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  • Writer's pictureSean Savage

Anthony Picott Has Remade His Story at Penn State Wilkes-Barre

Young, confused, and close-minded. That was Anthony Picott in a nutshell.

"As a man now, I could honestly say I did not love basketball," said Anthony Picott. "I wanted to be a football player. I wanted to be a wide receiver. I wanted to play Division I. I wanted to go to the NFL."

Chasing The Dream – No Other Way

Picott has been a dual-sport athlete ever since he picked up a football and basketball in his native Newport News, Virginia.

"I loved the excitement of football,” Picott said. “I loved the big hits, hearing the crowd get loud, and getting a lot of tackles."

As for basketball, Picott never found the same excitement as football. Picott's friends would constantly nudge him toward hoops because of his natural talent on the court, but Picott did not acknowledge the potential his friends saw in him.

Picott would get offended at his friends’ suggestions.

"I am a football player," he would tell them. "End of story."

In Picott’s mind, basketball was standing in the way of him becoming something great.

"I would have to argue with them all the time," Picott Sr. said.

Despite their differences on what sport he should concentrate on, Picott loved playing all sports with his friends. Their pick-up games motivated and drove Picott to excel.

"Anthony growing up was seen as a smart, good person and likable,” his father, Anthony Sr. said. “People knew he would be successful because he did not hide that fact.”

"I got my competitive nature from my neighborhood,” Picott said.

That competitive nature best manifested itself in football workouts.

"I started to put in the extra time to work on my body,” Picott said. “Then I put in the extra time to go and play football: run routes and learn how to catch the ball better."

Picott was headed on an upward path as a football player. But at age 12, something changed that was out of his control.

A growth spurt.

From sixth to seventh grade, Picott went from 5'6" to 5'10".

"Once I saw I was taller, I decided to take a break from football,” Picott said. “I was already a natural at basketball."

Picott and his dad started watching all levels of basketball on television.

"The stuff we would watch, he would have me go do," Picott said.

"I would learn how to use my left hand, how to perfect a crossover, and between the legs with a behind-the-back,” Picott said.

Picott picked up basketball fundamentals quickly and he would go to the park and play with kids four to five years older than him.

"Strength does not matter here. As a sixth and seventh grader, you will not be stronger than someone two years older," Picott added.

Despite his added height, Picott was finding it difficult to stand out in basketball. He was starting to realize that maybe football was for him after all.

In eighth grade, his dream of making it as a football player was coming back into the picture. Hoops slowly trickled away.

As a freshman, Picott was placed on the junior varsity team for Heritage High School. That did not sit well with him. In his mind, he was bound for the NFL.

Picott went straight to the head coach, asking to be placed on the varsity with the big guys.

After an awkward silence, the head coach agreed that Picott could dress for varsity games while still playing in JV games.

“I dominated those JV games," Picott said.

Picott found both his love and groove in football. As the season progressed, he saw more minutes at the varsity level and even claimed a starting spot for a varsity game.

His dream was coming alive, and it was coming with ease.

But then, his team fell in the state semi-finals.

And things changed. Picott's demeanor had shifted, and he was lost once again. Picott lost interest in playing football.

"I stopped going to all the football workouts, and my coach was not happy with me," Picott said.

Picott did not keep up with hoops, and AAU teams simply did not want him.

He was cut not once… not twice… but three times. Basketball was not working out for him.

When all was seemingly lost, there was one small glimmer of hope.

Team Loaded – a renowned AAU team about an hour and a half away in Richmond – was looking for players. Anthony's dad knew someone who could get him a tryout.

Tryouts rolled around quickly. Picott’s nerves were high and his mind was all over the place. He did not know anyone at the tryout.

Picott knew this was his last shot to continue his athletic career. Every second he was on the court was vital for Picott to show himself.

By the final whistle, Picott was drenched in sweat. He took a seat and thought about how he did.

Picott ended up making the team. Immediately, he started traveling.

