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Penn State Baskeball: Exclusive Micah Shrewsberry Q&A

StateCollege.com sat down with new Penn State men’s basketball coach Micah Shrewsberry on Thursday morning to discuss a handful of topics as Shrewsberry continues to ease into his new job. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

SC: I realize Big Ten jobs don’t grow on trees but I’m just curious – someone with your resume and experience, you were going to come across another job opportunity. And yet you took a job that many have considered to be one of the hardest in the country. Are you a glutton for punishment, or has the perception of the Penn State job changed over the years? In short, what makes you take this job?

MS: Like you said, jobs are hard to come by. And I’ve been told “no” a lot. So despite what my resume may say there are still people out there that gave me a no a few times.

But [..] you know I’m not big on other people’s perceptions or opinions. Some jobs, they fit, and some jobs are perfect for you. And this was perfect for me. It’s kind of a mix of an East Coast and Midwest kind of feel and those are two places where I’ve spent the majority of my coaching career. Going to Boston and becoming more familiar with the East Coast and everything up and down the Eastern Seaboard. But also the Big Ten being a Midwest-based league, those were two things that are really attractive. And then, you know, the more and more that you start talking to the people in the leadership positions, you just feel a comfort level. And that’s what I felt. I felt a comfort level with Sandy [Barbour] I felt the comfort level with Lynn [Holleran], with Scott [Sidwell] there was a level of comfort there, and that makes this job easier. Perceptions from the outside, I don’t really get into that. It’s more about believing in myself, believing in my abilities, believing in the staff that I put together and believing in the players that we have here currently and the ones we’re going to get. And then really kind of changing what is the outside perception.

For a lot of fans the existential question about Penn State basketball is how long it “should” take to figure things out with this program. I don’t want to lock you into a guarantee because that’s not fair and kind of dumb, but in your head what is a reasonable timeline for getting the program to where you want to go?

MS: I don’t know. I think the one thing that’s different is the transfer portal allows you to change quickly. You can go from a good team to a bad team quickly, you can go from a bad team to a good team quickly, and that’s kind of the ultimate game changer right there in terms of what teams will look like. The model for this league has been to get old and stay old. And those [that do] are the programs that have been the most consistent. We need to try and do that, and we need to try and do it through recruiting the right kids, bringing in the right kids, treating them the right way, making sure that we’re putting everything that we have into them and investing into those guys. Then I feel like they are going to want to stick around and that allows you to stay pretty consistent. 

So the one thing I don’t want to do is say this is a five-year plan, this is a three-year plan or this is a two-year plan. Our plan is to be competitive right from the start. And that’s what we’re going to do, and that’s what I believe that we’re going to do. I go back to 2009 at Butler, and we kind of put a cap on our team with a bunch of young guys coming in. Gordon Hayward, Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nord, those guys are all freshmen and we told those guys we wanted to make it to the NCAA tournament that year. And we made it that year, and it felt like we celebrated, and we took a deep breath and then we got beaten in the first round. And, like I don’t want to put a cap on our ceiling. I want us to shoot for the Moon and I don’t want to hold anybody back. So I’m gonna tell our guys, I’m gonna believe it: that we’re gonna be competitive right away and we’re gonna shoot to reach every single one of our goals right away and if we don’t, we roll our sleeves up and do it again the next year.

You’ve hired a few guys on staff that you haven’t worked with before or really had a significant prior relationship with. What were you looking for with those hires and who was your sounding board in those cases?

MS: All three [assistant coaches] I have a relationship with or people who I know have a relationship with. Adam Fisher was somebody that I’ve never worked with before but our relationship dates back to the Larranaga connection with him working for Coach Larranaga [at Miami] and me working for Jay [Larranaga] in Boston. I really trust those guys, and I trust their opinions.

I’ve known Aki [Collins] for 18 years now. He really took care of me when I was young and learning the ropes of how to be an assistant coach.

Mike Farrelly, in kind of a stalkerish way I’ve been watching Mike since I had an opportunity to get jobs four or five years ago, back, actually, probably longer. I was gonna hire him then and I never had an opportunity because I’ve never had a job. He was somebody that was on my radar but I didn’t think I’d be able to get him because I thought he was gonna get the Hofstra [head coaching] job. So I actually talked to a bunch of other people and was down the line with a bunch of people and I thought I was going to hire one of them. Then Mike became available and I jumped on it. 

All three of them are really similar in their personalities. They’re all different in how they go about things and about how they work and everything else but I’ve kind of leaned on all three of them in different areas and different ways. I know all their experiences and they bring something different to the table. They’ve been at different levels. So what they’ve done and what they’ve seen and what they’ve experienced are all things that are helpful for me. So I’m like through-the-Moon excited about those three guys that are hired and I wouldn’t trade them for anybody else.

The Brian Snow [director of recruiting] hire is interesting to me because it’s very obvious why you would hire him with his background in prospect evaluation, but at the same time his position/job title is relatively unique in college basketball. What was the thought process there, both the hire and the position?

MS: I’ve known Brian for a long time. When I first started at Butler, I started building a relationship with him through recruiting and talking about different players. He’s able to go to events now in the month of May – there’s AAU events going on those scouting guys would be able to go and coaches don’t. So, every Monday a guy like Brian Snow’s phone is just blowing up because he’s able to see these guys live and come up with evaluations and every coach is calling to ask questions. So our relationship grew especially when he moved Indianapolis and started really covering that area more. It’s something that he and I have talked about for a couple years, him coming onto a campus and joining a team and doing something like this. 

I wanted to think outside the box. For us to do cookie cutter things in this league I don’t know if it makes sense. I think we need to think outside the box. I think we need to use all of our resources to really be different and find ways to be different and find ways to be unique. I don’t know if there’s very many people in this country who are as connected to the recruiting world as Brian Snow in terms of the amount of coaches that he knows and that he’s connected with […] I want to reap the benefits of that and kind of commandeer all that knowledge.

