Pickett ’17 is Living the Imagine learning a valuable skill at a major university, embarking upon your chosen profession shortly after graduation, and discovering on the first day of work that the new employer has shipped you off to a rival company. JALEN PICKETT DOESN’T NEED TO IMAGINE IT; HE’S LIVING IT. Lest you start feeling too sorry for the 2017 Aquinas graduate, the scenario is all part of the job in the National Basketball Association. Pickett is a rookie this fall with the Denver Nuggets, the defending NBA champions. And after the whirlwind start to his professional life following graduation from Penn State University with a journalism degree, he is settling in for a glamorous though demanding job. Jalen made his NBA debut on October 24, 2023 scoring his first professional basket during the Nuggets’ victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. He logged a modest 43 seconds of playing time that night, but that’s largely the way it goes for all but a handful of players from each year’s rookie class. There are only about 450 jobs in the best league in the world’s second-biggest pro sport, so he’ll be working his way up through the ranks for a while. “They gave the rookie class mostly good deals to be around for a couple of years to work, develop, and maybe contribute to championships down the line,” Jalen said. “It’s a great opportunity.” He’s the understudy to point guard Jamal Murray. Just 32 months older than Jalen, who turned 24 two days before his first game, Murray is already in his eighth pro season. He’s someone to study and emulate. “This is great, honestly,” Jalen said. “I get to see on the biggest stage how the best people work. How can I get to that stage? How can I be a player on that level? What does it take? I’m basically learning from the best person in the league right now on how to be a professional, how to compete for championships (and) how to stay humble and grounded.” The process began on the night of the annual NBA Draft on June 22 when Jalen was selected early in the second round with the 32nd overall pick. Technically, that pick belonged to the Indiana Pacers, but it was just a matter of minutes before Indiana, the Nuggets, and two other teams announced a pre-arranged trade that ended with Jalen going to Denver. In fact, he had no interaction with the Pacers, and it was the culmination of the intrigue that began a month earlier when the league gathered most of the top prospects for a two-day workout in Chicago. Jalen only participated on the first day. The story making the rounds right after the draft was that certain teams were wowed by what they saw and encouraged him to skip the second day, lest he start attracting the interest of other general managers. Jalen said it made for a great conspiracy theory, but it was purely fiction. “It doesn’t usually go like that – at least it didn’t go like that for me,” he said, laughing. “After my first day, I did get a couple of good promises and offers. During this time between college and the NBA, there’s a lot of down time. I didn’t have a contract and wasn’t guaranteed money. So when a couple teams tell you ’good job,’ you could play the extra day and take a chance to get hurt and not get a contract. Me and my agent decided it was probably best to shut it down and not put ourselves in peril.” It was the right play. Rookie contracts follow a fairly rigid structure. As the second player taken in the second round, Jalen locked himself into a four-year contract. The first three years of the deal are guaranteed, meaning he will earn a minimum of $5,821,677. The road to the NBA was a lengthy one following Jalen’s graduation from Aquinas in 2017. Though his versatility on the court intrigued some college coaches, he attended an Ohio prep school for a year to raise his profile, then accepted a scholarship offer from Siena College, where Jalen started 74 of a possible 76 games over two-plus seasons before the pandemic shut down sports. It was already clear after his freshman season that Jalen was a candidate to play professionally, and he tested the 28 AQUINAS LANDMARK | WINTER 2024 Jalen Pickett playing for the Li’l Irish in the 2015-2016 school year.