Penn basketball deserves better leadership

(philadelphia.cbslocal.com)
(philadelphia.cbslocal.com)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. – This one was bad. Really bad. I can say so because I was there, in the high school gym with the undersized, poor shooting opponent, seeing for myself how bad the Quakers have become. No victory (and I’ve seen hundreds of Penn basketball games) has thrilled me more than this loss has skewered me. Losing to Wagner (for the fourth time in four years by the way) hurts like no other. Why? Because although the wait staff may change at this Penn hoops restaurant, the same lousy food is still being served, year after year.

On this night I sat behind the Penn bench in Staten Island, a distant outpost of New York City that could easily be confused with a post-apocalyptic dystopia that now somehow harbors a superior basketball team than the one which inhabits the Palestra.  (I make no apologies for my elitism.)

What I saw were eager young men who were engaged, pulled for each other, played with purpose and were excellent, well-conditioned athletes.  During the timeouts, they listened intently to their coaches. They didn’t hang their heads when things got tough and did not bicker among themselves. However, they did lose their poise, played fundamentally poor basketball down the stretch (especially in the second half when they went 10 minutes without a bucket), committed 22 fouls to go along with 22 turnovers, made senseless mental errors and essentially blew a game that was quite winnable against a generally poor opponent.

This last part has been the constant refrain throughout the Jerome Allen years. When will it end? For better or for worse, these are all “his guys.” He recruited them all, but apparently nothing changes except the players on the scorecard. Additionally, I also think the head coach openly wondering at the postgame press conference if his squad can currently compete at a “collegiate” level must be extremely disheartening to his team. (It is to me and I’m in the stands, so I wonder what it feels like for them.) I know there are many ways to motivate young men, but this one, which we’ve all heard before, is a proven failure in Jerome Allen’s hands. Although he openly says the losing is “on” him, his body language and words say something else entirely.

I do think the Quakers, despite their terrible record, are better than last year. There is a noticeable absence of dysfunction amongst the players. The infusion of capable freshmen (and they are a generally capable bunch) has definitely helped.  They deserve better. The university deserves better and the alumni who have witnessed decades of excellence deserve better.

Hopefully, there will be a few victories this year as the freshmen mature. (There should be, but I am no longer counting on it.)  Yet these few glimmers of hope should not obscure the fact that Penn basketball clearly requires a fundamental change. After all, this year Wagner will go by many names.

Stay Red and Blue my friends,

The AQ

@ancientquaker

5 thoughts on “Penn basketball deserves better leadership

  1. Perhaps the most disheartening dispatch of your career, AQ. Well-written as always.

    I doubt anyone, even a Princetonian, could take any pleasure in reading such a resigned column. I hope this young squad can somehow bring some joy to the downtrodden Quaker Faithful, but it does seem like you are all in for the long haul again this year. At least you can take solace in the idea that change seems inevitable now when JA’s contract is mercifully up.

  2. Thanks My Man.

    It was extremely painful to witness as well as to write. Jerome was an awesome player for Penn: relentless, skilled and extremely graceful. One of the best players I’ve ever seen in the Ivy League. You should have seen him fly.

    Still, although I will always be indebted to the him for all the joy he brought the Penn faithful, the coaching experiment just doesn’t seem to be working. I think anyone in the program during their most honest moments would have to agree. The players have all changed in the last 5 years and he is the only constant and the results are always the same perpetrated in the same fashion. What other conclusion can you draw?

    At this point, even if they start winning, I’d still like a new face in there just to inject some new life into this dying program—and make no mistake, Penn Basketball is dying. I will say that the current group are capable players, especially the freshmen. Jerome is right, they want to be coached. You can see it. I just think it’s time for them to be coached by someone else.

  3. This Princetonian finds no comfort in the suffering of his comrades on the Schuylkill. Nor distraction from the early struggles (1-5) of the Tigers. Two once proud programs, the teams that gave the Ivy League its national identity in the 20th century, find themselves sliding toward irrelevance in the 21st. Henderson’s players now are his recruits; the impact players on his first three teams were brought in by his predecessor. Reasonable expectations for the P’s this year are high finishes in the second division. The institutional structures which limit Princeton’s ability to recruit are not the responsibility of the basketball coach. For this reason the problems facing Penn may be easier to solve by changing the personnel who occupy the basketball office. For Penn’s sake, and for the sanity of my dear colleague, The AQ, I hope so.

  4. I too found no comfort during Princeton’s Joe Scott years. (Although in truth, Incarnate Word was pretty good.) I my mind rivalries are good. We need them to keep sports interesting and fans engaged. The Ivy only really has two, HY and the Ps. I mean, what else is there Columbia-Brown?, Cornell-Dartmouth? Some of the best times I’ve had watching Penn, in any sport , was against the Tigers. Win or lose, it was a great, and frequently, intense experience. I don’t want to see them struggle anymore than us. (Ok, maybe a little more than us.) They , in part give us our identity. After all, in the end, who are we without them?

    The AQ

  5. I am one of those fans who hopes that each team in the league reaches or exceeds its potential. The better each team is the more exciting the games and more satisfying the victories. With regards to my beloved Quakers, it is past the point of getting angry or upset. It is just sad on a game-by-game basis.

    Yesterday’s game, while having a few positive moments, was difficult to watch. With the huge amount of fouls and turnovers it was similar to many games from the last two seasons.

    I understand the coach’s statements over the last few games that the team does not trust “the system”, whatever that is specifically. Against Delaware State, Rider and Wagner, the players panicked when something went wrong and got out of any organized game plan. Unfortunately, this yearly inability to grasp or follow a coach’s plan has to be blamed on the coach. If he cannot get them to buy into his ideas, then he is recruiting inferior players and/or he is poor at communication.

    Either way, there is no way – barring a major turnaround – that Mr. Allen can remain at Penn. At least these games give Dr. Calhoun an answer to her question and can allow her to start to formulate a plan regarding the qualities she wants in the next coach.

    ________________

    With regards to yesterday’s contest, it was another example of an inability to adapt to the changes within a game. The team could not handle Wanger’s defense throughout, with at least 3 24-second shot clock violations included in the 22 turnovers. When Wagner went to a full-court press, the Quakers had few answers.

    Matt Howard, who did a very good job at the beginning of the second half, was seemingly taken out of the plays throughout the last 12-13 minutes. This reminded me of watching Miles Jackson-Cartwright, who would disappear for long stretches at a time. I used to think that MJC was the problem, but the more I watch of Jerome’s teams, the more I think blame has to be shared, or placed upon, the coach.

    The team also continues to be weak at three-pointers. Hicks has the ability to put up a few each game, but Sam Jones is the only other person to shoot more than a token three-pointer. Unfortunately, Mr. Allen continues to lessen Sam’s minutes each game. While the 1st year may not have the best shooting percentage, he is the only real three-point threat the team has. I hope that Mr. Allen realizes that he needs to have two of Hicks, Howard or S. Jones in the game at all times. I appreciate that Woods and Foreman are better than Bagtas & company were last year, but offensively they don’t give the team any additional output when playing together.

    Going forward, I hope that the team remains cohesive while decreasing the turnovers and fouls, and increasing the number and accuracy of its free throws.

    Onward to Annapolis…….

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