Penn basketball fans living in hope again

Hope is a powerful thing.  There is the hope for that coveted job, that special girl/boy or, at one time in high school, hopes that the school of our dreams would take us. Hope is especially important this season in Ivy hoops, just ask Columbia, Yale and Princeton.  For Penn fans when it comes to Quaker basketball, there have been hopes of the quixotic variety since 2007. Each year since then, however, our optimism has often been punctured by the harsh realism of what we all knew would eventually transpire nonetheless – that is, until now.

The Quakers, as young and undermanned as they are, once again “looked good” this past weekend as they split the back-to-back with Brown and Yale.  Sure, they lost to a better team, but just like last week on the road at Columbia, they hung in there for a solid half of basketball against a more experienced and deeper squad.

Not good enough, you say?

Well, did you forget that it wasn’t that long ago when chaos ruled the Palestra hardwood? Have you already forgotten when five minutes of crisp passing masqueraded as discipline? When losing to an inferior team was not only expected, but a virtual, testicle-twisting guarantee? When games were often lost within the first five minutes of play under a veritable mountain of layup line points with absolutely no hope of a comeback?

Things are different now. Steve Donahue has the Quakers playing hard and playing for each other.  It is clear he understands their wounded psyche as well. Instead of “tough love,” he compliments, letting players and reporters alike know postgame that he was pleased with his team’s effort for 25-30 minutes. Yet at the same time he is realistic, “(Yale) is such a good, physical team, I thought we lost our legs a bit,” Donahue said after the Yale loss. This is a sensibility that everyone can embrace.  No harsh, eviscerating words, just an understanding that at this time in the Quakers’ growth chart there will be good moments and bad, but that both should be recognized.

In addition, the team continues to mature as evidenced by the mere fact that as of late, it’s winning the games it should win and is at least competitive in the ones they lose. Assists are up, turnovers are down, the offense looks organized, and Darien Nelson-Henry, after what I’d argue was three years of stagnation, is quietly playing some of the best ball of his now unfortunately short-lived collegiate career. What do you think this year’s Yale team would have done to Penn two or three years ago? The contest would have essentially been over before Justin Sears even walked into the building. No one wants to lose, but it has been a long time since the Quakers “looked good” while losing a game.  At this point, I’ll take it.

Personally, I am waiting for that key upset victory to tell me that things are really on the upturn.  (Hmmm, Columbia this weekend or better yet, Princeton in March snaps to mind as such.)  Previously, upset wins often proved even more painful than losses because afterward they would just fill us with false hopes. This time, however, hope may finally be on our side.

Stay Red and Blue my friends,

The AQ

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