Andrew Koob (@AndrewKoob)
It’s been asked of every single Penn player and coach throughout the off-season. It’s a tiresome dance, where everyone asks the same, tired question and the players and staff give the same, tired answer. Finally, as the season approaches, answers will be had and the Quakers will be able to see exactly what direction they are headed.
Zack Rosen, whose name is scattered in several places among Penn’s Individual Career Records page, left the program as one of the best players in its illustrious history. Now, it’s the likes of Miles Cartwright, Fran Dougherty and Dau Jok who hold the keys to the Quakers’ success. But Penn coach Jerome Allen doesn’t just want another Rosen-esqe player.
“I think it would be unfair for me to ask someone to be someone else,” Allen told CoBL back in August. “What I mean by that is, I think Miles Cartwright has to be Miles Cartwright and continue to develop the team to improve his game in all aspects. I’m not looking for the next Zac Rosen or a clone of that. But what I am looking for is the incremental change that will allow us to be better from everyone, whether it be Miles or from Fran Dougherty or Henry Brooks, just guys taking it upon themselves to use this summer as an opportunity to improve their skill set.”
(Penn Primer: For a player-by-player breakdown of the Quakers, check out CoBL’s team primer)
With such a young team, that doesn’t feature any senior on scholarship, the Quakers have a vast array of players who could take over the lead role. Because of the amount of players that Penn could see grasp the leadership role this season, Allen named Cartwright, Dougherty, and Jok as co-captains in early October.
“All three young men truly represent what being a student-athlete is about, not only in college but at the University of Pennsylvania,” Allen said during the Ivy League’s teleconference. “Collectively, they just symbolize what’s right about our game. Dau Jok is truly my idol. His journey to Penn and all he’s been through, we’re talking about a young man who, seven years ago, didn’t even speak english and just to be able to have the commitment, the focus, the determination to be uprooted in civil war-ridden Sudan and to come here and master the language in such a short amount of time and to go to one of the best universities in the world, so he’s a young man who truly values the opportunity. He get’s what being a part of a team and being committed to the overall struggle is about.
“Miles Cartwright and Fran Dougherty both had a great summer, and I’m not quick to reward guys just because they move up from an age standpoint, but they really took this group by the hand and said ‘we’re going to lead by example’. I’ve only asked them to be who they are and I’m excited for those guys and I just think they really bought into this leading while being led.”
On top of the junior leadership that Penn boasts, the Quakers figure to have some major contributions from one of the better incoming freshmen class in recent memory. Penn nabbed 6-foot-11, 265 pound center Darien Nelson-Henry (chose the Quakers over reported offers from Gonzaga and Boise St.), 6-foot, 160 pound guard Jamal Lewis (turned down offers from Ivy League rivals Princeton and Harvard), 6-foot-2, 170 pound guard Tony Hicks (walked away from offers from NCAA Tournament teams Ohio and South Florida to play at the Palestra) and 6-foot-5, 195 pound forward Julian Harrell (had reported offers from Duquesne and Stanford).
“I just think that this group has been a joy to watch so far, but still so young in the process,” Allen said. “I think each player has displayed something. They have an opportunity to help us and the biggest thing now is that, this isn’t high school anymore. The attention to detail and speed and sometimes it takes awhile to get adjusted to the game. But these guys are competitors, they want to be good and they value the opportunity just in terms of putting the Penn jersey on with pride.”
After two recruiting classes with a combined nine players that could immediately contribute this year (Brooks, Camryn Crocker, Greg Louis, Patrick Lucas-Perry and Simeon Esprit were all a part of the 2011 recruiting class), Penn seems to be quickly growing into a hotspot for recruits not only in the Philadelphia area, but throughout the nation. So what does Penn offer that’s making highly-touted recruits give a closer look?
“I’m not quite sure how many student-athletes that play in the city of Philadelphia have spent a decent amount of time on Penn’s campus and just see the aesthetics and enclave that’s formed from 34th to 40th Street,” Allen said. “Having said that, I think it’s just that we try to do the best job we can to sell this brand, obviously from an academic standpoint, that reputation speaks for itself, but from a basketball standpoint to the historians. They know the Palestra and the Big 5, Penn being top 10 all-time in Division-I wins. But in this day and age, this generation, they don’t remember what happened five years ago, let alone 10, 15, 20, 30 years ago. I think, as a staff, they just did a great job of really exposing them to the tradition and history and, through more conversations we’ve had, they were able to see this was a national program, not just an Ivy League school.”
The Quakers get to display what the new era of Penn basketball looks like when they open up the season Friday night when University of Maryland-Baltimore County visits the Palestra at 7:00 PM.