Penn Season Preview – Where the Whānau Is

There’s a new word surrounding Penn basketball this season: whānau.

What does this word mean and what does it have to do with the Quakers program under new coach Steve Donahue? The word means family in the Maori language.

Yet, as Donahue says, it means much more. It also refers to one’s extended family and their community, something that the Red and Blue hope to embrace in the 2015-16 season.

Embracing the community is a necessity after the Quakers’ recent lack of success. Penn is coming off possibly the worst three-year stretch in program history, a period that led to the ouster of coach Jerome Allen and the tenure of Donahue. A Penn assistant from 1990-2000 and the former head coach of Cornell and Boston College, Donahue brings a new wave of optimism and excitement to his former school.

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Reading the Ivy tea leaves – Penn roundup

Thanks to everyone close to the Penn basketball program in some capacity who shared their thoughts on their hopes and expectations for the Quakers this season:

A.J. Brodeur, Penn basketball class of 2020: I think this year for Penn, people need to watch out for the freshman class. There’s a lot of talent there that was under-recruited in high school in my opinion. Also, Steve’s style of play focuses on letting the players play with offensive guidelines and concepts rather than always running defined plays and offenses. It’s worked for him in the past and I’m excited to see where it takes the Quakers this year. I think Penn basketball will definitely turn some heads this year.

Ryan Betley, Penn basketball class of 2020: This upcoming season, I am looking forward to seeing how coach Donahue’s offense works and how the guys on the team buy into it. It’s a big style change from the previous coach, but I think it makes a lot of sense: Shoot rhythm threes and get the ball inside. In addition, I’m intrigued to see how the freshman class performs, knowing I will be teammates with them for the next three years. I know the expectations aren’t that high but I think Penn can still be a sleeper in the Ivy League this year. #GoQuakers

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Steve Donahue: The Reconstructionist

Does this look like a man ready to turn around Penn basketball? Why yes, yes it does.
Does this look like a man ready to turn around Penn basketball? Why yes, yes he does.

It is ironic that Steve Donahue has become our new head coach.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with the choice.  After all, this has to be his dream job. A Philly guy with Quaker DNA who has a deep respect, if not love, for the hoop traditions of the city, returns as leader to the campus that once nurtured his coaching skills as a young assistant.  In fact, he was so enamored with his new position that in his introductory press conference he said, “This place is one that has everything I ever wanted in an institution.  I am a Big 5 coach. There are only five of us. To imagine that I am one of them, at this institution, is just incredible.”

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Making sense of Tony Hicks' departure from Penn basketball

Tony Hicks was a two-time All-Ivy honorable mention and reached the 1,000-point plateau in February. (USA Today Images)
Tony Hicks was a two-time All-Ivy honorable mention and reached the 1,000-point plateau in February. (USA Today Images)

Tony Hicks has walked away from a most interesting scene, just when we thought he’d be front and center.

Unfortunately, what made the scene so interesting in theory is probably what kept it from ever becoming a reality.

The senior guard has left the program, according to a Friday afternoon press release from Penn Athletics:

“After speaking with Coach (Steve) Donahue about the best situation for Penn basketball and myself, I have decided the best decision for me will be to take a break from basketball,” Hicks said in the release. “I plan to graduate from Penn in May, and then take my next step as a basketball player next year.

“This is a personal decision, and I wrestled long and hard with it because I have thoroughly enjoyed playing for Penn the last three years and wearing the Red and the Blue. I want to wish the guys on the team and the coaches all the best for this season and future seasons, and I will definitely be backing them in The Palestra during these next several months.”

Hicks leaves a lot on the table. He was named a captain for the 2015-16 season, was the leading scorer for the Quakers for the past two seasons and figured to be the greatest beneficiary of an offensive system under coach Steve Donahue that values efficiency through careful shot selection (i.e., shoot under the hoop or behind the three-point line).

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Congrats to Penn football for beating No. 5 Villanova for the first time since 1911

Here’s a sentence most Penn football fans thought would never hold true: The Quakers beat Villanova at Villanova Stadium Thursday night, 24-13. It was Penn’s first win over the Wildcats since Oct. 14, 1911 and snaps a 14-game win streak in the series for Villanova, the fifth-ranked team in the FCS.

Pope Francis may be visiting Philly this weekend, but the first win under new Penn head coach Ray Priore was no Hail Mary. In the first half, Penn outgained the Villanova in yards, 219-29, and controlled the time of possession battle, 24:25-5:35.

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Sizing up Penn's 2015-16 schedule

The Steve Donahue era is here, and it’s almost palpable with Thursday’s release of the 2015-16 Penn basketball schedule.

And it’s interesting, though not much different from past schedules. We have the obligatory homecoming trip, this time a trip home at Washington on Sat., Nov. 21 for senior center Darien Nelson-Henry and junior guard Matt Poplawski both of whom are from the Seattle area. Good for them, and good on the program for providing that Evergreen State opportunity.

What’s not so obligatory? Playing at Drexel.

That’s right, the Daskalakis Athletic Center, where Steve Bilsky forbade the Quakers from playing during his run as athletic director, excepting one 2008 matchup.

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Big 5 doubleheader at Palestra officially slated for January

Big 5

There have been signs that a Big 5 doubleheader was a distinct possibility for next season. Now it’s a sure thing. reported Wednesday that the Palestra will indeed host a Big 5 doubleheader on Wed., Jan. 20, 2016 featuring Temple vs. La Salle and St. Joseph’s vs. Penn, the first all-city twinbill since the Big 5 Classic’s last outing in 2004.

“This is how Philadelphia first fell in love with college basketball – by seeing two great games and four great teams in one night in what I think is the most intimate setting to watch a game,”
Penn coach Steve Donahue told

Donahue, former Penn and current Temple coach Fran Dunphy, St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli and La Salle coach John Giannini have always publicly revered the Palestra as the hub of Big 5 hoops, and they were undoubtedly driving forces behind the 2016 twinbill.

The Big 5 office reportedly said “other facts about the celebration” will follow. What could those be? Well, Big 5 executive director and former Penn athletic director Steve Bilsky said in February that he envisioned a Big 5 week with a banquet the night before, an alumni game, students from the schools playing against each other, sponsorships and television.


Former Penn coach Tom Schneider, 1946-2015

Tom Schneider died March 17. He was 68. (
Tom Schneider died March 17. He was 68. (

Penn Athletics reported Monday that Tom Schneider, head coach of the Penn Quakers from 1985 to 1989, died March 17. He was 68.

Schneider led the Quakers to the 1987 Ivy League championship and went 51-54 in four seasons before leaving to take the head coaching post at Loyola (Md.).

According to Penn Athletics, Schneider was working as a history professor at Polk State Lakeland Collegiate High School in Lakeland, Fla., where he had served as a professor since 2005.

Schneider was an assistant for Penn from 1979 to 1983 under head coaches Bob Weinhauer and Craig Littlepage, who Schneider would succeed in that post after serving in the same role at Lehigh for two seasons.

Polk State College ran Schneider’s obituary on March 19.

“Players know when a coach is right and they listen,” said Polk State basketball coach Matt Furjanic, a longtime friend of Schneider’s since the 1970s according to the Polk Newsroom. “It’s the same way in a classroom — students enjoy learning from teachers who know a lot about the subject and know how to teach it. Tom did.”