"We ended up going to Vegas,” Picott said. “It was always a dream of mine to go to Vegas. I did not know what Vegas was, but I always wanted to go."

‘This Little Orange Basketball’

"Once I realized how far this little orange basketball could take me in a matter of months,” Picott said, “I told myself I was going to stick with it.”

Picott was determined to take the advice his friends tried to instill, and run with it.

As Picott was finding his focus on the court, some of his friends started to go down a darker path off the court.

For many of them, the days of playing under the bright sun gave way to sitting behind bars – or even six-feet under in a graveyard.

Picott was thrown into a whirlwind of emotions – he was losing composure and did not know what to do. When his friends got into trouble, he wanted to be there for them.

"My friends' struggles and their pain was mine," Picott said. "I did not know how serious life was."

Picott was torn between loyalty and the potential for a bright future with basketball. Picott chose basketball, knowing he would have to leave his past behind him.

"I did not want to be a part of the cycle or become a statistic," Picott said.

The days of feeling stuck alongside his friends started to slowly fade away. Picott began to focus on his future – focus on basketball.

That future included the idea of playing hoops at the next level, but in order to fulfill that dream, Picott would still face obstacles through the good days, the bad days, and the horrible days he experienced on the hardwood.

His first major hurdle after his summer playing the AAU circuit would be to find a new school. Fall ball at Heritage High School was not going well during Picott’s sophomore year. With his new commitment to basketball, Picott and his dad understood that transferring schools would give him the best opportunity to showcase his skills.

Early into his second year of high school, Picott left Heritage and enrolled at Hampton Roads Academy.

Picott’s last two major decisions (recommitting to basketball, staying away from a life of crime) had been good ones. He was hoping to keep that ball rolling at HRA.

Things could not have gone any better for Picott on the court for the Navigators. He became a team leader and much needed scorer right away for a team that finished 19-8 overall and 10-0 in the region in 2015-16.

Kae Edmonds, HRA assistant coach, was impressed right away with Picott’s work ethic and skill set.

"He was a catalyst for our success,” Edmonds said. “He knew what was right and what we needed."

Edmonds described Picott as someone who bought into the program.

"He was not afraid to say how he felt. He was the bad guy, but it helped."

By the summer after his junior year, he was getting looked at by schools – not just any schools, but Division I schools.

"I was going Division I. No other division mattered to me," Picott told himself.

Edmonds could see that potential in Picott right away.

"From day one, I knew he had potential to play at the next level," Edmonds said.

Picott continued to play basketball year-round. He was continually getting better, working on his ball handling and shooting. He was still very athletic. In a summer league game, Picott was going up for a dunk and. . . .

"I went up, and a kid clotheslined me by my neck,” Picott said. “My knee went in, the body went out, and I heard a pop."

He tore his ACL.

It was a long road back for Picott. He put in the time rehabbing, but unfortunately, all of the schools that showed an early interest in him stopped calling.

"Recruiting was shell-shocked," Picott said.

"I was known to be athletic,” Picott said. “After that, my athletic ability was shocked. I lost all of that."

Picott did return for his senior year at HRA, but things did not go as planned. Despite Picott averaging 17 points and six rebounds per game, the 2016-17 Navigators fell to a 10-13 record. Any chance of a Division I basketball scholarship was out the window.

Picott had to resort to committing to a JUCO school – Northwest Kansas Technical College.

Unfortunately, nothing was going according to plan in rural Goodland, Kansas. Upon Picott’s arrival, he was not even getting picked up for team scrimmages.

"It was a struggle," Picott said. “I will never forget it. I went back to my room and cried.

“In high school, I was the man,” Picott said, “but now everyone was the man."

Picott let out his emotions and then put his head down and worked. And worked. He outworked everyone.

"I worked on my game with the team and then I would go back to the weight room and court,” Picott said. “I knew I had to secure a role on the team."

All his hard work paid off. Picott made the varsity team. However, he was redshirted his first year.

