind of grow on their own timeline.”
FINDING AN IDENTITY
As expected, there were plenty of ups– beating Michigan State and Iowa in the regular season and upsetting Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament– and downs — losing to Minnesota and Maryland on the road– that took place in year one of the Shrewsberry era.
Over the season, Penn State established itself as a defensive-minded basketball team, which Shrewsberry feels is one of the main positives to take away from 2021-22.
“I was pleased with how we defended, the things that we established as a defensive team,” Shrewsberry said. “We ended up being No. 1 in the Big Ten in defensive scoring. People will point to our style of play or our pace of play, but other people have a choice in terms of how they want to play. It’s not like they automatically come to us, and because we’re the home team, they have to play at a slower pace. We dictated the pace to everybody else.”
There are some aspects that Penn State can work on to improve upon its 14-17 record, and Shrewsberry is confident that the improvement will come.
“There’s other areas where I think we can get better, which I think we will, that we’ll have a chance to work on more and spend more time kind of correcting as we go on here,” he said.
PICKETT’S (CONTINUED) CHARGE
When Jalen Pickett transferred to Penn State from Sienna this past April, Shrewsberry expected Pickett to use both of his remaining years of eligibility in Happy Valley.
After the Lions’ season-ending loss to Purdue Friday night, Pickett– who finished the season as Penn State’s leading scorer at 13.3 points per game– confirmed his intentions to come back, meaning that the Nittany Lions will have both of their leading scorers, Pickett and senior-to-be Seth Lundy, back in the fold for year two of Shrewsberry.
“With him coming back, it gives us a good cornerstone to start with,” Shrewsberry said. “He got better as the season went on, as he got more and more comfortable. He struggled out of the gates but really got going as the season went on. You saw, there in the Big Ten tournament, what he was capable of doing.”
In Penn State’s first three games, Pickett scored 20 points total. In three Big Ten tournament games, he scored 54 for an 18 point average.
MORE MADNESS FOR MICAH NEXT MARCH?
The latter part of March will be different than what Shrewsberry has known in recent years.
Not counting when COVID-19 hit in 2020, from 2014-2021, Shrewsberry was either coaching with the Boston Celtics during the NCAA tournament or coaching in the dance with Purdue.
Now, the closest he can get to The Big Dance is watching the games, and that’s not something he enjoys.
This year, “March Madness” will be closer to “March Mundane” for Shrewsberry.
Penn State had several close calls this year, losing 11 games by single digits.
If some of those losses can turn into wins, maybe Shrewsberry will be back coaching in March Madness soon.
“We were right there, and that’s the part where you get a little disappointed,” Shrewsberry said. You’re close. You’re really close. Now, don’t take steps back to take steps forward. We need to build off what we did this year, but then as a team, we need to continue to get better. As a coach, I need to continue to get better, so we win some of these games at the end, and then we’re getting a chance (at the tournament) next year.”