I wanted to wait a bit for the dust to settle on the departure of Micah Shrewsberry to see if I might settle down as well.
I have not settled down.
Losing Micah Shrewsberry is not the biggest f--k-up by a Penn State athletic administration. We can all hope that record will never be broken.
But watching Shrewsberry high-tail it out of town is as dispiriting a strictly sports-related disaster in my wasted 45 years following the Nittany Lions.
More than 20 of those years were spent running a discussion forum on this site, PennStateHoops.com 1.
You don’t know wasted time until you’ve felt compelled to read every post on a sports discussion forum for 20-plus years. Especially one devoted to a mediocre program.
That was Dante-esque.
But following Penn State basketball wasn’t quite Hell; that was squarely in Absurd territory.
Pat Chambers had somehow, with both hands tied behind his back, willed the Nittany Lions into the sport’s upper echelon before he was fired in 2020, right after COVID-19 kept him from seeing the mountaintop.
Jim Ferry was a placeholder who had a team better than its 11-14 record indicated.
And then Godot showed up.
Micah Shrewsberry was the one we have been waiting for all these decades, the absolute best hope for excellence that Penn State basketball has seen - ever.
Not just because he showed he can win. I think Mike Rhoades can win at Penn State.
Shrewsberry was different because he has a chance to be a generational coaching talent.
And while failing to keep him is deeply disappointing to me and a couple of hundred other Penn State hoopleheads, it is a colossal failure by Penn State.
College sports exists for one thing: To provide abundant, cheap publicity for schools.
And for all the understandable pride in Penn State’s athletic-department-wide competitive success, there’s only one sport other than football that really matters, and that’s men’s basketball.
There was a convincing demonstration of that on March 18.
Penn State happened to be competing for a national championship in wrestling that Saturday night. And The Nittany Lion basketball team was one of 32 teams still playing in the NCAA tournament’s second round.
628,000 people watched the NCAA wrestling final. A great number for niche sport.
6.63 million people watched the Penn State-Texas second-round NCAA tournament game.
I suspect part of the reason so many people tuned in to the Penn State-Texas game is that Penn State was a fun team to watch. I am able to laugh at this point recalling a befuddled Buzz Williams on the sideline, his sphincter the only thing tighter than his his slim-fit suit, during Penn State’s 76-59 drubbing of the SEC runners-up in Round 1.
Steve Jones and Dick Jerardi had tried to convince Penn Staters that the '22-23 Nittany Lions were a fun team to watch during the season (LOL), and by March national pundits were all-in on Penn State’s potential to make a run in the tournament.
People like Charles, Kenny and Ernie were talking them up.
And who was Penn State? A collection of Pat Chambers holdovers, including a 6-4 guy defending the low-post, and some mid-major up transfers.
Granted, one of the up transfers was transcendent.
(Some day I hope to look back with gratitude that I watched every possible minute of Jalen Freaking Pickett’s incredible last season of college hoops. 2
(But not yet.)
As I read people blathering on about how we are going to see better defense, finally some rebounding, yadda, yadda, yadda, I want to scream.
The object of basketball is to score more points than your opponent.
Shrewsberry somehow figured out how to do that in Year 2, relying on a crunch-time lineup that went 6-4, 6-2, 6-6, 6-4, and 6-5 - their listed heights anyway - going 23-14, playing a completely different style of basketball than he had in his first season.
And that style was o jogo bonito.
Micah Shrewsberry is one of those guys who, as Bum Phillips once said of Bear Bryant, “can take his'n and beat your'n, and then he can turn around and take your'n and beat his'n.”
We should be looking forward to many more years of The Beautiful Game.
Instead, Penn State rides along on the fumes of Joe Paterno’s long-ago success, and its luck that James Franklin deals with the Cult-of-Veneration stuff (and people) that chased Bill O’Brien and now Micah Shrewsberry out the door, and sticks around anyhow.
Penn State had a chance to be someplace special in college basketball. And it blew it.
April 30, 2023
1 See below.
2 Shrewsberry also plucked a 6-5 kid out of Bucknell, Andrew Funk, and turned him into the most effective three-point shooter in high-major basketball.