Between Brian and Aki you have two guys with solid resumes of evaluating talent. Penn State doesn’t have a long history of just rounding up four- and five-star prospects. Is there are a certain aspect to this where you say “We’ve got to find guys that maybe people missed early on or using this knowledge of who is under every rock to make up for the fact Penn State doesn’t have a history of bringing in the Zion Williamsons of the world?”

MS: We have to find our niche. We have to find what fits for us and who you’re able to get. You don’t want to spin your wheels trying to get guys just to win the battle when it comes to the recruiting wars in terms of recruiting rankings. Like it’s really important and it’s really important for our fan base and the people that follow us, but at the end of the day it doesn’t win you any games. 

We need to find people that can help us win games, and people that fit here, people that fit me, people that fit the culture that I want to set here, the standard that I want to set here. That’s what we need to find that… we’ll be successful here, and high academic guys that love basketball, that want to be a part of something special. [Aki] has found kind of under-the-radar guys throughout his career. You can look back through the guys at Marquette who were unheralded and turned into really good players and part of that is finding guys that fit, but then also once they get here we need to get to work with them and we need to build them into who those guys should be and who they can be and helping them reach their potential. 

So that’s big for me. I’ve always talked about this as a development program, and we’re gonna put a lot of time into development and making guys better, and doing what we can … if we’re not recruiting at the same level as Zion Williamson, we need to make a guy Zion Williamson. We need to put as much time into them, and invest in them that they get to that level of a player.

Obviously we can’t talk names (NCAA rules forbid coaches from talking about prospects prior to signing a National Letter of Intent) but you’re in a unique position to start off on the right foot on the recruiting trail. How important do you see this summer in terms of setting the course?

[Related: Trio of High Profile Prospects Makes for Interesting Summer on Recruiting Trail for Shrewsberry]

MS: I think it’s really big, getting a group of guys who can be your foundation. Like I said we want to get old and stay old. So anybody we bring in guys are going to fit in the locker room together and be guys we can build with. And when you look at a foundational group of guys, it’s guys that we will bring in this year, but also guys that we bring in next year and that’s our foundation. This has been big for us, this time period since I’ve been here we’re splitting time between the transfer portal and recruiting high school guys. We’re putting all efforts into that right now to find the foundational pieces that we need to really set this program up and put it in the right direction of where we want to go. These upcoming recruiting classes are really big for us because you can point back to them at some point in time and say, “This is the group that really started this era in the right way.”

How would you define the State of the Union, so to speak, with you and the program and Philadelphia? That’s a tough nut to crack sometimes, but it’s hard to win without being competitive there on the recruiting trail.

MS: We have a collection of guys who have a good reputation there. And I think that’s helpful right away for us to really continue the things that the previous staff had done, but then kind of put our own stamp on what we want to do. Hiring guys that can go in there and guys that can find the players that will be good for us is important, and that was a big part of the choosing guys on staff. But we also don’t want to neglect the other areas in this state. Philadelphia is really important to us but so is Pittsburgh, so is Harrisburg, so is Scranton, you know, wherever we go. We want to find good players everywhere.

How do you view scheduling in terms of building a resume but also building a program? That’s a difficult balance sometimes.

MS: It’s gonna take us a little bit of time to kind of balance our schedule. We need to get it back balanced in terms of home and road games so we can start to build a resume in different ways. [Looking for] opportunities whether they’re certain events or getting to the point where we can get maybe a high profile neutral site game, that’s good for publicity on television. That’s what we want to do. We want to get as much exposure as we can and get it to the point where people want Penn State to play on their TV network [rather than] another Power Five opponent.

You get so many opportunities in the Big Ten to help build your resume – so you can play a couple of games against some quality opponents outside of your conference schedule that you know they’re not going to hurt you if you don’t win those games. So we want to challenge ourselves but we want to be smart as well. We want to get games at home but we want to get games at home against some quality opponents to get people into the stands that are teams people may want to see. That’ll help us boost our attendance I think once we do that – when you start putting a product on the floor that they’re proud of, they want to have something going in the Bryce Jordan Center so our scheduling will always be based on the perception through our coaches of what our team’s gonna be like. You never want to overschedule based on your team. I think you want to underschedule based on your team, but we want to schedule enough opportunities where we can build our resume but we can also get a lot of exposure.

Way back in the day you were an intern at a 1998 Nike Camp with Yao Ming. I wonder what Micah Shrewsberry from all those years ago would think of where you’ve ended up.

MS: I’ve always wanted to be a college coach. Growing up in Big Ten country, you would love to have a job like this; you would love to be in a place like this. So I think 15 years ago I was young and naive. I didn’t know what it was going to take to get to a place like this. It took me a long, difficult path, but now like actually being here [..] You know, like I said it’s not like I want to cap it. I want to take this thing, as far as it can go. And, you know, I finally got to a place where to be a head coach at a Big Ten school is something that I’m really proud of but there’s an onus on my shoulders to help the next, you know, young Michael Shrewsberry that’s looking to be in a position like this.

So I’ve gotta do everything I can to make sure that Penn State is the best job and the best program that it can be. I owe a lot to to Sandy Barbour and Dr. [Eric] Barron. I owe them a lot for giving me this opportunity but also a lot to the next group of young coaches who have an opportunity to get a job like this and will have an opportunity to get to this level. I need to do everything right. I need to do things the right way. I need to get our program rolling at the right level, where people can look at me and say OK we need to give somebody else an opportunity like this because he was ready to handle it. I think the next guy will be ready to handle it. So that’s my goal.