Talent isn’t everything for Penn basketball

Several years ago, Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun was asked what the single-most important ingredient is to build a winning college basketball program. His response was immediate and succinct: “Talent. You cannot win without it no matter how good a coach you are.”

Does Penn have talent? It appears so, but it is far too early judge the freshman class based on only two games. I will say that overall they look eager, athletic and, as a group, promising. As for the veterans, Tony Hicks’s ability is undeniable. However, during his tenure at Penn he has become the Carmelo Anthony of the Quakers – shoot first and ask questions later. Darien Nelson-Henry is talented as well but still looks very much like a work in progress, flashes of brilliance interspersed with long stretches of underachievement. Unfortunately, he is more often the “Big Donkey” than the mighty “Big Hyphen” who can single-handedly dominate games. The rest of the veterans – Louis, Jones, Howard and Lewis – can also play but frequently look lost in “the system.”

After the Quakers lost to Rider last week, Jerome Allen once again blamed the players for taking it upon themselves to win the game on their own instead of relying on “the system.”  This refrain (often punctuated by a disgusted facial grimace) has been heard often over the last three years with many different players who have played on Jerome’s teams. If the players are committing this same error of independence every year, then the message Jerome is sending to the team is obviously not being heeded.

In 1982, Craig Littlepage took over a veteran Quaker squad so loaded with talent it was expected by many to go deep in the NCAA tournament. But the seniors, defending Ivy League champions, looked listless and out of sync in the new system. In the end, except for an upset of ranked Villanova in the Big 5, that team lost the Ivy title to Craig Robinson’s (AKA Obama’s brother in law) Princeton Tigers.

So at this point in Penn’s season, I humbly disagree with coach Calhoun. Yes, you indeed need talent, but without adequate coaching to harness this ability, it really doesn’t matter if you have it all.

Stay Red and Blue my friends,

The AQ


3 thoughts on “Talent isn’t everything for Penn basketball”

  1. According to the post after tonight’s game, JA again went with the team’s lack of confidence in “The System”. As I mention in that post, I wish the coach would inform those of us in “The Periphery” what this amazing system is, why each of his Penn team’s cannot follow it and whose fault is their lack of buy-in.

    If/when the coach is removed from his position, there will be many who will discuss the names of former Penn people like Steve Donahue, Andy Toole and Matt Langel. I have always thought it would be amusing for Penn to look at Bill Carmody.

    However, a recent post at NBC Sports about VCU’s Shaka Smart, http://collegebasketballtalk.nbcsports.com/2014/11/20/assigned-reading-the-tao-of-shaka/ , had this note –

    “Smart has also done an unbelievable job of getting the entire community of Richmond, Virginia, behind his program. Drive around town and it won’t be long before you see someone with a Rams shirt on or a Havoc poster hanging in a window.

    And that’s why Smart has created such a coaching tree despite being so young. Former assistants have been hired by Chattanooga, Rice and Mount St. Mary’s already. Those programs don’t just want to win games, they want to develop a fan base.”

    That is what Tommy Amaker has done at Harvard, as well. Of course, Smart is not going to come to West Philly, but maybe one of his assistants would be a good fit to get the team to move forward and get people back into The Palestra.

  2. There is no shortage of people for the Penn job when and if it becomes available. I don’t think any one style of coaching is necessary to be successful–the person just needs to get the team winning and people will come. Not sure how far you go back at Penn, but I always knew Penn would win, or at least had a good chance to win, every time I showed up to a game. That’s all you need. However, this is easier said than done.
    Although it’s a different level altogether, I suggest you read “Showtime”about the Magic Johnson LA Lakers. A great, well-written, and entertaining read. A team with immense talent stagnated under Paul Westhead. Then when Pat Riley took over this very same team it was unstoppable. It was just a matter of getting the right person to tap into and harness the team’s true potential.

    Excellent commentary and book reviews: that’s what IHO is all about.

    Stay Red and Blue,
    The AQ

  3. Thanks for the reading suggestion, AQ.

    Although I’m sure the Lakers story is much more complicated and detailed, I do remember the many stories that placed the firing of Westhead on the young superstar Magic Johnson. I look forward to reading the whole story.

    While I am old enough to remember rooting for the Quakers during the run to the Final Four in ’79, my direct relationship with the team correlated with the arrival of Tom Schneider in the mid-80s. Even though several of his team’s were ultimately dissapointments, I also had the sense that the team was competitive on a game-by-game basis.

    I am still feeling positive about last night’s game. I am cautiously hoping they can maintain it for Tuesday’s game against Temple.

    Continuing to stay Red & Blue!


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