Penn State Hoops Coach Micah Shrewsberry Says “NILs Are A Little Out Of Whack” | The Former Celtics Assistant Fears NIL Is Really Pay-For-Play

(Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Former Boston Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry is entering his second season as head coach of the Penn State men’s basketball program. The Nittany Lions hoops program needed a kick in the caboose, and the Indianapolis native has the résumé and pedigree to get the job done.

Although the new NIL rules have provided an unexpected dynamic or roadblock (depending on how you look at it) which makes it difficult for some schools to switch up course and get involved in high stakes poker with teenage recruits and their families, Shrewsberry isn’t making an excuse for the task ahead. 

 

New School NIL Rules 

He does, however, acknowledge the changing recruiting landscape and newfound challenges, as he said in an interview on “Mad Dog Sports” on Sirius/XM radio on Sunday. 

“NILs are little out of whack this Spring with how they are being implemented and turns more into pay-for-play than (capitalizing off) name image and likeness,” Shrewsberry said. 

It’s hard enough for Penn State to survive in a legendary conference such as the Big Ten. It’s even harder for the Nittany Lions to recruit and compete, because it has such lofty academic standards. The wiggle room and allowances for athletes who may not be of similar academic standing to the rest of the student body is much smaller for Penn State, than at Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois or other powerhouse Big Ten hoop programs.  

According to reports, Penn State’s student-athletes generally earn Academic Progress Reports scores higher than the nation’s public institutions, the 115+ Division I-A schools and all Division I institutions.

In fact, PSU ranked at No. 72 internationally, among 1,500 institutions evaluated in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Global Universities” 2020.

The recent NIL explosion, which has caused rifts between Power Five football coaches and become the focus of national recruiting wars, doesn’t help matters either, as Penn State is not known for competing in the bag dispersal game to lure recruits.

Pay-for-play is how many coaches are describing the new NIL system, but under the current rules it’s all legal, so Shrewsberry has his work cut out for him. 

The Game Done Changed, But Money Isn’t Everything 

Like many other Power Five colleges, Penn State has relied on its reputation as a national powerhouse and elite academic institution to draw recruits. They sell opportunity, prestige, national attention and history. Those perks don’t seem as appealing to athletes anymore with the dispersion of cash money becoming the biggest influencer. 

Shrewsberry went 14-17 (10th in Big Ten) in his first season, but the university is pleased with his progress and the culture he’s building. 

According to a Penn State press release, “Shrewsberry immediately put his stamp on the Nittany Lion program during his first season at the helm. He engineered the Big Ten’s best scoring defense in 2021-22 and guided the Nittany Lions to their best defensive season (65.0 points allowed per game) in 11 years. 

“The regular season saw Penn State earn a number of statement wins, including victories over 19th-ranked Michigan State, eventual Big Ten Tournament champion Iowa, and eventual NCAA Tournament participants Indiana and Rutgers.

“Shrewsberry became one of just two first-year Big Ten coaches since 2008 to win two Big Ten Tournament games.”

Not to be overlooked is Shrewsberry’s most vital talent; his ability to recruit. It’s essential for any Power Five coach looking to elevate a program. In this day and age, the fortunes of a program can change pretty quickly if the right NIL deals are presented to secure “financially flexible” four and five-star recruits.  After the well runs dry, however, the coach has to have some recruiting savvy. 

Highest-Ranked Recruiting Class In Program History 

Shrewsberry’s efforts on the recruiting trail reaped immediate benefits. Penn State’s men’s basketball staff reportedly signed the highest ranked recruiting class in program history in November 2021, less than eight months into his tenure in Happy Valley. The 2022 signing class ranks as a consensus top-30 class in the nation by all major recruiting services.

Now all they have to do is keep the recruits they do have who could bounce to greener pastures through the transfer portal or for some NIL money offered by a competing school. All things taken into account, Shrewsberry is a home run selection for Penn State. 

NBA & NCAA Title Experience

According to ESPN, “Shrewsberry was a longtime assistant coach under Brad Stevens and Matt Painter at the college and NBA levels. The Indianapolis native spent three seasons under Stevens at Butler — helping lead the Bulldogs to back-to-back national championship game appearances. He then went to Purdue for two seasons as an assistant coach under Painter before reuniting with Stevens for six years with the Boston Celtics. Shrewsberry returned to the college game in 2019 as the associate head coach under Painter at Purdue.”

Adept At Player Development/Offense Guru 

Shrewsberry’s calling card is his work in aiding the development of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown during his time with the franchise. The young stars he helped cultivate have continued to blossom and currently have the Boston Celtics tied 1-1 with Golden State in the NBA Finals and in a great position to win a championship. 

 

His ability to design effective offenses is also a plus. He led Purdue to a Top 25 finish in offensive efficiency in 2020.

Navigating The Big Ten Landscape Under Tight Academic Requirements 

Shrewsberry took over for Jim Ferry, who went 11-14 in his only season at the helm. 

The Nittany Lions’ best season of late was in 2019-20. Longtime head coach Pat Chambers went 21-10, which was the program’s highest finish in the Big Ten since the 2010-11 season when they finished tied for fourth and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Chambers, who had been the Nittany Lions’ head coach since 2011, resigned in October 2021 after an investigation into allegations of inappropriate conduct. Ferry took charge after that on an interim basis until Shrewsberry arrived on March 15, 2021. 

Changing the fortunes of a basketball program that has secured just two NCAA Tourney bids since 2000 and lists two NIT Championships since 2008 as its banner accomplishments won’t be an easy task in the Big Ten, especially with the NIL game figuring so prominently in recruiting.

But when it comes to developing talent and building a program, a culture — things that are also essential to building a winning program aside from throwing money at the best players — Shrewsberry comes from an accomplished coaching tree and fits the Penn State mold to perfection. Figuring it out on the fly is something he has learned to do, especially at the NBA level. 

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.