Another Saturday night, another surprise: James Jones’ squad brings a level of defensive intensity previously unseen, while putting together a shooting performance for the ages. Yale outplayed Harvard for 40 minutes at Lavietes and now brings a share of the Ivy League lead back to New Haven at 5-1.
Meanwhile, a fan base that was calling for Jerome’s head one week ago will be a little quieter this week, as the Quakers rode a huge performance from Fran Dougherty to a big win over Columbia.
Elsewhere, Princeton and Brown salvaged splits against two teams destined for the bottom half.
Former New York Knick guard Michael Ray Richardson uttered these words just a few years prior to the drafting of Patrick Ewing, the eventual “savior“ of a then horribly dysfunctional franchise. The question now for Quaker fans is who will rescue Penn’s once proud “crown jewel” athletic team, a similarly dysfunctional organization that is now in desperate need of salvation.
I suppose I would be remiss if I did not comment on Saturday night’s game.
The Penn-Princeton rivalry is, and always has been, special. In fact, as I recall our games at both the Palestra and that drafty, geodesic aircraft hanger in New Jersey, my ears still ring. Saturday’s contest was indeed no exception in our shared history as the Quakers finally showed a flash of the kind of team that everyone (including me) thought they could, would, and should be. The Tigers are a decent team (I stop short of classifying them as “a good team” because, after all, it’s the Tigers), and Penn, along with the much-vilified Jerome Allen, should be congratulated for taking them down in exciting fashion. The Red & Blue somehow managed to do everything they hadn’t done during most of their brutal and disappointing non-conference schedule, namely: rebound (42-25), defend, and play a full 40 minutes of hoops. Still, they almost gave the game away by once again beating themselves with costly fouls and turnovers. Their bench play was also better but, in general, remained mostly invisible. Princeton, for their part, happened to have an off night from the three point line, a usual strength of their team, thus validating the axiom, “live by the three, die by the three.” Tonight, they died. [Ed. note: This is what’s possible when you shoot over half of your attempts from behind the arc– 50.7%, the highest percentage in the country– you are bound to have off nights like that.]
Thanks to the Big Ten Network, the TV transmission of the Quakers’ embarrassing blowout loss to Iowa should now be somewhere in the vicinity of the sun’s Oort Cloud, just a few hundred billion miles behind the transmission of their mostly noncompetitive loss to Penn State just a few days before. Courtesy of these electrometric waves moving at the speed of light, Penn’s hoops futility will now be preserved for eternity. There is apparently a reason why it is so quiet in space— as on Earth, nobody up there wants to see the kind of dysfunctional brand of basketball that the Quakers have been playing.
Last year, there were potential excuses aplenty as to why the team wasn’t winning and they were not at all unreasonable given the circumstances: the team was young, there was little depth, star players were injured, and most of the assistant coaches had left for other programs. On the other hand, this was supposed to be the year that Jerome finally put it all together with “his” guys. This was supposed to be the year the Quakers took that “next step” back to respectability. This was supposed to be the year they would once again challenge for the Ivy title. But instead of commensurate team growth and maturity what have we seen? The exact same thing as last year: too many turnovers, too many fouls, lackadaisical defense, bonehead passing, poor overall team play, terrible rebounding, wildly inconsistent scoring, far too much Henry Brooks, and most disturbing of all, the absolutely inexcusable apparent lack of desire. Here are some of the post-game quotes following the loss to Lafayette, a formerly 0-5 team:
“We need somebody that wants to defend, that’s all they want to do.”
“We just didn’t have the mentality for [rebounding] today… They imposed their will and we didn’t really show up. They did a great job on rebounds today.”
“We get a possession where there’s two guys locked in and the other three guys are out to lunch.”
I ask you: Are these the comments of a championship team? Better yet, are these the attributes of a championship team? Aside from the blowout win over Niagara (which at this point I consider to be nothing more than an aberration), a generally bad team aside from Antoine Mason, these remarks unfortunately have already become a recurring theme both last year and throughout this young season. Unlike his Ivy coaching colleagues namely, Messieurs Henderson, Martin and Smith for example, Jerome is somehow not getting “the message” through to his now more seasoned charges.
