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Caleb Dorsey Displaying Growth, Resilience As Penn State Hoops’ Early Frontcourt Cornerstone

During Micah Shrewsberry’s first season at the helm of the Penn State men’s basketball program, the former Purdue assistant was forced to adapt to a “small ball” centric playstyle with John Harrar manning the low block as the unit’s default center a season ago. 

While Harrar stood at a forceful 6’10”, 240-pound frame, the former All-Big Ten honorable mention selection faced taller, brutally oversized opponents in nearly every matchup he tipped off against for the Nittany Lions. 

In Harrar’s absence, however, Shrewsberry ventured to the recruiting trail in hopes of a viable, long-term front-court solution. Although the second-year leader secured the services of four-star power forward Kebba Njie and a 6’10”, Philadelphia product in Demetrius Lilley, the head coach would later find that his instant plug-and-play piece at the five position already resided in the Bryce Jordan Center’s locker room. 

Standing with a lanky 6’7” frame, junior stretch forward Caleb Dorsey resembles anything but what a typical Big Ten center typically embodies from a physically intangible standpoint. But after holding Butler center Manny Bates to a season-low tally in points, the Nittany Lions’ de facto center is proving to be more than just serviceable in a starting role underneath. 

“We didn’t foul [Bates] at all,” Shrewsberry said. “I still feel pretty good about how we played, [and] what those guys did, though. Kebba and Caleb both did well.”

In total, Bates tallied 16 points on an efficient 8-for-12 shooting outing, while adding in 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the campaign. Although the production from Bates marks far from a shutdown effort by the Nittany Lions’ defensive standards, Penn State was able to match Bates’ individual effort unconventionally. 

Through 23 minutes of action, Dorsey tallied nine points and five rebounds behind nearly a 50% shooting clip from the field. Additionally, Njie picked up slack in Dorsey’s absence by adding four points and six rebounds of his own. 

Overall, the combined 13-point, 11-rebound performance from Dorsey and Njie all but collectively negated Bates’ individual contribution. 

While Bates took all 12 of his shot attempts from inside the paint, Dorsey’s versatility allowed him to wear down his less agile opponent on the perimeter — an aspect that Butler’s defense couldn’t keep in check. 

“You have to be worried about [Dorsey] on the other end,” Shrewsberry said. “He’s going to make a three, he’s going to be open for some threes, and [the defense] has to be thinking about that. They have an advantage on one end, and we have an advantage on the other end.”

While defensive stability is a tall order for most tasked with defending high-profile centers on the low block, Dorsey’s discipline as a smaller post player is beginning to show its worth, according to Shrewsberry. 

Through the Nittany Lions’ opening pair of matchups with Winthrop and Loyola Maryland, Dorsey picked up five total fouls, which limited his on-court action to just 19 minutes per contest. Conversely, during Monday night’s bout with Butler, Dorsey committed just two personal fouls, allowing him to rack up nearly 24 minutes of run. 

“I told [Dorsey] before the game, before he walked out there, that he’s been jumpy in the first two games early,” Shrewsberry said after the Butler game. “Guys have made a move and shot-faked, and he’s jumped at it. Today, he stayed down. He didn’t give any of those up. So, each game, each day, he’s going to keep improving.”

Through three contests, Dorsey’s ability to adjust on the fly defensively in tough situational matchups, coupled with his promising 7.3 points per game output behind 52.9% shooting from inside and out, has resulted in the third-year piece resembling more of a veteran presence than an inexperienced liability. 

Although Dorsey is labeled as a program stable on paper as a third-year contributor, the former three-star product’s previous output shows quite the opposite. Across Dorsey’s two previous campaigns donning the blue and white, the forward scored only 17 total points while seeing limited action in just 17 matchups. 

In Shrewsberry’s estimation, Dorsey’s junior status is simply a label. With less than a half-season’s worth of on-court minutes under his belt, his starting forward is no more experienced than a bright-eyed newcomer. 

“It’s funny, like, he’s old,” Shrewsberry said. “He’s a junior, right? He’s 21 years old, but he’s really a freshman. It’s probably [equal] to his second semester freshman year for him in terms of games played… I haven’t looked at the amount of games that he has played, but he might not be to 30 yet. That’s a freshman year, so he’s really young.”

Without any reason to tweak the head coach’s starting rotation three games in, Shrewsberry has visibly seen Dorsey’s growth first-hand, and he believes it will only accentuate. If Dorsey’s offensive production and defensive dependability are able to steadily improve at their current clip, the Nittany Lions’ “small ball” identity could quickly transform into a strength instead of an ongoing concern.

“In these minutes that he’s given us, he’s never played in the clutch before,” Shrewsberry said. “He’s never started games. He’s never played to start a second half. And, what he’s doing right now, how hard he’s playing, you know, he’s just battling.” 

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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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