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Smeltzer: It’s Hard to ‘Believe’ This Penn State Basketball Season

Penn State Basketball: Micah Shrewsberry
Photo by Penn State Basketball: Micah Shrewsberry

There have been a lot of moments throughout this Penn State basketball season. 

Not all of them have been pleasant for the program or its fans.

But for the first time in what feels like forever, the good has outweighed the bad. 

Penn State’s great moments have resulted in great images.

Some people won’t have a favorite image in particular, but for those who do, there are a variety of answers. 

Some would pick Andrew Funk’s “go to sleep” celebration— also perfected by Steph Curry– as their favorite. 

Others will highlight coach Micah Shrewsberry being moved to tears by Cam Wynter’s last-second shot on Senior Day against Maryland.

The one I’ll pick happened just a few days before I was inspired to write this column. It’s the image of an ecstatic Shrewsberry emphatically smacking a poster with the word “BELIEVE” after Penn State’s Big Ten Tournament semifinal win over Indiana this past Saturday while his team cheered him on. 

Why is it my favorite? Is it because of the pure joy displayed by everybody in the video? Partially.

Shrewsberry looked like the happiest person in the world.

Is it because of the image’s context that it came after Penn State clinched its first trip to the Big Ten Championship Game since 2011? Sort of. That’s kind of a big deal. 

But mainly, it’s because I love the show “Ted Lasso.”

For those who haven’t seen “Ted Lasso,” I’d first like to say, start watching. It’s worth the price of AppleTV, which I’ve heard has other great programs as well. Second, the “BELIEVE” poster that Penn State had in Chicago is a replica of the poster featured in that show. 

Shrewsberry didn’t mention “Ted Lasso” during his weekly media availability Monday afternoon at the Bryce Jordan Center, and that disappointed me. 

But Shrewsberry isn’t paid to pay homage to Jason Sudeikis. 

He’s paid to win.

And he might be on the brink of getting paid a lot more, whether it’s from Penn State or elsewhere. 

One of the only unpleasant aspects of what will go down as a magical March for Penn State basketball is that the more the team wins, the more people talk about the possibility of the coach leaving. I’ll write more about that later, and plenty of people will, especially once Penn State’s NCAA Tournament run is over, whenever that may be. 

We have plenty of time to talk about Penn State’s future, so I will use this space to focus on Penn State’s distant past, recent past and present, all of which are relevant to the “BELIEVE” image.

“I say it all the time that nobody believes in those guys like I do,” Shrewsberry told reporters Monday. “And they believe in each other the same way.”


Sorry, Mark McGwire, but we’re talking about the past.

Every team that makes the Big Ten championship game is happy to be there, but of the two teams that made it this year, it’s probably fair to say that it meant more to Penn State than its opponent, Purdue. 

Part of this was because of how the current season played out. 

Purdue won the Big Ten regular season title. Penn State finished 10th. 

But a lot of it was because of history. 

Purdue frequents the NCAA Tournament. Penn State never makes it. 

Penn State had made the tournament nine times before this season and only thrice in the Big Ten era. 

Purdue will be playing in its 14th tournament since Shrewsberry’s old boss, Matt Painter, became the coach in 2005. 

Penn State’s had some close calls– settling for an NIT title in 2018, COVID screwing it over in 2020,– and some Penn State teams that just weren’t good enough. This team is good enough, and luck has been on its side. 

That’s a great combination, and it could lead to some more great moments for Penn State fans over the next few weeks. 


Now, let’s talk about the recent past, meaning the past few weeks. 

It feels like a season’s worth of events have transpired since Penn State’s epic collapse against Rutgers Feb. 26 at the Bryce Jordan Center. 

Penn State had to win at Northwestern and did it in dramatic fashion, with Wynter hitting a last-second 3-pointer in overtime to sink Wildcats, 67-65. 

Penn State had to follow this up by beating Maryland at home days later. 

In a game Penn State had no business winning, the team did anyway, coming back from a 16-point deficit. Again, Wynter was the hero, this time making a layup in the final seconds to give Penn State a 65-64 Senior Day triumph that moved Shrewsberry to tears. 

Next came the Big Ten Tournament. Tenth-seeded Penn State came into its first-round matchup with seventh-seeded Illinois needed one win to virtually ensure an NCAA berth. 

Penn State beat Illinois 79-76. Then, for good measure, it beat second-seeded Northwestern (in another overtime win over the Wildcats) and fourth-seeded Indiana to reach the championship game. 

So far, beating Indiana has been the latest in what’s been an epic stretch of Penn State basketball, and knowing all the team’s had to go through to go on this heater makes watching Shrewsberry’s reaction so gratifying for people who have stuck with the program. 


On to the present. 

Penn State basketball fans might have a while yet to appreciate this season. But they might not. It all could be over in a few days, and there’d be no shame in losing to a top 20 team, especially one that’s won 11 of 13, which Texas A&M has. 

One of the hardest parts of life is not appreciating a good thing when it’s going on. People spend years wishing they appreciated their time in college more, wondering if they loved a long-time pet enough or wanting a time machine to go back and enjoy their time with their mother or father more after it’s sadly too late. 

A college basketball team isn’t a big deal compared to other things human beings take for granted every day. But for Penn State fans who haven’t been as joyous about this run as one would think, whether it’s due to life making it difficult to or simply lacking perspective, I’d recommend doing whatever you can to start enjoying it. 

There aren’t many words, if any, more powerful than “BELIEVE.” So, maybe all of us could learn something by looking at the image of a joyous Shrewsberry and thinking about what it took for that to be possible. 

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