Five things I think I think about Penn men’s basketball, post-Ethan Roberts commitment

The great Peter King, dean of football writers in America, retired earlier this year. I would put King — the longtime Sports Illustrated columnist and reporter — right up there with Lawrence Taylor, my father and Steve Sabol among the people who helped spark my lifelong love affair (obsession?) with sports.

In honor of King, I have a few more thoughts than usual on Penn’s position in the Ivy League landscape — and college basketball at large — after it picked up a high-upside transfer in the form of ex-Drake guard Ethan Roberts, a sophomore, last week.

I think Roberts could step in and immediately compete for all-Ivy honors.

Roberts never actually appeared in a game for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament champs this past season. After transferring in from Army, Roberts took a redshirt year in 2023-24 due to an undisclosed injury. His time with the Bulldogs came to an end as coach Darian DeVries moved on to West Virginia.

For what it’s worth, Roberts told the Daily Pennsylvanian he’s 100% healthy but did not comment on specifics about the medical issue.

What Roberts put on tape while at Army in 2022-23 should have Penn fans salivating. He won the Patriot League Rookie of the Year award by averaging 12.4 points per game on shooting splits of 47.6%/40.7%/84.8%. He finished with a KenPom offensive efficiency rating of 113.4 points per 100 possessions, which ranked 401st out of 2,253 eligible players.

Watch the film, and it’s easy to see what makes Roberts so effective. He positions himself well away from the ball, setting himself up for catch-and-shoot opportunities. Like fellow transfer portal addition Michael Zanoni, Roberts also has a nice, high release to his shot.

Roberts also shows some signs of slashing ability — something the Quakers desperately need. His 6-foot-5 height should give him the flexibility to guard at multiple positions as well.

If Roberts is healthy, he could be a key component of a winning Ivy team. After all, we’ve already seen him play at a high level in a peer league.

I think the Quakers are a step ahead of the Ivy League in navigating the transfer portal era.

Yes, Yale has the highest-rated transfer recruit in recent Ivy memory in the form of former four-star prospect Casey Simmons, who came aboard in 2022.

However, I think Penn is one of a tiny handful of Ivy schools which has refused to take the recent epidemic of young talent entering the portal lying down.

The Quakers have reached out to dozens of prospects across all levels of college basketball and have four offers to Juco and Division II players still outstanding. There are some Division I transfers still on the market (Louisville big man Dennis Evans, SEMO stretch four Adam Larson) that could also fit in nicely.

While the loss of Tyler Perkins was certainly a big blow, Penn’s coaching staff has, to its credit, viewed the portal as a chance to add talent.

Princeton has gotten the better of Penn in, well, basically everything on the basketball court in the last few years, but the Tigers’ depth looks perilously thin after several young players chose to exit in recent weeks. The possibility of Xaivian Lee remaining in the NBA draft process or even transferring also looms.

In contrast, Penn looks deeper than it has in a while.

I think Tyler Perkins made a high-risk, high-reward move by transferring to Villanova.

It is going to be very awkward if the Big 5 Classic gets renewed this year and the Quakers have to play at Villanova. I can’t recall off the top of my head the last time Penn has matched up against one of its former players.

It’s understandable why Perkins chose to transfer to Villanova. The Wildcats play in a better league, have a recent history of NCAA Tournament success, notable alums in the pros and strong academics. The Wildcats’ superior financial resources go without saying.

If Perkins plays at a high level at Villanova, it’s not crazy to think that he could parlay that success into a shot at the NBA.

But the Villanova Perkins stands to join is not Jay Wright’s Villanova. The Wildcats are going through a ton of roster turnover this portal cycle. The only notable rotation player on last year’s team that looks like a lock to return is guard Jordan Longino. It’s tough to forecast whether Perkins will start or have a reserve rotational role on the team.

It’s also fair to note that Villanova coach Kyle Neptune is under a tremendous amount of pressure this season. The Wildcats have missed the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons, and it’s hard to imagine Neptune will get a fourth chance if the Wildcats don’t make March Madness this season.

If Neptune gets fired, Villanova could very easily clean house and have Perkins looking for his third college in as many seasons.

I think Ivy fans should be more frustrated with the league’s grad transfer rules than underclassman exits.

If the last few weeks of transfer portal craziness has taught me anything, it’s that getting upset about undergraduates leaving mid-majors is a waste of time. Players these days are all in until they’re not.

I don’t think adding scholarships or throwing around money through NIL collectives would really change too much for the Ivy League right now, to be honest. Look at how Virginia Commonwealth, which has its own collective and is a regular contender for the A-10 title, just lost two key players to the portal in the span of the week.

Even blue bloods aren’t immune. At last count on, Duke had six players on the way out via the portal, including two starters.

The bottom line is that if players want to leave, they are going to leave. There’s nothing anyone at any level of college basketball can do to change that.

What remains a ridiculous own-goal, though, is the Ivy League’s self-imposed restriction on graduate student athletic eligibility. Clark Slajchert said on the record that he would have stayed at Penn had he been able to do so. Now? He’s part of a miniature Ivy all-star team at USC with Yale grad transfer Matt Knowling.

It’s hard enough as it is to keep undergraduate talent around. Why chase away stars that want to stay?

I think I’m getting real tired of Penn’s awful injury luck.

Slajchert’s high ankle sprain at the end of nonconference play ruined the 2023-24 season. The 2024-25 season is off to a pretty bad start from an injury perspective.

The Daily Pennsylvanian had an excellent story out last week about rising sophomore guard Sam Brown suffering a minor knee ligament tweak that will keep him out for six to eight weeks.

Brown’s injury shouldn’t be much of a concern in and of itself, but it came at a terrible time in the offseason cycle. Now, there’s no chance that he’ll be able to play during the team’s upcoming trip to Croatia.

The Croatia trip is going to be Penn’s first trip abroad in six years. Now, the Quakers will be going away without the services of one of their two most important returnees when they need as much practice and game time as possible to shore up their defense and prepare for life offensively without Slajchert and Perkins to carry the ball-handling load.

5 thoughts on “Five things I think I think about Penn men’s basketball, post-Ethan Roberts commitment”

  1. Careful what you wish for. If this two time transfer is as good as you hope, he won’t be around long enough to learn all his teammates’ first names. I wonder where his next stop will be.

  2. Ethan Roberts is an outstanding basketball player and excellent student. He was was recruited to Penn ( and had offers from other excellent D1 schools on East and West coast ) He wanted to go to Penn not only because he liked the coaching staff, and their goal to build a team capable of a conference championship and NCAA tournament appearance but because of the high level of academics offered at Penn.

    In today’s Basketball world when a coach leaves a basketball program many talented players enter the transfer portal just to explore their options. Roberts was highly recruited after his Coach left at Army and again after his Coach left Drake. He is very pleased to have been accepted at Penn to pursue his basketball and academic career and looks forward to playing his best and graduating from Penn.

  3. But, has he spent any time in Philadelphia (where I am now, in 90 degree heat, awaiting a weekend memorial service)? And, if the Penn coach leaves … ? Good luck with this hitchhiker.

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