Hoops: A Deep Dive into Penn State's Roster and Coaching Staff

By Vincent Lungaro on May 11, 2021 at 8:00 am
The roster at a glance
Matthew O'Haren-USA Today Sports
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It’s been a spring full of change for Penn State basketball. From the hiring of Micah Shrewsberry, staff additions, departures, returnees, and new transfer commits, the offseason has been anything but “off.” 

You’d be forgiven if you aren’t fully caught up to speed on all the comings and goings for the Nittany Lions. 

So here’s a deep dive into where things stand for the roster and coaching staff as we roll into May. 

Transfer Departures

Of the seven Penn State players that entered the transfer portal since the conclusion of the 2020-21 season, four have committed elsewhere. DJ Gordon was the latest to hit the portal on April 29, and his next destination remains uncertain. 

Jamari Wheeler remains in the Big Ten, switching out the Blue and White for the Scarlet and Grey of Ohio State. Izaiah Brockington looked as though he was staying before he re-entered the portal. He has since committed to Iowa State. What is it with Penn State guards and making the switch to Ames? 

Myreon Jones might be the biggest loss of the offseason, even if his departure wasn’t all that unexpected. The team’s leading scorer (15.3 ppg), is heading back home to the southeast to play for Florida. 

Trent Buttrick saw decent playing time under Jim Ferry and will suit up at UMass next season. Patrick Kelly played sparingly in his two seasons in Happy Valley and heads off to Fordham. 

Transfer Arrivals

With the departures of Brockington, Jones, and Wheeler, the Nittany Lions lose a significant chunk of their scoring production and a ton of guard minutes from a season ago. 

It’s no surprise that two of the transfer portal additions the staff has made thus far come in the form of guards that can fill the bucket. 

All-Big South performer Jaheam Cornwall of Gardner-Webb was the first new signee of the Shrewsberry era. He averaged 14.1 points and 3.8 assists per game in 2020-21, shooting 40.8 percent from three. 

Cornwall was an elite shooter for the Runnin’ Bulldogs, utilizing his smooth release to eclipse better than 40 percent from beyond the arc in three of his four seasons in Boiling Springs. In the one season he didn’t hit 40 percent from three, he shot 39 percent. Not too shabby. 

The big question will be how he adjusts to the increased physicality of the Big Ten. If he can make that adjustment quickly, he can help fill the holes left behind by Jones and Brockington. 

You can check out his 2019-20 highlight tape here

Jalen Pickett was considered by many to be one of the best mid-major talents to have entered the transfer portal, and his signing with Penn State was another huge boost in the team’s quest to replace that backcourt production. 

Pickett was the MAAC Player of the Year for Siena in 2019-20, averaging over 15 points per game. 

Pickett told ESPN’s Jeff Borzello that he chose Penn State because of the trust level he has in Shrewsberry. 

"Coach Shrewsberry was just showing me different things, how they want to play offensively, how he coached at Purdue. He worked with Kyrie Irving and Isaiah Thomas. He wants to get up and down, spread the floor, play pick-and-roll with a lot of shooting. He also talked about getting me off the ball a little too, help create for my teammates, get other people shots."  

The third transfer addition to date brings some much-needed frontcourt depth. JUCO forward Jevonnie Scott committed to the Nittany Lions on April 29

The 6-foot-7 South Plains College transfer gives Shrewsberry and Co. another body to work with along a frontcourt that, for the time being, only features John Harrar and Abdou Tsimbila. 

The Toronto native averaged 11.5 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game for the Texans in 2020-21. He had previously committed to Buzz Williams and Texas A&M at the tail end of South Plains’ season but reopened his recruitment in March. 

Returnees 

The transfer losses mentioned above were a tough blow for Shrewsberry as he looks to rebuild this program quickly. But the cupboard isn’t bare in terms of talent that remains on this roster. There are pieces to work with to keep Penn State competitive in the Big Ten in 2021-22. 

Let’s check out, who (for now - the transfer portal remains such a fluid commodity) will be back next season. 

Seth Lundy, F: Perhaps the new staff’s biggest transfer season win to date. Lundy’s return is huge, considering he was the team's third-leading scorer last season and the top two are gone. He is an All-Conference caliber player, he just needs to find that consistency. He dropped 32 on VCU and 23 on Seton Hall early in the 2020-21 season, scored 26 in a loss to Ohio State on Jan. 27, and bookmarked the regular season with 31 against Maryland. The problem was the cold-shooting nights he faced in the midst of those big games. Lundy had a 10-game stretch from Jan. 30 to March 10 in which he reached double figures just once. Known for his player development characteristics, if Shrewsberry can fine-tune some aspects of Lundy’s game, we could start to see the best version of the Roman Catholic product more often. 

John Harrar, F: Harrar’s announced exit from the transfer portal and subsequent return to Penn State was met with a lot of excitement from Nittany Lions fans and for good reason. I can't predict for sure where Penn State would have been last season without Harrar, but I can confidently say they wouldn’t have been anywhere close to their 11-14 finish. Even if you ignore the fact he was basically Penn State’s only serviceable big man on the roster, Harrar was a huge figure in keeping an agitated locker room focused and together following Chambers’ dismissal. He more than held his own in a Big Ten campaign highlighted by the play of elite centers, averaging 8.8 points and rebounds per game. In a lot of games, it felt like he was single-handedly dominating the boards for Penn State. I’m interested to see how Harrar improves under Shrewsberry, who worked closely with Zach Edey and Trevion Williams at Purdue. 

