Penn State’s Shrewsberry says team’s grittiness inspired by Knight, zone inspired by Woodson

As a player, Micah Shrewsberry was a three-year starting guard and team tri-captain at Hanover College in southern Indiana along the Ohio River. He led the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference in free throw shooting (.833) and assists (4.4) in 1998-99.

But make no mistake, the Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate would have preferred to play up the road, about 80 miles to the northwest, to be precise.

An Indiana basketball kid during the Bob Knight era, he had the same dream as thousands of other boys of that generation.

“I grew up idolizing Coach Knight in terms of his teams how they played what they did,” the first-year Penn State head coach said on Sunday evening after his team defeated Indiana.

“I would have crawled there if I was a good enough player.  I clearly wasn’t.”

Instead of playing for Knight, Shrewsberry’s path has led him to torment the successors of the legendary IU head coach.

During his second stint as a Purdue assistant from 2019 to 2021, it was Shrewsberry designing the offensive attack for the Boilermakers that led to a four straight IU losses during that stretch and an average of 70 points per game for the Boilermakers.

Now in his first year as head coach at Penn State, Shrewsberry has already found a way to continue the pain for Indiana fans.

And in a cruel twist, he thinks of it all as a tribute to Knight.

“The greatest way to honor somebody is the way that you play, and when I go back and look at those (Knight coached Indiana) teams they were always tough traditional gritty half-court man-to-man teams, they shared the ball and they fought on the glass and they played as a team and they played gritty,” Shrewsberry said.  “And that’s what I knew it would take for us to win tonight, but (also) to have success in the Big Ten.”

Even the inspirational tactic Shrewsberry used with his team this week had a strong Knight flavor to it.

“I give them a quote and and before practice and the one this week was ‘the difference between excellence and mediocrity is commitment,'” Shrewsberry said.


Like Shrewsberry said, he wants to play gritty man-to-man defense, at least most of the time.

But the Penn State head coach isn’t just familiar with Knight, but also his former player Mike Woodson, and that led to a twist to the Nittany Lions’ defensive approach on Sunday.

Shrewsberry’s time as an assistant coach with the Boston Celtics (2013-19) overlapped with Woodson’s time as the head coach of the New York Knicks and as an assistant with the Clippers.

“We played them (the Knicks) four times right there in our division when I was in Boston and like what he did out of timeouts was fantastic,” Shrewsberry said of Woodson.  “I still remember like he runs such good stuff and he puts his guys in position.”

Shrewsberry figured with Indiana having ten days to prepare for Penn State, defending IU with what they had already put out on film probably wouldn’t go well.

“They had a chance to kind of see how we were whether how we were going to double team like how we were going to rotate what we were able to do, so I thought that when he (Woodson) gets a chance to huddle those guys and talk to them I thought he could really pick us apart,” he said.

The solution was to force Indiana to read and react to a zone, something Woodson admitted after the game his team struggled to adjust to early.

“We’ve worked on it (the zone) like we’ve been working on it a little bit here and there,” Shrewsberry said.  “I just wanted to try and keep him off balance a little bit, like they say take the pen out of his hand a little bit and force the players to to make decisions.

“Because I’ve got nothing but the utmost respect for him competing against him, competing against his teams. … So we had to do something different like if I would have just stayed the same way he would start picking us apart.”

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