As I sit here, trying to forget what I witnessed this afternoon, I have decided to give you the benefit of the doubt. After all, it’s a long season and your team has only played 3 games. Besides, any team can have a bad day. A day when there seems to be a lid on the basket, the defense falters and the floor leadership fails. That’s OK. I’ve seen enough basketball over the years to understand the capriciousness and vagaries of the sport. Still, as this young season unfolds, I wish to tell you that I am disturbed. Not just because of the rising number in the loss column and the equally unsettling lack of overall team growth, but because from where I stand, the 2014 Quakers are not at all lacking in overall talent. Nor are they lacking in numbers, physical size or, now, even experience. What disturbs me the most is their lack of one essential quality all winning athletic programs seem to possess—their lack of moxie. Moxie. A New England Indian word which is defined as: courage and aggressiveness; nerve. Also, skill; know-how.
Yes, it is I, The AQ. ready to bring you yet another year of irreverent awesomeness on IHO.
My friends, history is replete with examples of improbable victory against overwhelming odds: David and Goliath, Alexander and Darius III, Henry V over the French at Agincourt, the RAF over the Luftwaffe, and, of course, my Mom over the PS 45 PTA. Now it appears that this year on the Ivy hardwood, hoop fans of seven schools are hoping that history can somehow repeat itself. This is because the media, as early as last May, and not without reasonable justification, has already awarded the Crimson the Ivy crown. By now we’ve all heard the talk: “the Harvard B squad alone could win”, “Zena Edosomwan is a game changer”, “the deepest Ivy team of all time”…blah, blah, blah…it all makes me want to barf. So in response to this rhetoric I say, “not so fast.” The Boys in Philly just may have something to say about the Crimson’s de facto coronation. Let’s see why.
A Look Back
Last year, the Red and Blue possessed every conceivable disorder a collegiate basketball team could possibly own: rampant injuries, persistent foul trouble, a dearth of senior leadership, a brutal non-conference schedule, wild inconsistency, a Teflon coach, no true point guard, and inflexible youth. In fact, they weren’t just young, they were one of the youngest D-1 teams in the nation. As such, the Quakers stumbled their way to a dreadful 9-22 record. Along the way, they lost to Wagner (a team from Staten Island!), Dartmouth at home (just the fourth failure to defend The Cathedral floor against The Big Green since 1959), and Columbia, a defeat which has to go down in the annals of Penn Basketball as the most putrid example of athletic ineptitude since Ben Franklin lost a game of H-O-R-S-E to Betsy Ross in 1774. (True story.) On the other hand, they beat Harvard, took Temple to the wire, split every single Ivy weekend, and ended the season (with a team consisting mostly of freshman) as the 9-22 team that no one wanted to play. So then, can the Quakers finally rid themselves of all the misery that had befallen them last year?
Friday, my beloved Quakers fell, in The Cathedral no less, to bottom feeding Dartmouth; marking only the fourth time since 1957 that Penn had failed to defend its home floor against The Green. With this new loss, I had finally reached the nadir of my fandom. Since the agonizing debacle in Morningside Heights the week before, I hadn’t eaten and had shunned all manner of personal hygiene. With my unshaven face, fetid halitosis, and baggy clothes, I bore a striking resemblance to the Unabomber (except the Unabomber was probably better looking). At about midnight, stunned, bewildered and “ridin’ a high a mile wide” courtesy of my personal physician and our friends at Hoffman-LaRoche
(the makers of Valium and other fine benzodiazepines), I walked briskly out into the cold March night. It was then that I began to seriously question my team, Jerome Allen, and my strong belief that the Quakers were better, much better, than the harsh criticism that has been mercilessly leveled upon them over the last three months. But now it looked like the detractors may have been right all along. On this night, Pennsylvania Basketball had managed to attain something far worse than a mere loss to a bad team– they had finally achieved Ivy irrelevance. After decades of dominance, this stark realization sickened me. To make matters worse, the Tigers, our ancient rivals and a group only a few years removed from their own brief interlude with hoops incompetence, had just beaten the upstart Crimson in their race for yet another championship. As I collapsed onto the icy sidewalk a hefty wave of nausea, no doubt born out of jealousy, overwhelmed me. Then in the midst of my despond, I felt something warm run down my leg. I had urinated in my pants.