Prior to and during his sophomore year, his work ethic was even better.

"Basketball is everything to him," Anthony Sr. said. "He has a no-quit work ethic."

"I was getting better each and every day," Anthony said.

During his freshman year at NWKTC, Picott was 6’1” and 170 pounds.

"After great nights and early mornings, I came back 6'3" and 185," Picott said.

Hope was coming back to Picott’s life. It was a slow process, and it definitely was not easy.

"My athleticism was coming back, and my knee was feeling better,” Picott said. “At this point, I was thinking I could still go Division I.

"I wanted this to be a job for me one day,” Picott said, “so I treated it like one."

Despite being in the best shape of his life and his basketball skills improving every day, playing time was hard to come by for Picott. The Mavericks returned two wing players who were All-Americans during his redshirt season. Picott was relegated to the end of the bench.

By winter break, everything collapsed.

The rural Kansas days were drawn out and the nights were long and dark. Picott was left shriveled up alone.

"I fell into a depression,” Picott said. “I stopped going to the gym. I stopped eating and I stopped hydrating properly.

“I just said (to myself) ‘it is what it is,’" Picott said.

After years of figuring out the right path to take and making the right choices, Picott fell to his knees. It was too much. He was confident he was going to quit.

Just as Picott had figuratively packed his bags, an unexpected opportunity arose. With only five games left in the Mavericks’ season, his coach played him 25 meaningful minutes against Garden City Community College. Picott played all out and put up seven points and nine rebounds in an 82-74 win.

It was just a start, but it was enough for him to stick out the rest of the season. Unfortunately, Picott was back to the end of the bench for the final four games of a 15-17 campaign.

The season ended, and Picott was in a funk. He showed he could do it if given an opportunity, but in his mind, he was checked out.

"I really thought about quitting basketball," Picott said.

But deep within him, he knew he had more to give the sport.

"I did not give up football for it to come to this,” Picott said. “I did not want this to be my story."

Despite the lack of playing time, and stats that would not jump out at anyone (11 games played, 2.6 points and 1.7 rebounds per game), Picott continued his workouts. By the spring of his sophomore year, Picott was getting feelers from schools again. Not Division I, but maybe a chance to continue his basketball career.

Two offers stood out to him: Bluefield College (NAIA), and Penn State Wilkes-Barre (USCAA).

Penn State Wilkes-Barre coach, LeShawn Hammett, showed great interest in Picott, once sending him over 25 text messages in one sitting; but Picott had already decided to commit to Bluefield.

He was not guaranteed a spot on the basketball team. He was one of about 60 people trying to play for the school. This did not include the returning players from the previous season.

"I did everything I was supposed to, and then I was put on JV," Picott added.

Picott did not know what to do when he did not make varsity. He felt he had outplayed everyone at tryouts, but he also realized that there was no shot the coach was taking Picott over his returning players.

Picott asked for a meeting with the head coach to hash out their differences.

"I am working harder than everyone out there,” Picott told the coach. “Put loyalty aside, I deserve to be in a jersey."

His coach contemplated Picott’s request. He responded by offering Picott a jersey, but told him he would never play.

Picott accepted that and just continued to work.

Picott went home for Christmas break, still never having suited up for the Rams’ varsity team.

When school started back up again in January, Picott found out his name and jersey were taken from the team.

"I had to sit behind, I could not travel with the team, and he would not even let me shoot in practice," Picott recalled.

He fell into another mental breakdown.

A Last Hope

Three years, no basketball. Injuries, and a work ethic that seemingly went under the radar, caused Picott to lose three years of hoops. And hopes.

Picott had to leave Bluefield to avoid completely losing himself. He sent a text to Coach Hammett at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, in hopes he would have an extra spot on the team for the 2020-21 season.

Surprisingly, Hammett accepted him with open arms. Picott would finally get a chance to play college basketball.

Except COVID canceled the Nittany Lions’ upcoming season.

