Penn all-time moment No. 11: A Final Four ‘first’

Wham!

We’re counting down the top 10 moments in each Ivy school’s history as part of our Ivy League at 60 retrospective. Warning – the following post is NOT a Princeton article. It’s just a break from the Princeton countdown we’ve been doing.

Winston Churchill once said that if the British Empire were to last a thousand years, the Battle of Britain would be its finest hour. As far as I can see, ol’ Winny had it easy. I mean, what is British history anyway?  Chaucer, afternoon tea, the Magna Carta, David Beckham, Shakespeare, the Hundred Years’ War, and Wham! at Wembley Stadium are mere footnotes in the evolution of the human species.  (I did in fact attend the 1985 Wham! Concert in my freshly coifed Flock of Seagulls hairdo and furtively wept at George Michael’s moving rendition of “Careless Whisper” – totally awesome.)  Naturally, with a feeble heritage like this, one could easily elucidate its finest hour.

I, however, have been tasked with an immanently more daunting mission: chronicling the Top 10 Moments in Pennsylvania Basketball’s glorious history.  Where to begin?  The third-ranked 1971 team? The Final Four?  25 Ivy Titles?

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Penn coach Steve Donahue off to a great start

Steve Donahue knows you don't get a second chance at a second Ivy impression. (AP/David Duprey)
Steve Donahue knows you don’t get a second chance at a second Ivy impression. (AP/David Duprey)

Anyone who wants to know how Steve Donahue is faring so far as Penn basketball’s new head coach can refer to a May 16 Tweet from Donahue:

 

It’s all there: Donahue’s savvy embrace of analytics for his new program, awareness that upgrades to the program must be highlighted and emphasis on accordingly communicating with both the public at large and the Penn student community (The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student newspaper whose story Donahue linked to in the Tweet).

Donahue’s making moves – simple, logical moves – and making sure we know it.

As for logical – how else to describe tapping Penn professor and program superfan Nakia Rimmer to work on basketball analytics projects with select undergraduates for the coaching staff? It’s not a shocking measure given Donahue’s commitment to analytics-friendly motion offense predicated on three-pointers and ball movement. But it’s still refreshing and supports Donahue’s acknowledgment upon his hiring that the Palestra and the Big 5 weren’t enough to ensure success for Penn anymore.

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ALL FOOLS’ DAY: Harvard reloads with a good friend of ours

Longtime Harvard basketball booster Thomas Stemberg on Wednesday announced the appointment of the boosters’ latest Director of Communications.

“I am delighted to report what I consider a recruiting coup on a par with the Keith Wright hocus pocus of several years ago. IHO’s Ancient Quaker has signed a contract in perpetuity with our club.’

The AQ recently resigned his position as Chairman Emeritus of the End the Nightmare Society in the City of Brotherly Love, a move most observers expected after the nightmare ended.

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ALL FOOLS’ DAY: Donahue to host ‘Donahue’

Penn announced Wednesday that new head basketball coach Steve Donahue will be hosting a new show to be broadcast weekly on the Penn Sports Network.

The show will be called “Donahue” and held at the Palestra, where it will adopt a talk show format in which Donahue will hold discussions with relevant guests about previously taboo topics concerning Penn Athletics, including declining game attendance, lack of player development in recent years, President Amy Gutmann’s commitment to the program and declining game attendance.

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ALL FOOLS’ DAY: Penn’s class of 2019 decommits

After the March 29 decommitment of Penn recruit Jule Brown, in a stunning reversal of fortune, the rest of the entire 2015 recruiting class for the Quakers has decided to decommit as well.  Colin McManus, Jake Silpe, Tyler Hamilton, Jackson Donahue, Max Rothschild and Morris Esformes, all called new head coach Steve Donahue to inform him of their decision.

“I don’t know what to say,” a bewildered Coach Donahue told IHO. “But I made it to the Sweet Sixteen with a bunch of state-funded douchebags from Cornell, I think I can make it the Final Four with the team we got here now.  This is Philly basketball.  You think Kentucky can handle Darien Nelson-Henry? I wish the young guys well.”

Penn athletic director Grace Calhoun was also sanguine.

“Ah, no comment at this time,” Calhoun said.

Then, in even more stunning news, all six are now reportedly matriculating at Harvard. When reached for comment on his yacht, coach Tommy Amaker was noncommittal.

“You know, I was like just sittin’ here watchin’ Duke in the NCAAs and like, all these Penn kids start callin’ me up and said they wanted to come here,” Amaker said. “At first, I was like, ‘This is a joke, right?’, but they told me they wanted to play JV ball here. I dunno, things just come to me what can I tell ya.”

