‘A Joy To Play With Him’: Jalen Pickett & Micah Shrewsberry Perfect Pair For Penn State Hoops’ Progress

In his time at Siena College in Loudonville, New York, Jalen Pickett was named MAAC Rookie of the Year, MAAC Player of the Year, led the MAAC in assists per game, and tallied 1,139 points during his three years as a Saint.

Potentially destined for something greater, Pickett entered the transfer portal in 2021 and was fortuitously scooped up by optimistic first-year Penn State men’s basketball head coach Micah Shrewsberry.

Individually, each made it a goal to reach the NCAA Tournament during their careers, whether that be on the hardwood or behind the whistle. Now, the two that united at Penn State in 2021 are embarking on their career objectives after just two years together in Happy Valley. Perhaps Pickett and Shrewsberry needed the other to check the long-awaited March Madness box.

In a historical end-of-season run that began on February 14, Pickett and Shrewsberry sprinted toward a postseason berth following eight Quad 1 victories and came just one win away from an automatic qualification in the tournament.

Midway through the Big Ten Tournament, the team adopted the “Believe” mantra, and since then, the “Ted Lasso”-inspired saying has ignited a fire underneath the staff, roster, and fanbase to manufacture a deep run in March.

“After our last couple of games going to the tournament, he put up a poster talking about ‘believe,'” Pickett said. “We were slapping it before, but he would hit it, too, and it was just an energy, joy, and a passion.”

Not only were Pickett and the Nittany Lions buying into the “belief,” but as Shrewsberry was promoting it, the head coach found himself closer and closer to a postseason bid and watched his once-manifestation come true on Selection Sunday.

“His vision for us was competing for championships like we did this year and going to March Madness,” Pickett said. “I think we fulfilled that, and my two years here they got the ball rolling and changed the culture for Penn State basketball.”

Outwardly, Shrewsberry never doubted the means of Pickett or of Penn State hoops as a whole, and that support, trust, and community-minded leadership from the man behind the plays was a refreshing change in Happy Valley.

“It’s just been a joy to play with him,” Pickett said of Shrewsberry. “He’s got me up here with a couple of great guys…bringing in Cam [Wynter] and [Andrew] Funk to help us achieve these goals.”

The path to March Madness was forged for seasons by the likes of Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens, John Harrar, and Pickett, but it took a coach committed to the process and the program to reach the NCAA Tournament.

However, he couldn’t have done it without a leader like Pickett. Since their convergence, the duo has taken the Nittany Lions to historic heights, most notably being in the Big Ten Tournament Championship for the first time in over a decade. Still, the team-first transfer uplifted the strides made by Shrewsberry before acknowledging his own role in the leap toward national success.

“I think Micah’s going to do a great job not just making [the NCAA Tournament] a one-time thing at Penn State,” said Pickett. “I feel like he’s going to do it a couple times.”

A self-described impatient man, Shrewsberry did his research, recruited Pickett out of the transfer portal, turned a MAAC Player of the Year into an All-American, and primed him to lead Penn State hoops to March Madness.

Irony reigns supreme and the impatient man at the helm, with the contributions of Pickett, accomplished his longtime goal in record time.

“I love coaching this team. I love coaching this group of guys,” Shrewsberry said. “I knew it would be a challenge, but my goal was always to get to the NCAA Tournament and have our program there, and we were able to do it in two years.”

Riding out the embodiment of “belief,” the Nittany Lions got hot toward the end of February and flipped a switch into March. What originally seemed to be another “building” year turned into the end of a 12-year tournament drought and maybe the beginning of a new standard.

“We can compete with anybody. That was joy,” Pickett said. “It’s been a crazy ride and we’re still trying to go.”

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About the Author

Keeley Lamm

Keeley is a senior from Richmond, Virginia, majoring in journalism. She's an associate editor and talks about awesome stuff on our podcast, Podward State, too. You can usually find her on a porch, but if not, feel free to contact Keeley on Twitter @keeleylammm or [email protected].

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