It had to go off perfectly.
The hiring of Steve Donahue as Penn’s next head coach was the second major decision that M. Grace Calhoun had to make since coming on as Penn’s athletic director, and it will prove to be – for better or worse – the defining decision of her tenure. And thus, everything had to be perfect.
After all, people had their doubts. Former coach Jerome Allen had left the fan base with a bad taste in its mouth, from his questionable hiring by former athletic director Steve Bilsky, to the questionable manner in which he was dismissed by Calhoun just weeks ago.
In the same way that people surrounding the program feared that the administration had done its due diligence, those same people had a wealth of questions about Donahue. To the naysayers, the pros – his years as a Penn assistant, his three-year run of Ivy League dominance that included him leading a Cornell team to the Sweet 16 – are overshadowed by the cons.
Wesley Saunders made the right play.
Harvard gained possession with 33 seconds to go and the game tied at 51-51, an NCAA tournament berth on the line. Junior guard Siyani Chambers successfully handed the ball off to Saunders, who then went to work. He drove in the lane with 10 seconds left, and when the defense converged, he kicked the ball out to senior forward Steve Moundou-Missi, the Ivy League defensive player of the year. Moundou-Missi had went on an offensive run earlier in the contest, scoring six straight points, but the two points that he’ll remember most for the rest of his career are the ones that he notched after catching Saunders’ pass and draining a jumper from the top of the key.
The 10th Ivy League playoff in history is set to tip off in a few hours, and it will not be broadcasted nationally. The Ivy League’s hands are tied. And the sad thing is, the league pushed itself to that point.
In the Ivy League, tradition is spelled a-r-c-h-a-i-c. It’s that traditional (read: old) thought process that led to Saturday’s Ivy League playoff between Harvard and Yale being broadcast only on the American Sports Network, which essentially means that it’ll air on various local affiliates across the nation, and ESPN3, an online channel for the World Wide Leader that will air almost any sport as long as the customer is willing to pay a fee.
For sports like cricket and ultimate frisbee – fringe sports that are trying to gain popularity in America – what ESPN3 has to provide is enough. For arena football or lacrosse, a local affiliate station is good enough. But for the Ivy League, a basketball conference that provides just as much excitement as any, it shouldn’t be.
What I do is not who I am.
That was an important distinction for Jerome Allen to make in his final press conference as Penn’s head coach, and the dichotomous night provided all the evidence one needed to believe the statement came from Allen’s heart.
During pregame warm ups for their contest against Princeton on Tuesday, Allen’s players came out not in Penn gear, but in black t-shirts. The players returned to the locker room, and when they came back out, they had changed from blank black shirts to navy blue ones – Penn blue – with the number 53 (Allen’s number when he played for Penn) on the back of each one.
As ESPN”s Jeff Goodman first reported, Jerome Allen has been fired from his post as Penn’s head coach, an inevitable, Shakespearean ending to a marriage that saw much more sickness than health over Allen”s tenure. The writing had been on the wall for seasons, and after he coaches on Saturday against Cornell and Tuesday against Princeton, Allen will relieve his post. The Daily Pennsylvanian reports that M. Grace Calhoun informed the coach that he had been relieved of his duties on Monday, following his squad”s third-straight weekend in which the Quakers were swept.
Allen’s time as Penn’s head coach was a tragedy indeed. For starters, on a personal level, anyone who knows Allen personally speaks to his high character, that he is a wonderful person who people trust. And Jerome Allen, the man – who came from a rough part of the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, who has a family and kids – just lost his job after continually coming up short for years, which is never an easy thing to endure for anyone.
But now that the story of Jerome Allen, the coach, has come to its end, he deserves just as much sympathy as he does criticism.
PHILADELPHIA – Who are we?
Generally, it’s a question asked in philosophy classrooms across the country by students wearing ugly plaid sweaters, and knit caps on their heads.
The only similarity between Penn coach Jerome Allen and the typical hipster philosophy student is the glasses, but last night, after his team won its first Big 5 game in three years against St. Joe’s, Allen was asking the same question.
And it’s a fair one to ask about this Penn squad, albeit troubling when coming from the man who should know better than anyone else. The Quakers’ effort seems to fluctuate from night to night. When the Palestra has been packed recently, against Villanova last weekend and against the Hawks last night, Penn brings a higher level of energy. Then, when no one is around to watch, the Quakers lay eggs, like the one they laid against Monmouth on Wednesday.
Last night, their leader, Tony Hicks, went from taking zero shot attempts in the first half to shifting completely in his approach in the last twenty minutes of the contest, driving to the rack at will. Darien Nelson-Henry took control in the second half, but missed two free throws late that could’ve put the game away sooner for the Quakers.
But “Who are we?” may not be the right question to ask, because it doesn’t solve the Quakers’ problems. In fact, when looking at the difference in regards to level of performance from night to night, it’s quite clear who the Quakers are: an inconsistent squad, both on the micro and the macro level.
There will be a lot written and said about Penn’s growing pains throughout this season.
People will lament coach Jerome Allen’s ability to develop young talent, watch as freshmen like Mike Auger and Antonio Woods develop good and bad habits and yell when Sam Jones heats up from three one night and can’t knock one down the next.
But all of that won’t matter one bit if the elder statesmen of the team don’t clean up their own bad habits.
Allen admitted following Penn’s loss to Rider on Tuesday night that he wanted to get these freshmen, so vital to the development to the Quakers’ program and Allen’s job security, some winning experience as soon as possible.
The only problem is, his veterans, the players who should be carrying the team, are inhibiting the growth that the freshmen have been able to experience over the course of two games.
Had junior Darien Nelson-Henry been able to close out Delaware State in the waning minutes on Saturday night, Woods, Auger, Jones and Darnell Foreman would have experienced what it feels like to win in their first collegiate game.
But what happened on Tuesday didn’t just rob the freshmen of a winning experience. It put them in a position where it was hard for them to develop.
PHILADELPHIA – Penn had been in this situation before. Tied game. A few seconds left on the clock. Coach Jerome Allen with a chance to draw up a play to give the Quakers the victory. And over the last two seasons, the Quakers had struggled to come through in the clutch.
Junior Tony Hicks, the Quakers’ go-to scorer, ended up with the ball in his hands as the clock neared zero, and just like recent years, he couldn’t seal the deal. His bank shot rimmed out as the clock struck zero.
And in overtime, just like recent years, Penn allowed a lesser opponent to sneak by for a victory. Delaware State defeated Penn, 77-75, after the Quakers couldn’t shut the door late in the second half.
With numerous opportunities to finish the Hornets off, Hicks instead faded down the stretch, his fellow classmate Darien Nelson-Henry provided no help, and the failures of old crept out of the Palestra walls.
“It was just a play that didn’t go down,” Hicks said of his shot at winning the contest in regulation.