This pushed back Picott's chance to play hoops back another year – four years without any meaningful time on the court, save for 60 minutes spread out over 11 games during his second season at Northwest Kansas Technical College.

Picott returned to Wilkes-Barre for the 2021-22 season. After a redshirt season and a season in which he sparingly played at NWKTC, a lost year at Bluefield, and season lost to COVID at Wilkes-Barre, Picott would have two years of eligibility left in the Diamond City.

But Picott knew not to take anything for granted. He continued working as hard as usual and would not let anything get into his head. He just wanted a chance to finally play basketball for a college and a coach that wanted him.

Early in the fall, he was scrimmaging with his new teammates at an open gym, trying to find his role on the team.

Then it happened. Again.

Not a good “it happened.”

Without warning, Picott’s leg went numb – from his toe all the way to his knee.

Picott had a pinched nerve and would miss the preseason of his junior year.

After all he had been through, all the setbacks, Picott was not going to let a pinched nerve derail his basketball dreams. Instead of lowering his head in despair and proclaiming, “Oh no, not again,” Picott lowered his head in prayer.

"I left it to God," Picott said.

Whether it was a higher power or his own tenacity, Picott’s leg eventually healed.

Picott missed needed time on the court to get in game shape. When he was finally able to run again, he only had one month to prepare himself before the season.

Picott was more than ready. At this point, he just wanted to feel like he was a part of a team.

"I did not care if I was a waterboy,” Picott said. “I just wanted to play."

The season rolled around, and Picott was a rotational player. Through the first seven games, he was averaging 13 minutes and four points per game with a couple of starts. He was shooting 50 percent from the field.

"I just started to roll from there," Picott said.

Roll he did. In early December, the PSUAC ruled that only vaccinated players were eligible to play. There were nine players on the Nittany Lions’ roster, and for a while, only six were playing. In the span of three days, Picott went from playing 16 to a full 40 minutes.

Picott has not been out of the starting rotation since.

Picott’s statistics weren’t overwhelming in 2021-22, but he did average 5.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game for a 23-7 team that made it to the USCAA Men’s Division II National Tournament. He scored in double figures six times last season, including a season-high 19 points against Cheney University.

However, Picott was saving his best for last. Picott is now the unquestioned leader of the 2022-23 Nittany Lions, who entered this year’s USCAA Men’s Division II National Tournament as the #1 seed at 22-8.

Picott was named First-Team All-PSUAC this season with 17.2 points per game, including back-to-back 30-point games midway through the season. He scored 30 points at Penn State Brandywine on November 29, then four days later scored a career-high 31 at home against Penn State Scranton.

Picott is also shooting lights-out this season, hitting on 52 percent of his field goals, including 40 percent from behind the arc.

Picott has come a long way to accomplish what he has at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, but set even higher goals for this year’s team and for his own future.

One of his goals for this season was to win the conference championship. Wilkes-Barre fell just short as they lost to Penn State Greater Allegheny in the PSUAC championship game on March 6.

However, the other goal was attained. A bigger goal.

On Thursday March 16 in Petersburg, Virginia, Wilkes-Barre was crowned National Champions. Over the three games, Picott poured in 52 points.

Every game was played with poise – every crossover was flashy, he was quick to the rack, and lights out from beyond the arc.

In the final game against Miami Hamilton, Picott ran the floor – he had 23 points, and connected on five three-pointers to give his team the edge, 55-50. His performance earned him tournament MVP.

And he was named first team All-American.

Petersburg is only 85 miles from Newport News. Picott’s basketball odyssey has come full-circle.

As apropos as it might be for his journey to end there, Picott sees it continuing. After the USCAA National Tournament, Picott will be set to walk across the stage to receive his degree in accounting.

But he hopes to hold off crunching numbers for a while. Especially after winning the national championship, a stepping stone for what is to come.

Picott dreams of continuing his basketball pilgrimage by playing professionally.

"I wanted to ensure this story reaches the right audience,” Picott said. “The end never comes until you let it."

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