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Fallout transfers PSU hoop challenge

Commentary

The Penn State men’s basketball program made national news twice last week.

Micah Shrewsberry’s hiring as the latest coach was widely praised.

By the next morning, almost the entire returning team was in the transfer portal.

Most of the team departing in a huff, made possible by player freedom of the portal, is practically unheard of anywhere and unprecedented at Penn State.

According to Dave Jones of PennLive.com, Shrewsberry, an assistant at Purdue, met the players via Zoom on Monday night, but it seemed to have little effect.

“I told every single one of them, I would love them back,” Shrewsberry told PennLive. “I would love to coach them.”

Had Penn State hired Jim Ferry, the interim coach who held the program together after the sudden October dismissal of Pat Chambers, after practice had started, maybe they would have stayed.

Mark Brennan of FightonState.com and Lions247, reported the players were upset with athletic director Sandy Barbour and basketball administrator Lynn Holleran over a lack of communication during Chambers’ dismissal.

Internal probes are tricky. Obviously, the players felt misled and/or entitled to more information. Sometimes, that’s not possible. Barbour cited university policy after disclosing that “new allegations of inappropriate conduct” resulted in Chambers’ termination.

The original probe started with allegations of a racially-insensitive remark Chambers made to a former player, Rasir Bolton, who transferred to Iowa State. Bolton was struggling, and Chambers stupidly told him he wanted to “loosen the noose” around his neck.

When it was eventually reported, Chambers apologized, but a further investigation apparently turned up enough for Barbour to pull the plug.

The players, already miserably stuck in a pandemic, presumably wanted the next coach to be Ferry. They certainly played hard for him and made the past season competitive, albeit one with a losing record.

It would have helped if PSU could have gotten Shrewsberry on campus to meet face-to-face, but he’s still dancing with Purdue.

Either way, the damage was probably already done.

John Harrar, Jamari Wheeler, Myreon Jones, Izaiah Brockington and Seth Lundy are in the portal.

Myles Dread was initially in it but now is not, and Sam Sessoms, who previously transferred in from Binghamton, are still with the Lions.

Obviously, the portal has changed everything. You read about it every day. The number of athletes in it or considering it probably outnumber their teammates.

And, to be clear, they can still come back.

Whatever is best for each is their decision, although only time will tell whether it’s the best decision.

Individually, all may find success, but collectively is another matter. These players had chemistry, seemed to like each other, and with a couple of additions and capable leadership could be an NCAA team next year.

On the flip side, the mass exodus signals a total rebuild.

The portal allows total freedom, and I’m not sure that’s great. Is it teaching the right lessons or just enabling athletes to bolt at the first sign of adversity?

Previously, athletes could still leave but there was mutual discussion on release, maybe a better understanding of each other’s concerns, and for some, transfer is the best course and works out.

Now, though, there’s too much of a feel of the Wild West.

Shrewsberry has been a valuable assistant to a pair of great coaches — Brad Stevens with Butler and now the Boston Celtics and Matt Painter at Purdue — and seemingly could help these Nittany Lions, the ones on the team or in the portal or both.

“They were in a difficult situation,” Shrewsberry told PennLive. “I told them I’m empathetic of their situation. They didn’t ask for anything that happened. I want the opportunity to coach them. But they have to make the best decisions for themselves. And if that ends up with them not returning, that’s the best decision for them. It may not be the best for me. But it’s not about me. It’s about these kids.”

You’d like to think the players would at least sit down with Shrewsberry, but if not and he must start from scratch, well, then the Nittany Lions’ climb will only be a little bit steeper than it’s always been.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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