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Smeltzer: Draft Night the Unofficial end of Successful Penn State Hoops Era

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

The official end of Micah Shrewsberry’s time as the Penn State men’s basketball coach happened in late March.

But to me, a Thursday night in late June marked the true end of what was a brief but successful era of Happy Valley hoops.

2023’s NBA Draft night ended up being a historic one for Penn State men’s basketball.

For the first time in program history, two players were selected. Jalen Pickett went to the defending champion Nuggets— where his GM is another Penn State great, Calvin Booth,— with the 32nd overall pick.

Seth Lundy went to the Hawks later in the second round at pick No. 46.

The positive vibes continued the next morning when Andrew Funk signed a Summer League deal with Denver, where he’ll team up with Pickett again, at least for a little bit.

Of the 14 combined college basketball seasons these three played, the only one in which they played together was under Shrewsberry’s watch.

Penn State basketball fans have varying opinions of Shrewsberry.

Less than four months ago, Shrewsberry was beloved for leading Penn State basketball to its best season in well over a decade.

Penn State made the Big Ten Championship Gane for the first time since 2011.

That tournament performance helped the team get its first NCAA Tournament bid in the same amount of time. Once the team got to the Tournament, it won its first March Madness game since 2001.

Unfortunately for Penn State, all good things must come to an end.

First, Penn State’s magical season concluded in the Round of 32 with a loss to Texas. Less than four days later, Shrewsberry was gone, accepting a chance to return to his home state of Indiana and becoming Notre Dame’s head coach.

Practically overnight, Shrewsberry went from beloved to polarizing.

Everybody was disappointed to see him go, but not everybody had the same outlook.

Some accepted that Penn State isn’t a basketball school and had no hard feelings toward Shrewsberry for going to a prominent program close to home.

Others were angry, but moreso at Penn State, for what they felt wasn’t a strong enough effort to keep Shrewsberry in Happy Valley.

Then there were some who soured on Shrewsberry, feeling that he used Penn State as a stepping stone and jumped ship the first chance he got.

How I personally feel about Shrewsberry’s decision could have been it’s own separate column, but in short, I think he simply took a better job.

But I understand all three of the aforementioned viewpoints. Shrewsberry is an excellent coach who left PSU just as the fanbase was falling in love with him, and that’s a hard thing for fans to deal with. So however they dealt with it— as long as it didn’t involve anything drastic, like threatening Shrewsberry— is understandable.

What I hope is that PSU fans look back at the brief Shrewsberry era and smile at what was accomplished, even if they’ve soured on the man who was in charge.

Now, I’m not saying that Pickett, Lundy and Funk owe all of these guys owe their successes to Micah Shrewsberry.

Pickett (Sienna) and Funk (Bucknell) were 1,000-point scorers before transferring to Penn State.

Lundy played two seasons with the program before PSU hired Shrewsberry in March 2021, and established himself as a solid two-way player. Make no mistake, the people most responsible for Pickett, Lundy and Funk’s successes are Pickett, Lundy and Funk.

But whatever one’s opinion of Micah Shrewsberry is, it’s undeniable that he was the one who brought everything together.

It’s rare for a Penn State basketball coaching era to be remembered fondly. Pat Chambers is remembered for some wins, many more losses and an ugly dismissal. Ed DeChellis left on his own terms, but like Chambers, lost more than he won.

Jerry Dunn got Penn State to the Sweet 16 in 2001 but left the program two years later in far worse shape than he found it.

The last Penn State basketball coach who had a positive tenure was Bruce Parkhill, and he coached his last game more than 27 years ago.

However a PSU fan feels about Shrewsberry is how they feel, and I’m not looking to change anybody’s minds and don’t expect to. My hope is, for the fans that wish Shrewsberry the best at Notre Dame and those who hope the Irish go winless, that people at least give him credit for the thrilling basketball he and his team gave Penn State fans.

We don’t know when Penn State basketball will be a winner again. Maybe Shrewsberry’s successor, Mike Rhoades, gets Penn State to the dance in Year 1.

Maybe he never does.

But this year’s NBA Draft proved that great things can happen at PSU, regardless of whether it ever becomes a “basketball school.”

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