Jalen Pickett Restores Swagger Back Into Penn State Hoops With Recent Historic Run

Before Penn State men’s basketball guard Jalen Pickett morphed into an All-Big Ten caliber force, the New York native was never a stranger to scoring in high volumes. 

Pickett nabbed 41 points on just 20 shots in last Tuesday’s home bout with Illinois, notching only the third 40-point individual output at the Power Five level throughout the current campaign. 

While the historically efficient yield, which helped Pickett become the first Penn State player to reach the milestone since 1961, would have set a career-high for most, Pickett previously posted a 46-point showing during his freshman go-around with Siena. 

However, the impressive scoring performance should be bolded with an asterisk, according to head coach Micah Shrewsberry. 

“I did tease him the other day, it was the Quinnipiac [vs.] Siena game his freshman year, and he always talks about how he had 46 in that game,” Shrewsberry said. “But, I’ve never, ever in that heard him say somebody on the other team had 51… He said it wasn’t his matchup, but somebody had 51 in that game, and it wasn’t him.”

With the way Pickett’s recently fleeced defenders underneath, at the midrange level, and from beyond the arc, the fifth-year product might just be on pace to catch Shrewsberry’s touted 50-point mark. 

After reaching the 40-point clip against the Illini to help the Nittany Lions snap a four-game losing skid, Pickett followed it up with another automatic showing, highlighted by 18 first-half points behind 7-for-9 shooting at Minnesota.

Ultimately, the savvy two-way weapon finished the matchup with 32 points on 55% shooting, including a 4-for-8 mark from three-point territory.

After converting just 14.7 points per matchup over the Nittany Lions’ bleak two-week stretch, Pickett’s self-belief has since skyrocketed. From Shrewsberry’s perspective, his mentality has carried a mass trickle-down effect stemming from bonafide starters to essential role pieces, altering the entire unit’s chemistry. 

“Confidence is a huge thing for college basketball players,” Shrewsberry said. “It’s a huge thing for everybody. [Pickett’s] given our guys confidence with how he’s playing. [We] can play a little more loose when I know this dude next to me is getting 40, getting 30… It takes pressure off a lot of people.”

When Pickett initially began his tenure in Happy Valley last November, the former first-team All-MAAC producer cultivated just 9.6 points per matchup while scoring at a lowly 31.8% clip. 

As a pure-play isolation commodity, Shrewsberry admits that he failed to properly utilize Pickett during his initial stretch donning the blue and white. But, during last season’s two-win Big Ten Tournament build, Pickett finally found his groove. 

In Indianapolis, Pickett torched the likes of Minnesota, Ohio State, and Purdue for 18 points per matchup, including a 22-point opening-round tally against the Golden Gophers. Four months ago, Pickett elected to carry his pent-up momentum into his last dance at Penn State and has since exceeded all expectations. 

“A lot of work has gone into it, and it took me some time to figure out the best way to utilize him, too,” Shrewsberry said. “So, a lot of that first month, that was on me. [It was] a slow start. What he needed to do is be his best version of himself. Now, he’s figured that out, but he’s also figured out a way to work and what’s best for him to maximize himself as a player.”

After John Harrar’s departure as the program’s cornerstone last March, the Nittany Lions needed a fixture to step up and resume his leadership void — through action and voice. 

From there, Pickett immediately went to work. Along with leading Penn State in points, assists, rebounds, and steals, the veteran has carried his teammates in the respect-earned category displayed through his unparalleled work ethic and willingness to ascend Shrewsberry’s crew to new heights. 

“He spends a lot of time in here. Throughout the day, in the mornings — coming in and working out extra — staying after practice, and getting extra shots up,” Shrewsberry said. “…He’s never satisfied. That’s where I think some people could be satisfied by having a good season, [but] I don’t think he’s ever satisfied.”

While Shrewsberry labeled Pickett’s body of work through 27 regular-season matchups as simply “good”, a more fitting depiction would be historic. Over the last 30 years, only Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine in 2015 finished the campaign averaging at least 17 points, seven assists, and seven rebounds.

If Pickett’s tear continues through the Nittany Lions’ three remaining battles, he’ll miraculously become the second player in three decades to achieve the outrageously difficult, versatility-defining feat. 

Last week, Pickett became the third player at the Division I or NBA level to complete a two-game span with at least 70 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds, a 65% shooting percentage, and a 90% conversion rate from the free throw line. 

The other two include Stephen Curry in 2022 and LeBron James in 2017. While the stat features several elements, putting the Empire State staple in rarefied air with two unquestioned first-ballot Hall of Famers truly encapsulates the impressiveness of his play. 

Within the last two days, Pickett garnered ESPN National Player of the Week honors, along with earning spots on several postseason player of the year watchlists, including the Naismith and Oscar Robertson Trophy honors. 

But, Pickett’s tear has largely remained quiet on the national scale. For the veteran to receive the recognition Shrewsberry adamantly believes he deserves, the head coach knows it’s pivotal for the Nittany Lions to continue their recent winning ways. 

“What he’s doing is really impressive, and if you watch him, it becomes even more impressive,” Shrewsberry said. “But, scoring, rebounds, assists, I don’t know what more you can ask for. It’s on us. We have to continue to win games so he gets rewarded for the season that he’s having.”

Pickett isn’t opposed to picking up a slew of likely awards heading his way, but his team-first mentality has completely tinted his vision of his own production’s significance. 

With four regular-season contests left on the docket, Penn State still has its preseason goals served on a silver platter. At 16-11, the Nittany Lions have plenty of chances to reach the coveted 20-win mark, which would likely slot Shrewsberry’s unit into the 68-team NCAA Tournament field. 

While Pickett and Co. have echoed Penn State head football coach James Franklin’s highly-publicized “1-0, next game” mentality since taking down Minnesota, the guard is well aware of the higher stakes. 

In his estimation, putting his group in a position to make the Big Dance for the first time in 12 years is more important than eclipsing any individual stat line, record, or award. 

“It’s not March yet,” Pickett said. “Selection Sunday has not come up yet, so [it’s a] 1-0 [mentality]. I’m just trying to keep doing my best, keep getting wins, [and] build the resume so hopefully we can get there.”

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About the Author

Connor Krause

Connor Krause is a senior 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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