Myles Dread, G: Dread never entered the transfer portal like a bulk of the Nittany Lions’ core did. He displayed some major onions by hitting the buzzer-beating game-winner against VCU on Dec. 2, after being held scoreless to that point. That’s pretty much a microcosm of his time at Penn State thus far. He’s been willing to take and make some big shots. The problem is, he goes missing for too many large stretches offensively. To his credit, though, he has become one of the team’s more reliable defenders. With the roster’s deficiencies down low, he played a lot of time at the four this past season and was tasked with guarding players much larger than him. He actually did a decent job too. 

Sam Sessoms, G: Sessoms also elected not to enter the transfer portal while awaiting a new coaching hire. His Penn State career started off pretty hot, averaging 12.6 points a game through the first seven games. As the Big Ten grind wore on, though, Sessoms form dipped. He reached double-figures just twice more after that point in the regular season. He ended the campaign strongly with an 18-point performance against Wisconsin, nearly engineering a crazy comeback against the Badgers. It figures to be an intriguing battle between Sessoms and Cornwall for the starting point guard spot. 

Abdou Tsimbila, F: Perhaps it was just me, but I thought Tsimbila deserved a little more playing time than he got under Jim Ferry. Yes, it’s clear the Cameroon native is still really raw from a technical standpoint, but you can see the talent is there. The lack of depth down low before means we will get a better idea of Abdou’s potential this coming season and if he can be a key contributor in the future. 

Dallion Johnson, G: Johnson played very little in his first season with Penn State. A former three-star recruit out of Andover, Massachusetts, he left the Phillips Academy as its all-time leading scorer. With Wheeler and Jones gone, he could see a push for a much larger role in 2021-22. 

Caleb Dorsey, F: Like Johnson, Dorsey is a former three-star prospect. And like Johnson, he didn’t feature much last year. He was a four-year letter winner at The Hill School in Pottstown, PA, and played for Team Durant on the AAU circuit. Listed at 6-foot-7, he might be in the mix for a role on the wing. Depth wise, the Nittany Lions are a little light there with Brockington gone.

Further Additions

​With four open scholarships to work with for next year, Penn State likely isn't done adding to its roster. 

Even with the addition of Scott in the frontcourt, that area of the roster still needs some help, especially given the plethora of talent inside across the Big Ten. 

UMass forward Tre Mitchell, who I pitched Penn State to target earlier this spring remains in the portal. And surprisingly, given the access to players these days, he's kept a tight lid on potential suitors. Nobody really knows where he's considering for his next destination. It's a long shot, but his arrival would make Penn State an NCAA Tournament contender. 

DePaul's Jaylen Butz and LSU's Josh Gray are other possibilities.

Penn State is reportedly among the final options for Jaxson Robinson, previously of Texas A&M and a former four-star prospect. The 6-foot-5 guard out of Ada, Oklahoma, is reportedly down to the Nittany Lions, Arkansas, and Oregon. 

Something to monitor with an announcement expected soon.

Overhauled Coaching Staff
It didn't take long for Shrewsberry to build a staff. Less than a week into his tenure, he announced the hiring of Adam Fisher as associate head coach.

Starting with Fisher, it was clear Shrewsberry wanted to surround himself with figures who have a strong history of excelling on the recruiting trail. 

Let's recap the additions and retentions of the staff. 

Adam Fisher, Associate Head Coach: Shrewsberry tabbed Adam Fisher, formerly of Miami, as his associate head coach (i.e his top assistant on the bench). A 2006 Penn State grad, Fisher brings with him a strong recruiting background, with ties to Philadelphia from his days on Jay Wright’s staff at Villanova. He spent the past eight years with Jim Larranaga in Coral Gables, the past six of which saw him serve as an assistant coach. 

Aki Collins, Assistant Head Coach: Like Fischer, Collins carries the reputation as a high-level recruiter. After five seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder as an amateur scout, Collins returned to the college environment at New Mexico this past season as the director of basketball operations. Before his time in OKC, Collins spent three seasons at Memphis (2012-15) and four at Marquette (2008-12). His connection with Shrews goes back to their time together on the staff at Marshall. 

Mike Farrelly, Assistant Head Coach: Farrelly was previously associate head coach for Hofstra, helping guide them to back-to-back Colonial regular-season championships in 2019 and 2020. He served as interim head coach this past season. He too has strong recruiting ties to the Northeast, starting with his playing career at St. Joseph’s. 

Nick Colella, Chief of Staff: Colella might not have the name recognition, but he’s been a key figure behind the scenes for Penn State the past few seasons. For the 2020-21 season, he was director of basketball ops, and before that was the director of on-campus recruiting, responsible for the coordination of prospective student-athlete visits. He’s got plenty of admirers in basketball circles, including ESPN’s Jay Bilas. Even for just a bit of continuity from what the previous regime had put into place, his retention makes sense. 

Mike Green, Director of Player Development: After a successful college career at Towson and Butler — he was named the Horizon League Player of the Year with the Bulldogs in 2008 — Green went on to play professionally overseas for 12 years. Another staff addition with ties to Philadelphia, Green starred at Franklin Learning Center, where he scored more than 1,000 points and earned All-Philadelphia Public League honors twice. 

Brian Snow, Director of Recruiting: Maybe the most intriguing hire that Shrewsberry made, Snow had served as a national recruiting analyst for 247Sports. Snow has analyzed and evaluated high school prospects extensively, which is no doubt why he’s been brought aboard. Obviously, for a program that can’t just recruit off of its name or status like a Duke or Michigan State, Snow’s expertise in the recruiting world will be an asset in making connections.

What do you think of Penn State's offseason so far? Which positions would you like to see the Nittany Lions add to further? Let me know in the comments section. 

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