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Micah Shrewsberry’s ‘Gritty, Not Pretty’ Mentality Now A Choice With Improved Offense

In head coach Micah Shrewsberry’s first campaign at the helm of the Penn State men’s basketball program, his squad’s offensive prowess shadowed anything but flash and finesse. 

At the season’s conclusion, the Nittany Lions dwelled in the cellar of the Big Ten’s total scoring ranks by posting just over 64 points per outing. Moreover, Shrewsberry’s unit converted less than 44.1% of its shot attempts from the field, lingering as the third-worst shooting team in the conference. 

However, Shrewsberry and company excelled defensively on a basis of unparalleled consistency. As a result, Shrewsberry coined the mantra “gritty, not pretty” for the program’s old-school, blue-collar play style. Since then, the phrase has morphed into wristbands, t-shirts, and even signage hung throughout the Bryce Jordan Center’s confines. 

With the addition of several proven scoring threats through the transfer portal, Penn State should no longer be tasked with grinding for scoring opportunities similarly to how it was forced to last year. While the “gritty, not pretty” mentality likely won’t be a requirement to reach new heights in Shrewsberry’s second go-around, the mindset appears to be here to stay. 

“I think it’s always going to be a part of who we are,” Shrewsberry said. “I think it’s a necessity not because of our personnel — it’s a necessity because you have to win that way. If you want to be a team that’s at the top of the Big Ten, you have to be that way.”

Toward the latter stretch of his initial campaign donning the blue and white, Jalen Pickett’s grittiness helped the Nittany Lions spark a two-win run into the thick of Big Ten Tournament contention. While Shrewsberry often refers to the Sienna transfer as a scorer first, the Preseason All-Big Ten guard proved to carve out a niche role as a defensive weapon. 

Although Pickett averaged a team-high 18 points through three conference tournament matchups in Indianapolis, the savvy veteran picked up four steals while holding primary guarded opponents to only 8.7 points per matchup. Similarly to how Pickett cultivated defensive craftiness into offensive success a year ago, Shrewsberry believes that side of the “gritty, not pretty” mentality will never waver under his watch. 

“I feel that defensively, in terms of what we need to do, how we need to play, how physical we need to need to be, [and] how we kind of dictate the offense in terms of what we do, that’s going to be a standard,” Shrewsberry said. “So, that’s never going to change.”

Aside from Pickett, Shrewsberry credits former cornerstone forward John Harrar with helping mold Penn State hoops into the state of its current blue-collar identity. Last season, which happened to be Harrar’s third in as many campaigns with a different head coach, the Delaware County native “set the standard” for how to compete in practice, prepare for matchups, and foster healthy locker room relationships, according to Shrewsberry.

Currently, while Harrar’s void is unable to be replaced with a sixth-year request per his former head coach, the precedent he previously set in the Bryce Jordan Center has since rubbed off on the Nittany Lions’ top-heavy veteran cast.

“We finish practice, every guy stays out there on the court, gets shots up, and works on his game,” Shrewsberry said. “It’s a culture of hard work. I think John [Harrar] established that with what he did, and I think other people saw it, saw success, and have maximized it [themselves].”

Since Harrar’s departure last March, Shrewsberry and his staff were able to lock down the highest-ranked recruiting class in program history marked by the addition of five nationally ranked prospects and three transfer additions.

While the addition of eight new faces on a roster with 13 scholarship players could be bounds for locker room conflict, Shrewsberry mentioned the group, as a whole, embodies “selflessness”. With nearly an entire team’s worth of pieces vying for early season minutes, the competitive spirit of the second-year coach’s unit has embodied the previously initiated “gritty” spirit.

“They’re awesome kids,” Shrewsberry said. “They are really hard workers. They’re always down on the court getting extra work. Josh Townsend and Taaj Ridley are our two [graduate assistants], and those guys are wearing their phones out, getting into the gym, working on what [the freshmen] do, and then they’re up watching film in the office all the time.”

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a junior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania double majoring in journalism and business. He is a lifelong Penn State football and basketball fan and enjoys rooting for Pittsburgh sports teams. In his free time, Connor can be found playing golf or pick-up basketball. You can follow his Twitter and Instagram @ckrause_31.

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