STATE UNIVERSITY – The paths to Penn State’s men’s basketball senior night on Friday were winding and varied for the class of seven men. John Harrar is in his fifth year with the Nittany Lions. Greg Lee, Jaheam Cornwall and Jalanni White are in their first and only year with the program and their fifth year of college basketball.
Jalen Pickett is in his first year with the program, but he may return for another due to an NCAA waiver granting athletes an additional year of eligibility due to the coronavirus pandemic. Sam Sessoms has been at Penn State for two years and he can come back for another. Only Myles Dread is the traditional fourth-year senior who spent all four years in one place.
Despite their different starting points, all seven players will complete the 2021-22 season at Penn State. The group talks about the current fleetingness of college basketball, but it also shows what can happen in a short time. First-year coach Micah Shrewsberry wants to build a winning program. He started with these building blocks.
“I think they’ll all get something different out of this experience,” Shrewsberry said Wednesday. “You come here with a plan and you never know how a plan is going to be executed or what is going to happen throughout this year. I think if you ask Jaheam or Jalanni or Greg, their experiences have all been different in terms of playing on the pitch, in terms of what they’ve taken away from this year as players.
“But the one thing I would say is that I think they like the guys they’ve teamed up with this year on our team. We sort of formed a band in a short time, but we have personalities that fit pretty well. These guys get along well. You go through something, you go through a season, you have some kind of shared experiences. You go through good times and bad times together, it creates lifelong friendships, memories, different things shared that it doesn’t matter if you were here a year or five, those are things you will come back to. These are people you will come back to.
Lee (Western Michigan/Cal State Bakersfield), White (Canisius), Cornwall (Gardner-Webb) and Pickett (Siena) all came to Penn State through the transfer portal after Shrewsberry took over last March. Sessoms (Binghamton) joined the program in 2020, while Harrar and Dread started their careers at Penn State in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
The four players using their extra years of eligibility – Lee, White, Cornwall and Harrar – will experience senior night for the second time. And though that’s not where three of them started their careers, Harrar saw how the newcomers came to terms with being at Penn State.
“Everyone has a different background,” Harrar said Wednesday. “A kid like Jalen Pickett from Rochester, then Greg Lee from Chicago – all these different backgrounds come together. I think they’ve done a great job of reaching out and meeting people in the community and representing Penn State, so I’m thrilled for them. We’re all doing Senior Night again, so it’s going to be fun, and I really want to enjoy the day and enjoy the moment.
Read more: Penn State men’s basketball’s Greg Lee remains ‘day-to-day’, eligibility decisions must wait until end of season and more
Things did not necessarily go as some would have expected on the ground. Lee missed the start of the season with one injury and missed the last five with another. Cornwall’s shotgun streak from his Gardner-Webb days never really materialized. White was on the wrong end of a dunk attempt against Michigan State.
But everyone has had their moments. Making the jump from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference to the Big Ten, Pickett became a top option with a team-high 13.0 points per game this season. Lee was playing some of his best basketball before his latest injury. White has increased the depth up front.
Sessoms was a spark plug on the bench who was able to get hot and take over the games. Dread has occasionally been an outside deadeye shooter. And then there’s Harrar, whom Shrewsberry has identified as the “heart and soul” of his schedule throughout August.
And it all comes together to form a brave team that has made life difficult for almost every opponent in the Big Ten game. Shrewsberry has often said that age — the Nittany Lions entered the season as one of the oldest teams in the nation — and group experience have helped him in adverse situations this season. He is awarded Shrewsberry this season.
As the seniors prepare to part ways – Dread, Pickett and Sessoms will all have the option to return, and those decisions will be made after the season – Shrewsberry wants its players reimbursed, no matter when.
“They had me for life,” Shrewsberry said. “I don’t care how long they stayed here, they put their trust in me. They had me forever. So at the end of the day, I don’t know what they’ll get out of it, but they have a coach who’s been supporting them for a long, long time.
Covers by Daniel Gallen Penn State for Penn Live. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter, instagram and Facebook. Follow Penn State’s PennLive coverage on Twitter, Facebook, instagram and Youtube.