Thanks to the Big Ten Network, the TV transmission of the Quakers’ embarrassing blowout loss to Iowa should now be somewhere in the vicinity of the sun’s Oort Cloud, just a few hundred billion miles behind the transmission of their mostly noncompetitive loss to Penn State just a few days before. Courtesy of these electrometric waves moving at the speed of light, Penn’s hoops futility will now be preserved for eternity. There is apparently a reason why it is so quiet in space— as on Earth, nobody up there wants to see the kind of dysfunctional brand of basketball that the Quakers have been playing.
Last year, there were potential excuses aplenty as to why the team wasn’t winning and they were not at all unreasonable given the circumstances: the team was young, there was little depth, star players were injured, and most of the assistant coaches had left for other programs. On the other hand, this was supposed to be the year that Jerome finally put it all together with “his” guys. This was supposed to be the year the Quakers took that “next step” back to respectability. This was supposed to be the year they would once again challenge for the Ivy title. But instead of commensurate team growth and maturity what have we seen? The exact same thing as last year: too many turnovers, too many fouls, lackadaisical defense, bonehead passing, poor overall team play, terrible rebounding, wildly inconsistent scoring, far too much Henry Brooks, and most disturbing of all, the absolutely inexcusable apparent lack of desire. Here are some of the post-game quotes following the loss to Lafayette, a formerly 0-5 team:
“We need somebody that wants to defend, that’s all they want to do.”
“We just didn’t have the mentality for [rebounding] today… They imposed their will and we didn’t really show up. They did a great job on rebounds today.”
“We get a possession where there’s two guys locked in and the other three guys are out to lunch.”
I ask you: Are these the comments of a championship team? Better yet, are these the attributes of a championship team? Aside from the blowout win over Niagara (which at this point I consider to be nothing more than an aberration), a generally bad team aside from Antoine Mason, these remarks unfortunately have already become a recurring theme both last year and throughout this young season. Unlike his Ivy coaching colleagues namely, Messieurs Henderson, Martin and Smith for example, Jerome is somehow not getting “the message” through to his now more seasoned charges.
So what are we to think of the Quakers at this juncture? There are several possibilities. Either: A) the players are not nearly as good as was originally thought, B) they are, but Jerome has not been able to get the maximum effort from them, or, C) a combination of both. At first, in my disgust, I am tempted to say “C”, but I actually do think there is sufficient talent (besides Tony Hicks) on the team. Therefore, in my view, the answer has to be “B”. (Disclaimer: I generally suck at multiple choice.) There is very little noticeable change, in any dimension, from last year’s 9-22 squad. Therefore my only conclusion is that the coaching staff is clearly not doing the job in preparing the team to play.
There are those who disagree, however. On November 23rd after the Iowa loss, Riley Steele of the Daily Pennsylvanian wrote:
If there’s no change in the fortitude of this team by the time Ivy League play rolls around, I don’t think Jerome Allen should be fired. The players who haven’t lived up to their end of the bargain should pay the price.
In my mind, this is extremely flawed thinking. This is not the NBA. There are no free agents or trades. This is mid-major college basketball in the Ivy League where “non-scholarship” 18 to 22-year old student athletes do their best to juggle a frequently brutal course load and the year round demands of their sport. Thus, there may be only one way to go…
Although I have never met Jerome, I like him. I always have. I want to see him succeed not just for the program’s sake, but for himself. A former homegrown star with an NBA pedigree and tutelage under two of the sport’s greatest coaches, namely Fran Dunphy and Larry Brown, he seemed to be the logical choice to coach the Quakers following the G.M. (I still can’t say his name) imbroglio. (Choosing then assistant Mike Martin, although he is fast becoming the “it” guy in the Ivy coaching world, would retrospectively have been a better choice, but at the time, the basketball program had just been down “the Brown Road” with disastrous results.) Thus, given this great resume, why all the current stagnation in team potential? As ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd accurately points out in his recent book, “proximity to greatness does not equal greatness.” For this he gives the example of Magic Johnson’s abject failure as the coach of the Lakers despite being a disciple of both Pat Riley and Phil Jackson. I’m sure Magic loves the Lakers just as much as Jerome (Red and Blue Letterman sweaters notwithstanding) loves his school, but it is easy to see how this scenario is replaying itself on a much smaller scale.
There is still time to get the team on track but I am much less confident that this is possible given the current situation. What’s more, a perfect storm is beginning to gather against The Coach. Athletic Director Bilsky, Jerome’s de facto protector, is retiring in June, the alumni are already restless, the team is listless, and Villanova (who just beat #2 Kansas) is on tap for Wednesday night. I hope I’m wrong, but this game has all the makings of another epic ass kicking, another humiliation that Penn Basketball can ill afford. Should this season continue on its present downhill trajectory, it appears that Jerome will be hard pressed to escape its sad outcome–even if he’s moving at the speed of light.
Stay Red and Blue my friends,