Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Despite building a staff full of area natives, the one place Penn coach Jerome Allen had yet to land a recruit from in his five years was from the state his school was named after.
Lower Merion wing Jule Brown changed that on Thursday night, informing the Quakers staff he’d decided to become Allen’s first commitment for its incoming Class of 2015.
Two days prior to his commitment, Brown said he told his head coach that he was going to wait until the end of July. It was a conversation with Allen on Thursday night that changed his mind.
“To be a part of such a historic basketball tradition, the academic opportunities the school provides and to have it be in your own backyard…you can’t get any better than that,” Brown said.
“I realized that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I couldn’t pass that up. For my mom and my grandparents to see me play so close to home, it was a no-brainer.”
A 6-foot-6, 200-pound forward, Brown picked Penn over offers from Columbia, Hartford and Lafayette.
As a junior, Brown averaged around 11 ppg and six rebounds per game to help the Aces to a 23-8 overall record and a spot in the PIAA Class AAAA state quarterfinals before finally losing to eventual runners-up La Salle College HS. As a sophomore, he played more of a complimentary role during Lower Merion’s state title run, providing size, length and rebounding in the frontcourt before moving to more of a primary offensive role this year.
Last year, Penn went 8-20 overall, including a 5-9 mark in Ivy League play. Brown was offered by the school following the game; at the time, he was being recruited by assistant Jason Polykoff, but following Polykoff’s departure to D-III Earlham (Ind.), new assistant Nat Graham picked up the trail and continued the hard work the staff was putting in.
“I’ve been talking to them almost every day, whether it’s coach Allen, coach Graham, who I’ve been recently talking to, they’ve been pushing really hard,” he said. “I really like [Graham] a lot, he knows the game, he made me feel at home.”
Numerous other high-academic schools had started to pick up their recruiting of Brown, one of the more improved players in the area since last summer. An athletic power forward his first two years on the Aces, Brown really improved this past year in terms of his ball-handling and ability to create his shot, suggesting he’ll be able to play the ’3′ in the Ivy League.
“I think he’s a guy that I always thought had a very high upside, I always thought that from the first day I met him,” LM coach Gregg Downer said. “He wasn’t able to display himself a lot as a sophomore on a very good team, and was obviously asked to do more things this year as a junior and will be the centerpiece of our team next year.”
With his commitment, Brown becomes the first player from Pennsylvania to commit to Penn since just-graduateds senior Cam Gunter (Ridley) and Fran Dougherty (Archbishop Wood); their arrival coincided with Allen taking over as head coach just seven games into the 2010-11 season, but they were Glenn Miller recruits.
The Quakers had landed recruits from as far away as Washington and Arizona under Allen, but Pa. one they’d yet to crack into. Allen and his staff did get a recent 2014 commitment from Pitman (N.J.) guard Darnell Foreman, which is only about 30 miles from campus, though on the opposite side of the Delaware river.
Brown’s commitment also ended a different kind of recruiting dry streak. Downer, despite coaching nearly 20 years at one of the better academic high schools around and having sent basketball players to Temple, Saint Joseph’s, Syracuse and the NBA, had never had a player he coached go to Penn.
“It’s great that he’s going to be so local,” Downer said. “To go to a school like Penn is a dream come true for me, I’ve always wanted to send a kid to Penn. I just think there’s something about the Palestra and there’s something about education at Penn that is just second-to-none.”
Now Brown is determined to bring along some other local kids, especially off his AAU program, the Jersey Shore Warriors, which features a number of other high-academic kids. Penn’s still looking for a point guard, and Brown’s teammate Jake Silpe has a Penn offer as well as those from nine other schools and counting.
“Definitely talking to Silpe, he’s got a Penn offer, so I’m going to push hard for that,” Brown said. “I wish him the best in everything he does, but I’m going to try hard to convince Jake to come along because it’s really a great opportunity.”