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2015-16 IHO Powerless Poll

Ben Franklin AQ 3Now that Harvard has been vanquished by North Carolina, Ivy basketball is officially over for the summer.  Since no one is still playing, you could say we are all equally impotent—or are we?  Thus, I give you the first annual IHO Powerless Poll. Naturally, as is my custom, I will rank teams according to how I view them from most feeble to strongest.

8. Cornell: Now that Shonn Miller is headed to some Power 5 school, the natural order of the Ivy will magically be restored and the Red can return to their rightful place at the bottom. Yes, Bill Courtney did make a nice recovery from the disaster that was the 2013-14 season, but success in Ithaca is as fleeting as the four days of summer that town is allotted each year. Look out below.

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Steve Donahue nails the little things, bigger things may come

Steve Donahue rocks the red and blue tie at his introductory presser Tuesday. (timesunion.com)
Steve Donahue rocks the red and blue tie at his introductory presser Tuesday. (timesunion.com)

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.

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Steve Donahue is safe, and Penn won’t be sorry

Steve Donahue won three Ivy championships at Cornell. Few coaches share such a rich Ancient Eight pedigree. (Reuters)
Steve Donahue won three Ivy championships as head coach at Cornell from 2008 to 2010. Few coaches share such a rich Ancient Eight pedigree. (Reuters)

“You are better safe than sorry,” Penn Athletic Director Grace Calhoun said at her Tuesday press conference … in an alternate universe.

But that’s what most people are thinking: Steve Donahue was the safe hire. The safest of safe hires. For those people, Calhoun may as well have introduced him as he sat encased in bubble wrap.

But does safe mean it’s the wrong hire? If you think so, I’ll just refer you to the aphorism in my lede.

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Penn to hire Steve Donahue as next head coach

Dick Jerardi of the Philadelphia Daily News reported this afternoon that Steve Donahue will become the next head basketball coach at Penn, replacing Jerome Allen, who Donahue coached at Penn as an assistant, a position he held from 1990-2000.

The Springfield, Pa. native was an assistant coach at Monsignor Bonner High School near Philadelphia under current Lafayette head coach (and fellow former Penn assistant) Fran O’Hanlon from 1987 to 1988 before serving as an assistant at Philadelphia University from 1988 to 1990. Donahue’s Ivy and Philly ties stretch way back.

But of course, Donahue is best known throughout the Ivy League for head coaching Cornell from 2000 to 2010, making the NCAA tournament in his final three seasons in Ithaca, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2010. Donahue finished 146-138 (.514) at Cornell, which did not finish with a winning record in Ivy play until Donahue’s fifth season.

Donahue moved on to Boston College in 2010 but struggled mightily with recruiting in Chestnut Hill, going just 54-76 (.415) in four seasons as head coach there before getting fired in 2014.

Donahue’s teams are known for motion offense, which worked with great success toward the end of hs run at Cornell and even at BC, where Donahue’s defenses repeatedly failed him.

The move was perhaps the easiest for Penn Athletic Director Grace Calhoun to make because current Penn assistant coach Nat Graham also served under Donahue at Boston College and Cornell in that same capacity.

Calhoun used Fogler Consulting to assist with the head coaching search.

The news comes just nine days after it was reported that former Penn coach Jerome Allen would be fired after five and a half seasons at the helm, and just six days after Penn’s 2014-15 season finale.

Who could/should be Penn’s next head coach?

My big board for Penn’s vacant head coaching position, a mixture of what I think Penn Athletic Director Grace Calhoun’s current ranking is and what the ranking should be:

10. Louis Orr (Siena head coach 2000-01, Seton Hall head coach 2001-06, Bowling Green head coach 2007-14)

Lifetime record: 201-201 (.500)

Wanna succeed against Tommy Amaker? Hire Tommy Amaker’s successor. Louis Orr, one half of the “Bouie & Louie Show” at Syracuse in the late ‘70s, took over for Amaker at Seton Hall in 2001 when the latter left for Michigan. Orr was actually the more successful coach for the Pirates, making one NIT appearance and two NCAA appearances in five years. In 2006, he was inexplicably fired after taking the Pirates to the NCAA tournament, and they’ve never made it back since. Then again, neither has Orr, who finished 101-121 in seven years at Bowling Green. The 58-year-old Cincinnati native has no Ivy or City 6 experience, but he’s got loads of experience and would provide instant credibility on the recruiting trail, especially in New Jersey, a frequent target area for Penn recruiting. Still, he’s an outsider on nobody’s radar.

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