Nothing lasts forever. Of what was once a powerful 500-year-old Republic, all that remains now of the Roman Empire are some weathered boulders scattered across Italy in the form of decaying monuments. And what has become of Britain’s Empire that once stretched to every continent on the planet? It has been reduced to a token naval force and an army of T-shirted, potbellied, Guinness-fueled, vomiting soccer hooligans who now invade neighboring lands in the name of “Man U” instead of Her Majesty the Queen.
Therefore it should not be a shock to Quaker fans that the era of Quaker hoops dominance is now effectively over. Having ruled admirably over the Ivy League for almost 30 years (along with Princeton—an effete and supercilious France to our noble and righteous England), the torch has now been passed to upstart Harvard. (The powerful but crass and cultureless “America” if you will in my little imperial scenario.) What was for years our birthright (at least we thought it was) is now handily out of reach for the foreseeable future. Since our last championship in 2007, The League has been effectively turned upside down with Harvard, Columbia, Yale and, most likely, Brown at the top. Twenty years ago, no one could ever have imagined this anymore than they could a bunch of ill-equipped colonists defeating the most powerful Domain in the history of civilization.
So what now can we expect from these 2014-15 Quakers? Not much, I would venture to guess. Jerome Allen’s squad is mostly young, untested and relatively small in stature. More than three years since Zack Rosen graduated, Penn still lacks a true point guard and has a poor bench. It remains to be seen whether veterans Darien Nelson-Henry and Tony Hicks have improved their games enough to carry the team. Although the incoming freshman class looks relatively solid, there are no blue-chip stars to look out for. Jerome, after misfiring badly on the recruiting trail the last few years (see Tony “light fingers” Bagtas), finally seems to be looking a bit less at raw talent and a bit more at quality student-athletes. Regardless, things remain pretty bad in Quakerland. The signs of an Empire continuing to crumble are everywhere:
- Three players parted ways with the program as of last season, one for multiple criminal charges. Say what you want about Harvard’s AI-smashing recruiting standards, there still aren’t any Crimson players behind bars.
- The upcoming nonconference schedule is the weakest I have ever seen, more befitting Harvard during the pre-Amaker era (or Columbia in the post-Alexander Hamilton). Delaware State, Wagner, Rider, Lafayette – really? Is this the challenge for one of the most successful programs in NCAA hoops history? This schedule says much more than just rebuilding, it screams survival.
- Speaking of schedules, you know things are really bad when the Ivy schedule seems far more daunting than your non-conference line up. There are no longer any “easy” games across the Ancient Eight. The 14-game tournament has in effect become a roundball gauntlet. The overall talent across the league has improved immensely in the last four years. The Quakers, after playing at Princeton, face a powerful Harvard team and then a relentless Dartmouth squad at home. Penn could easily be out of it by the end of its first full weekend.
- Jerome failed to recruit his own godson, a four-star player who eventually chose Temple, and his former coach Fran Dunphy, over coming to West Philly. In fact, it appears Penn is continuing to lose the recruiting battle far more often than it is winning it. While the Quaker coaching staff is busy courting the next Lehigh or Holy Cross prospect, Tommy Amaker is sitting in the living rooms with prep stars gunning for Stanford, Vanderbilt and Northwestern. If this is the new Ivy standard, then it seems one must be capable of matching it. Yet, just like Napoleon, it appears that trying to recruit against Harvard is now as perilous as attempting to fight a land war in Asia.
- The Palestra, that majestic imperial hall, is empty and student apathy is at an all-time high. Long gone are the heady days when the Big 5 was considered a blood sport and when exiting “The Cathedral” you had to wait a full 12 hours before you could regain your hearing. The University blames the lower attendance on the influx of foreign students who don’t care or understand college hoops. Funny, Harvard has no problem drawing sellouts. Don’t they have foreign students too?
- Finally, the other seven Ivies and Philadelphia Department of Health send letters of thanks to the Penn Athletic Department as they no longer have to keep extra units of plasma in their local blood banks since Henry ”I’ll hack if I want to” Brooks has been released from the team.
Overall, the outlook for the Quakers this season cannot be considered anything else but bleak. The league is too strong and the team is simply too inexperienced. Amazingly after four years at the helm, it is still unclear whether Jerome Allen can actually coach at the D-1 level. Objectively, his track record is poor. (I say this and please understand that I am a JA fan.) In addition, last year there were a plethora of puzzling season-ending injuries, disciplinary issues and an astounding lack of player growth, chemistry and grit. Should all of this continue, and there is no reason believe that it will not, a last-place Ivy finish and the fall of Penn Basketball will be complete.
Stay Red and Blue my friends,