Historic Freshman Class Fitting ‘Seamlessly’ Into Penn State Hoops’ Confident Culture
For Penn State men’s basketball coach Micah Shrewsberry, his transition year is behind him. Now in his second year at the helm, he’s ready to jump into the season and “just win.”
A 14-17 record in his opening season with the Nittany Lions wasn’t unexpected, but now that the coach has gained the trust of returning players and a quality freshman recruiting class, there’s no time to waste.
“Last year, we were all trying to get acquainted with Shrews, see what he likes, and how he wants to play. This year, we expect to be better,” said fifth-year guard Jalen Pickett. “We know what we need to do. We know what we need to fix and we’re not going to settle for less than that. We’re not looking to be a .500 team, we’re looking to do much better than that.”
Pickett, for one, is mainly tasked with setting the expectations for the eight newcomers on the squad. Shrewsberry cemented the program’s highest-ranked recruiting class in 2022, signing five freshmen as well as three transfers.
“The guys that we brought in, and the transfers, have fit in seamlessly,” said Shrewsberry. “They want to be a part of our success, and they fit seamlessly into our culture.”
Shrewsberry tabbed Pickett as the Nittany Lions’ “best player since day one” and encouraged the guard to help the freshmen class fall into place. On the first official day of practice, Shrewsberry assigned Pickett to a scrimmage team with the entire freshmen class, and the six-man squad “completely dominated” the matchup, outpacing the returners.
“The freshmen are really good. They’re good players, and they’re hungry,” Pickett said. “I’m just trying to help them along and get them as comfortable as possible and we’ll see where it goes.”
The culture surrounding Shrewsberry’s program is built around trust. There’s no intimidation factor amongst the team, and Shrewsberry is emphasizing his ideology, “gritty, not pretty,” is the path to success.
“As long as we’re playing Penn State basketball, that’s all that matters,” forward Seth Lundy said.
For the five new freshmen on the roster, it’s pretty nerve-racking to join a team in its second year with a new head coach and be expected to not only perform but to build up the program. The former three and four-star recruits seem completely up to the task, further reinforcing their commitment to Shrewsberry’s principles.
“These guys aren’t taking a backseat to anybody,” Pickett said.
Kebba Njie, the former four-star recruit and 6’10” freshman big man, will likely fill in down low following the graduation of the “King of Delco” John Harrar. Njie, however, is eager to learn from the veterans on the team and find minutes where he can.
“He’s so young, but he’s a great player,” Pickett said of Njie. “He’s just full of energy all the time at the gym and there’s never a dull moment. He’s always got something to say.”
The four other freshmen — Jameel Brown, Evan Mahaffey, Demetrius Lilley, and Kanye Clary — are also impressing Shrewsberry and their older teammates with their confidence about rebuilding Penn State’s basketball from the ground up.
“We can take the program to new heights,” said Brown, a 6’4″ guard and Philly native. “My biggest goal is winning. That’s the biggest thing for me. I’ve been a winner since high school, but I just want to win the Big Ten Championship.”