Several years ago, Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun was asked what the single-most important ingredient is to build a winning college basketball program. His response was immediate and succinct: “Talent. You cannot win without it no matter how good a coach you are.”
Does Penn have talent? It appears so, but it is far too early judge the freshman class based on only two games. I will say that overall they look eager, athletic and, as a group, promising. As for the veterans, Tony Hicks’s ability is undeniable. However, during his tenure at Penn he has become the Carmelo Anthony of the Quakers – shoot first and ask questions later. Darien Nelson-Henry is talented as well but still looks very much like a work in progress, flashes of brilliance interspersed with long stretches of underachievement. Unfortunately, he is more often the “Big Donkey” than the mighty “Big Hyphen” who can single-handedly dominate games. The rest of the veterans – Louis, Jones, Howard and Lewis – can also play but frequently look lost in “the system.”
After the Quakers lost to Rider last week, Jerome Allen once again blamed the players for taking it upon themselves to win the game on their own instead of relying on “the system.” This refrain (often punctuated by a disgusted facial grimace) has been heard often over the last three years with many different players who have played on Jerome’s teams. If the players are committing this same error of independence every year, then the message Jerome is sending to the team is obviously not being heeded.
In 1982, Craig Littlepage took over a veteran Quaker squad so loaded with talent it was expected by many to go deep in the NCAA tournament. But the seniors, defending Ivy League champions, looked listless and out of sync in the new system. In the end, except for an upset of ranked Villanova in the Big 5, that team lost the Ivy title to Craig Robinson’s (AKA Obama’s brother in law) Princeton Tigers.
So at this point in Penn’s season, I humbly disagree with coach Calhoun. Yes, you indeed need talent, but without adequate coaching to harness this ability, it really doesn’t matter if you have it all.
Stay Red and Blue my friends,