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Penn State men’s basketball’s new-look backcourt has potential to be 1 of the Big Ten’s best | Column

jalen pickett psu ca

Transfer guard Jalen Pickett shoots a jump shot during a Penn State men's basketball practice.

The game of basketball has transitioned from a sport dominated by behemoth interior forces to a game that has become heavily reliant on outside shooting and guard play.

The best teams, both collegiately and professionally, feature players of all sizes who can stretch the floor by having the ability to shoot, sometimes from absurd distances that make “oldheads” scowl in disapproval.

However, thanks to players like 3-point shooting phenom Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, it looks as though the sport has changed for the better.

Curry’s visually appealing style of play has transcended a game based primarily on dumping the ball in the post to a sport that features a greater focus in skilled guard play on the perimeter.

Last year’s national championship Baylor team featured NBA-caliber guards Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell, proving that an elite backcourt duo is essential to the success of a modern-day college basketball team.

While Penn State’s current backcourt may not be comparable to Butler and Mitchell, transfer guards Jalen Pickett and Jaheam Cornwall possess the intangibles necessary to develop into one of the most proficient backcourt pairings in the Big Ten this season.

Pickett was ranked No. 56 in CBS’s top college basketball transfers for this upcoming season.

The former Siena standout was dubbed the MAAC Player of the Year in the 2019-20 season averaging 15 points and six assists per game.

He was invited to the NBA G-League Elite Camp after his freshman season in which he won MAAC Rookie of the Year, but after 2 years with the Saints, he decided to stay another year at Siena due to coronavirus related uncertainties in the draft process.

With the acquisition of Pickett, Penn State will have an NBA-level guard that can make an immediate impact to a team in search of a leader from the point guard position.

Pickett’s backcourt mate will be Gardner-Webb transfer Jaheam Cornwall who led his team to its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance and its first Big South Tournament win in 2019.

jaheam cornwall ca

Transfer guard Jaheam Cornwall dribbles through cones during a Penn State men's basketball practice.

Cornwall shot 42% from behind the arc over the course of his four years with the Bulldogs and finished within the top five in the conference in terms of 3-point field goals per game last season.

The Brooklyn native also finished within the top 10 in the Big South in points per game last season, averaging 14.1.

One extremely valuable trait that both Pickett and Cornwall share, besides their abilities to stretch the floor, get their teammates involved and create off the dribble, is their experience.

Pickett, a senior, and Cornwall, a fifth-year senior, bring a plethora of knowledge and the level of refined skill that it takes to lead a team to wherever it wants to go.

Penn State has not had a group this mature in recent memory, as there are only four sophomores and no freshmen featured on the team.

While it may take Pickett, Cornwall and a number of the other transfers some time to adjust to Big Ten basketball, especially coming from smaller schools, it seems as though they’re as prepared as they could be to take the next step.

Furthermore, it will be a learning curve for not only the transfers but the whole team as it adapts to coach Micah Shrewsberry’s style of play.

However, once the whole team is able to buy in and get a feel for how to play with each other, this squad could be scary.

With less than a week left until Penn State takes the court against Youngstown State in the Bryce Jordan Center to tip off the regular season, a new wave of Penn State basketball is certainly on its way.

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