Recently, I came across one of my old undergraduate notebooks. It was from a rather derivative course in Philosophical Anthropology, The Death Ritual in Ancient Civilizations: Meaning and Myth. As I flipped through the tattered, yellowed pages, I perused the notes on the practices of the Aztecs during the Feast of Toxcatl.
For one year, a flawless youth was selected by the Ancient Mexicans to live among the tribe as a God. The young man was perfection personified: the avatar of beauty and health. He was given lavish clothes, eight servants and four virgins to attend to his every wish. However, at the end of the year when the feast began, The Chosen One climbed the stairs of the great temple where priests cut his heart out and offered it, still beating, to the sun.*
*Full disclosure: There was never any course in “Philosophical Anthropology.” I’m not even sure such a discipline even exists. I simply lifted the preceding material from an article on Megan Fox in the February edition of Esquire Magazine. The actress’ sultry eyes, dangerous curves, and tattooed skin served as a necessary distraction to keep my eyes averted from the television as the St. Joe’s Hawks opened a “can o’ whup ass” on the Quakers.
I understand this is a basketball article. So what then do these three seemingly disparate entities have to do with each other? Allow me to explain.
RG3, a rookie quarterback, arrives at a formerly woeful organization and, overnight, changes the culture of his team with his confidence and preternatural talent. On the other hand, there is Eli Manning: also a tremendously gifted quarterback, but during his first few years in the Meadowlands, Eli didn’t change very much. With every pass that sailed over a receiver’s head or fluttered toward their feet, the boos rained down from the tough New York crowd. Eli at times looked lost, out of control, overwhelmed, bewildered. Occasionally though, he would have a game that showed that he indeed had great potential: a flash of brilliance amidst the chaos of his first few years. Regardless, the postscript is well known by now: RG3’s career accomplishments, no matter how well he performed this year, remain to be seen, while Eli, the formerly befuddled rookie, has two Super Bowl MVP trophies and is probably on his way to the Hall of Fame.
Long ago in a black and white world, in a time before LEDs, LCDs, flat screens and the electronic mugging that is pay-per-view, big time heavyweight boxing was routinely broadcast on network television. In November 1982, Howard Cosell was the announcer for the mercilessly one-sided match between Larry Holmes and his opponent, Randy “Tex” Cobb of Philadelphia. As Cobb’s blood spattered across the screen in front of millions of Americans that night, I thought I heard Cosell utter, “Oh, this is…it’s just…it’s ‘brutilation.’”
Brutilaton. A classic Cosell malapropism which I think means both brutal and mutilation. (Following the bout, Cosell was so horrified by the fight that he retired from broadcasting boxing permanently.)
After watching the Quakers bludgeon their way to yet another loss against an uncharacteristically poor Villanova squad, I thought of Cosell’s manufactured word. It was indeed
brutilation. They brutalized the Wildcats while mutilating the game. It didn’t even look like basketball. (The cheesy smugness of the announcers didn’t help either. “Well Ross, this game has taken almost as long as one in the NFL, two hours and thirty two minutes. I’m gonna miss my train.”) Another painful contest in which my beloved Quakers struggled mightily with field goal percentage, poor defense, turnovers and, of course, fouls. Penn is now in the top five nationally in committing fouls. They almost beg the opposition to don suits of armor before taking the court. (However, Henry “The Hatchet Man” Brooks somehow made it through Saturday evening’s contestwithout his usual DQ. I suppose during a season like this, one must be thankful for the little things.) Worse still, with Fran Dougherty the sole shining light in this awkward and ungainly season effectively neutralized over the last few games, no one has stepped up to fill the yawning scoring vacuum. The entire team plays but no one scores. There are obviously big problems everywhere and I’m exhausted just thinking about them, so where are we now that Ivy play is less than one month away?