A letter to Grace Calhoun

Car RadioDear Dr. Calhoun,

I have seen a lot of Penn Basketball over my lifetime. Thus I must say Dave Zeitlin’s great piece in the Pennsylvania Gazette about the 2005 Penn-Princeton game, filled me with much wistful melancholy.

First, a confession: I was more than 100 miles away from the Palestra on game day.  Instead of being in the stands, I was sitting in my car on that cold, rainy night in Rockaway Beach Queens near JFK Airport listening to the Princeton broadcast as it faded in and out across my car radio. Unimpeded by the tall buildings of Manhattan and beamed over a frigid New York Bay, I knew from years of experience that this secluded landmark could adequately receive a reasonable but faint signal from the New Jersey hinterlands. To get to my vantage point I took a 20-mile detour on my way home from work.  If that’s not fandom I don’t know what is.

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The case for Jerome Allen

(Laurence Kesterson/AP)
(Laurence Kesterson/AP)

For the next three weeks, there will be no shortage of people calling for Jerome Allen to be fired and replaced as Penn basketball’s head coach. The reasoning is simple: With Allen at the helm over the past five and a half seasons, the Quakers have gone 63-99 and appear on their way to another below .500 season along with a third straight bottom half of the Ivy League finish.

But no matter the reasons his many detractors will provide for his ouster, there are definitely reasons to keep Allen aboard for next season. The following isn’t an opinion piece advocating for Allen but simply lays out the main factors Athletic Director Grace Calhoun will have to look into before making her final decision after the season.

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The Big Aristotle (No, not Shaq)

Aristotle“One swallow does not a summer make, nor one fine day; similarly one day or brief time of happiness does not make a person entirely happy.”  Aristotle.

When it comes to Penn basketball, the Jerome Allen years have unfortunately inured me into believing the ancient Greek’s wisdom. (As for quoting Aristotle, this is “Ivy Hoops Online,” not Big 10 or SEC Hoops Online, otherwise I’d quote a Kardashian. I therefore make no apologies for my pretension.)  Saturday night’s win over St. Joe’s is, of course, gratifying. Any win at this point is.

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Just who or what is Penn basketball?

The philosopher speaks. (philly.com)
The philosopher speaks. (philly.com)

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.

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Penn collapses at Princeton, because of course it did

Jerome Allen is 0-6 all-time against Princeton at Jadwin Gym. (Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
Jerome Allen is 0-6 all-time against Princeton at Jadwin Gym. (Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

So, so, so much hasn’t changed.

When Penn amassed a 56-41 lead at arch-rival Princeton with 14:14 remaining, it seemed too good to be true.

That’s because it was.

The Quakers promptly let that lead slip away en route to a 78-74 loss, allowing Princeton to change the pace of the game into a more uptempo affair as the turnovers (17) and fouls (25) piled up for Jerome Allen’s team. Tony Hicks once again wilted down the stretch, barely catching rim on a long-range jumper as the shot clock wound down, missing a wide-open corner three and double-dribbling down with the Quakers down three in the best online casino game’s final minute.

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Penn registers another Ivy Rookie of the Week

Freshman guard Darnell Foreman was named Ivy Rookie of the Week Monday for his nine points, two blocks and two steals in 28 minutes at Navy and 11 points, eight boards and two steals at Binghamton. The Quakers won both games, their first two victories of the season.

Forward Mike Auger and guard Antonio Woods also received Rookie of the Week honors earlier this season, putting Penn in the highly unusual position of boasting three different rookies of the week – just three weeks into its season. In part due to junior guard Tony Hicks’ foul trouble, Woods is averaging the most minutes per game of any Quaker (30.4), and four of the top eight Quakers in minutes per game are freshmen. The ultra-young Red and Blue will have a chance to string together three consecutive wins for the first time in three seasons tonight against Marist at the Palestra.


Penn basketball deserves better leadership


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.

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Penn basketball appears headed in the right direction

Tony Hicks fouled out against Temple and the Quakers still have a lot of growing pains ahead, but Penn is playing team basketball again. (ctpost.com)
Tony Hicks fouled out against Temple and the Quakers still have a lot of growing pains ahead, but Penn is playing team basketball again. (ctpost.com)

So Penn loses to Temple in the first Big 5 matchup of the year. Although not at all unexpected, the result was well below the 14.5-point spread that Las Vegas predicted (not to mention the 22 points that less knowledgeable pundits foresaw). Still, even though Tony Hicks fouled out with most of second half yet to play, Mike “The Moose” Auger didn’t suit up because of a fractured foot and coach Jerome Allen was forced to play his most inexperienced players for the majority of the game, I found something quite surprising — unlike the last few years, this contest was highly watchable. The Quakers didn’t dig themselves into a giant hole in the first 10 minutes. They were athletic, they hustled and they looked like there was some semblance of team basketball being played. In short, this game seemed like a step, albeit small, in the right direction.

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Mike Auger wins Ivy Rookie of the Week, status uncertain for Temple

Penn freshman forward Mike Auger was named Ivy Rookie of the Week for his 28 points and 17 rebounds combined in two losses to Rider and Lafayette this past week. Auger has been an offensive rebounding force in his first handful of collegiate games and has already developed obvious chemistry with Tony Hicks at the offensive end of the floor.

Auger-related news isn’t all good for Quaker fans as Penn gets set to play Temple at the Liacouras Center, though. Auger left Penn’s loss to Lafayette midway through the second half and according to the Daily Pennsylvanian, his status is uncertain for tonight’s Big 5 matchup with the Owls.

“I would hope that he’s physically ready to go,” Allen told the DP. “It is of the utmost importance that he spends as much time as he possibly can connected with the group on the floor. Hopefully he’s fine, but it hasn’t been determined yet.”