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Penn State Basketball

‘Penn State’s a Great Place’: Jalen Pickett Pumped to Play For Calvin Booth, Nuggets

Graphic by Denver Nuggets

Jalen Pickett is one of two players in Penn State men’s basketball history to pick up a triple-double. 

The only other one is now his general manager. 

Penn State and its fans knew that last Thursday night would be one of the best in Pickett’s young life.

It was NBA Draft night, and everybody knew Pickett would go. 

But it’s hard to argue that going to the recently-crowned NBA champion Denver Nuggets— who feature arguably the best player in the world in Nikola Jokic– wasn’t the best possible outcome for Pickett. 

What makes it even sweeter is that Calvin Booth is the one that drafted him. 

In the late-1990s, Booth, like Pickett, was a star at Penn State. As Pickett did against Butler last November, Booth picked up a triple-double against Dayton in a 1998 NIT game. That performance and many others helped Booth become a second-round draft pick in 1999, a feat Pickett accomplished almost a quarter-century later. 

The Wizards drafted Booth. He ended up playing with seven teams over 10 seasons before getting into management. 

The Nuggets hired him as assistant GM before the 2017-18 season. He became the GM before the 2020-21 season.

Earlier this month, Booth’s Nuggets won the first NBA title in franchise history, dispatching the Miami Heat in five games. 

10 nights later, they drafted Jalen Pickett.

Pickett, along with fellow draftees Julian Strawther (Gonzaga) and Hunter Tyson (Clemson) had their introductory press conferences in Denver Monday, with Booth alongside them. 

In what should have been no surprise, Pickett was excited, but humble.

“Penn State’s a great place,” Pickett told reporters. “It’s a long line there, so just being able to be successful and kind of follow in Calvin’s footsteps of getting drafted is just really special.”

Pickett’s happy to be in Denver.

Booth’s happy to have him.

“Jalen’s a great basketball player all around and can make others better with his play,” Booth said.

To say Pickett fit that description at Penn State would be an understatement. 

The Sienna transfer was one of the best players in college basketball in 2022-23. He ended the season as Penn State’s leader in points (17.7 PPG), rebounds (7.4 RPG) and assists (6.6 APG). His 6.6 assists per game were good for fifth in the nation. He became Penn State’s first All-American since the Eisenhower Administration.

Pickett joined the 2,000-point club in the first half of the team’s game against Illinois at the Bryce Jordan Center in February.

Pickett’s head coach for both of his seasons at Penn State, Micah Shrewsberry, has NBA coaching experience. The now-Notre Dame coach was on Brad Stevens’s staff with the Celtics from 2013-17.

Pickett credited Shrewsberry’s strategy for getting him NBA ready.


“I think it was just the system,” he said. “Coach Shrewsberry kind of runs like an NBA system. So just getting in with him, basically, and just watching a lot of film, getting on the court with him and just seeing his vision kind of helped me. So I think just the communication part on both sides between players and coaches is going to be really big for me coming here to Denver.”

During his magical 2022-23 season, Pickett became known for “booty ball,” which consists of backing a defender down in the paint. 

Players such as current New York Knicks star Jalen Brunson, former Nugget Andre Miller and Jokic himself have also had success with “booty ball,” and Pickett was asked about the similarities between him and Miller.

“Definitely,” Pickett said, smiling. “I think the back down thing is kind of similar between me and him, and actually, somebody just sent me a picture of Andre Miller in 24, so I think that’s also kind of funny.”

Pickett dominated college basketball but knows the NBA’s a different world. 

One thing he wants to make sure he’s as ready as possible for is how fast the game moves. 

“I think for me, the biggest thing for me will be playing with a little more pace and trying to run the offense at a quicker pace,” Pickett said.

It’s been a great week for Jalen Pickett, and it wouldn’t have been possible without a great college basketball career.

He’s excited to start what he hopes will be a great NBA career under a fellow Penn Stater’s watch.

“He’s (Booth’s) been great so far, and I can’t wait to get started,” Pickett said.


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