Siena Saints freshman Jalen Pickett might not yet be a household name, but he’s quickly moving his way through the proper passages to become something of a low-major legend. His mythology won’t meet an impasse there, either. Pickett’s voyage is going to result in stardom on a national scale, come hell or global warming.
Ignore his team’s 11-12 record. Hurl to the wayside notions of players eating at lower levels of basketball. Among those who follow college basketball from Duke all the way down to the University of Broken Dreams, you won’t find many who are opposed to the notion that Pickett could be the next gigantic mid/low-major talent.
Jalen Pickett is different, even if only because his style of play is yet without a proper definition. Don’t let that lack of definition obscure the main point: His game is electric.
Averaging 15.0 points, 6.3 assists and 4.4 rebounds per contest, the counting stats fail to scream “budding superstar.” So does the fine, if not spectacular, 45 percent shooting clip from the floor and 36 percent sniping mark beyond the arc.
On the surface everything seems fine, filled with potential and the collection of skills which enables a person to feel safe in projecting a good-to-great career for a kid playing in the MAAC. That is, however, not the prediction which will be made here.
With the god or spirit you worship as a witness to this declaration, let it be known: It is time to proclaim Pickett a future superstar, not just a low-major darling or a neat mid-major attraction. Instead, it’s Mike Daum on steroids coupled with whatever high school “prodigy” is being pimped by SLAM for some video clicks.
While not as alluring as watching Nic Cage movies on a loop, in the following video you will see a freshman playing beyond his experience. Using the feel of the defender sagging behind him, Pickett slows his dribble slightly, backing into the defense, while forcing the off-defender to respect his jumper, allowing his teammate to slash to the basket for an easy two points.
It’s not sexy. It’s nothing that will make some top-10 highlight reel made by a creator of YouTube videos. However, it reveals an ability wholly important to a team’s success, which helps explain how the Siena Saints have massively improved as the freshman has gained experience, with a MAAC record of 6-4.
That’s the important, yet boring, information. Showing solid fundamentals and a basketball IQ beyond one’s years will not make anyone a household name — nevertheless, they define a kid playing in a conference few people other than true college basketball fanatics care for.
Pickett has also shown flashes of being an adept creator of his own offense. It should be noted he sometimes over-dribbles, though that can be explained by both a lack of experience and a team-based need for him to carry such a large burden of the offense’s structure — it’s an inherent necessity for Siena.
The next video is solid evidence of Pickett’s ability to quickly pull up off a dribble, creating space off a decent pick and some incredible bounce.
The following video reveals a more daring dimension of Pickett: You will see his quick trigger, as though there’s no doubt in his mind these two shots are destined to go in.
There are countless videos of Pickett doing what you just watched. It happens in every game, multiple times.
“Show me the footage that will get me all hot and bothered,” said someone (probably). Fine. Let’s do it.
While not even on the same planet as Ja Morant’s level of athleticism, Pickett has just enough giddy-up to at least initially warrant the attention of a few people. The dunk is what most will focus on, though when looking at the separation he creates following the steal with a quick burst, that should result in a need for a new pair of boxers.
He is nearly chased down by a different defender. That can’t go unnoticed. A flaw — but only within the confines of that specific play — is that he put his head down to control the ball as he dribbled (while using only his right hand, when he should have probably been using his left). I would argue, though, that his awareness created that initial space and allowed him the chance to gather. The play is still a legitimate net-positive. Had he forced the issue, Pickett could have lost control of the ball.
(I digress — that’s not where or when a star is born, anyway. It is certainly part of the origin story, however.)
What is likely to draw people in, beyond the stats he will improve upon as his career progresses, is his passing ability, primarily out of the pick-and-roll setting. While trying to avoid hyperbolic comparisons relating to vision, he certainly has some Trae Young, since he is able to find teammates who often do not look open.
As you likely noticed when watching these videos, Jalen Pickett simply eats — whether by passing, shooting, or increased creation — in pick-and-roll (or like) situations. Presumably, it’s why opposing teams have such a hard time deciding how to defend him in those situations.
Here is an example of that. A poor, maybe fake, screen was set, with his teammate rolling before ever making body contact with the defender. The defense reacts as though the only options were to respect his jumper and the cutter to the basket. Pickett sees this instantly, using his patience (an insane aspect of his game) to maneuver to the middle of the floor.
You get the gist. Flaws and youth and whatever, he’s great fun to watch.
The Siena Saints are a single game back of Rider in the MAAC standings. Maybe the nearly unthinkable happens, Siena makes a run, and we receive the joy of Pickett growing his stardom come March. If that’s not the case, a college basketball-loving world will still have the conference tournament and as many years Pickett is willing to play basketball for free to watch his greatness.
Siena next plays on Friday. It’s against an abominably awful Manhattan team and you’re unlikely to find it on TV or easily accessible streaming platforms. Until then, I leave you with a remaining set of footage of Jalen Pickett being great, set to the music our future hero deserves.
Joseph Nardone has covered college basketball for nearly a decade at various outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.
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