“You don’t want to lose to a team that doesn’t play well, that isn’t well coached, that doesn’t play with class…..Penn plays hard, is well coached, and they play with class.” -Princeton’s Basketball Coach, 2014.
Unfortunately, the above quote was referring to Penn’s 2014 Ivy Champion women’s basketball team. In the span of four short years, Mike McLaughlin has remarkably turned the women’s basketball program from worst (2-26) to first– in almost the same time frame that Jerome Allen has managed to coach the men’s team into the Ivy cellar.
In my opinion, none of the attributes quoted above can be used to describe the Quaker men. Even watching the NCAA Tournament, it looks like other teams are playing 21st Century hoops while Penn is now mired somewhere in the Mesozoic Era. The turnovers, the fouls, the loss of poise, and the lack of hustle and awareness have made them impossible to watch. Just as disturbing is the complete lack of growth, discipline, and maturity, particularly among the second and third year players. Here is a brief laundry list of recent events.
- The team finishes its second consecutive losing season at 8-20, winning only two road games all year. (If not for Cornell, perhaps the nation’s poorest team, they’d probably only have 6 wins.) The Quakers are essentially non-competitive in the Ivy League just at a time when the League is actually reaching a new high in both depth and talent. They are also one of the worst teams in the nation in turnovers and fouls committed.
- Tony Hicks gets ejected and suspended for throwing a punch while playing at Columbia– the second time he has lost his cool and flagrantly gotten physical this season. (The other time he pushed a Wagner player into the scorer’s table.)
- DNH and Henry Brooks are mysteriously benched against the Lions in New York for violating team rules. A separate transgression happened last year as well forcing Jerome to bench the majority of the team just before facing Delaware.
- Ryan Singer, a 6’11” recruit, de-commits from an already terrible incoming recruiting class.
- Assistant Coach and head of recruiting Scott Pera abruptly resigns and leaves for Rice University.
- Freshman guard Tony Bagtas gets arrested for burglary. He allegedly was caught stealing cash and property from unlocked dorm rooms, two felony charges and four charges altogether. (His alleged steals in the dorm thereby exceeding his steals on the court.) Mr. Bagtas’ future with the team, and at school, is now cloudy at best.
I ask you: Are these the attributes of a happy, unified, well-coached, disciplined team? Is this an athletic brotherhood that represents its University with class, pride and dignity?
Objectively, it is safe to say that Penn Basketball is now in complete freefall. It is also safe to say that the newly installed Athletic Director, Grace Calhoun, realizes this as well. (Ironically, the hopes of Quaker Nation once again rest upon someone from Brown.) Despite the adolescent sniping in sections of the Penn media regarding her recent hire, it is clear that this woman is not afraid to clean house. She fired Loyola’s Men’s Basketball Coach one month after taking the job in Chicago.
The difficulty arises in the fact that she will not assume office until July 1 and barring a few of the players starting a prostitution ring, carjacking gang, or drug cartel, she has assured everyone that no changes will take place until then. Of course, July is probably too late to find a new coach to take control, so another year of pain and frustration is most likely in store for the Quaker faithful.
Although this has been the worst year I have ever experienced as a Penn hoops fan, next year looks to be even worse. Still, I am not, nor have I ever been, about the “blame game.” Unlike so many alumni who spitefully point to former AD Bilsky’s pecuniary shortsightedness and Jerome Allen’s lack of coaching ability and pedigree, I don’t care how the program got to its present nadir. All I care about is what can be done now to make it better.
There are naturally no easy answers for this. Just being competitive is becoming increasingly difficult with each passing year as the Harvard hoops monolith continues to separate itself from the rest of the League. So, as with any of life’s crises, I leave you with this thought: it’s not about the failure, it is only about the rescue. Failures are only failures if you allow them to continue. However, like Coach McLaughlin (or Smith or Miller or, dare I say, Amaker) has amply demonstrated, rescue of a moribund program is indeed attainable with the right resources and personnel in place. It will take time. It will take patience (a commodity already in critically short supply by the Penn fan base), but there is no longer any choice. It must happen. I, of course, believe it will.
Let the rescue begin.
Stay Red & Blue my friends,