The men’s basketball team had a lot of empty space on its bench this summer after all three of its assistant coaches left to pursue other opportunities.
But head coach Jerome Allen quickly found the right people to fill the vacancies, men who fit the program he is in the process of rebuilding.
“You look for a guy who has strength in three or four different categories,” Allen said. “But really at the end of the day, it comes down to their core values, how they feel about the privilege of mentoring young men and staying connected to that on a daily basis.”
In June, the Quakers lost Mike Martin, who returned to his alma mater, Brown, as its new head coach after spending six years at Penn.
“Mike Martin has an unbelievable opportunity, and I would like to think that Penn, how he performed at Penn, had a lot to do with him receiving that,” Allen said.
Around the same time, volunteer assistant Rudy Wise chose to leave the program to seek other opportunities. Shortly after, Penn announced the hiring of two new assistants.
Filling the void left by Martin is Ira Bowman, who transferred to Penn and played two seasons for the Red and Blue in the mid-’90s. His first season, in 1994-95, also happened to be Allen’s final one for the Quakers, and the two have been close friends ever since.
Allen called Bowman’s hiring “a home run.”
“He’s passionate about this place the same way I am,” Allen said.
Bowman echoed the sentiment.
“I just think that my heart and my dedication and my love for this university and school is one of my biggest attributes that I’m going to bring to the guys,” he said.
Jason Polykoff was added as the new volunteer assistant coach. He comes to Penn after spending five years as the high school head coach at nearby Friends Central, where he coached Allen’s son. He guided the team to four consecutive Pennsylvania Independent Schools State Championships from 2009-2012.
“Just watching from afar how he interacted with his kids and what I thought he stood for, I just felt it would be a good fit for him,” Allen said. “And when he expressed interest, I pretty much told him it’s your job to turn down.”
Polykoff, who grew up in the Philadelphia area and played college basketball at Haverford, said even though he is not a Penn alumnus, he knows the campus and program history well enough to consider his hiring a homecoming.
“I think that one of the biggest things is that I’m just so excited to be at Penn and so excited to be here that I just can’t wait for the season to start,” he said.
The last remaining assistant coach from last season would have been Dan Leibovitz, but he took a position as a player development coach with the Charlotte Bobcats earlier this month. A 1996 Penn graduate, Leibovitz returned to his alma mater in 2010 after spending 10 seasons as an assistant at Temple and four as head coach at Hartford.
Allen wasted no time finding a man for the team’s third vacant assistant position of the summer, calling on Arizona State assistant Scott Pera. Though Penn has not officially announced the hire, Pera has confirmed the move on his Twitter account. He will become the Quakers’ top assistant.
Prior to his five seasons with the Sun Devils, Pera was the head coach at Artesia High School in Lakewood, Calif., where he coached Oklahoma City Thunder star James Harden. Pera coached Harden again at Arizona State from 2007-09.
Allen had nothing but praise for his former assistants, saying they “helped us turn the corner,” but his team is now in an unenviable position of starting the season with an entirely new assistant staff.
However, Bowman says this could actually benefit the team.
“You get a chance to be a part of a different team and I think that everybody’s ideas are a little fresher and a little newer,” he said. “It’s always fun being able to learn the intricacies of new offenses, new defenses, new personalities and the process.”
And while there may be some new faces on the bench, Allen made it clear that the objective hasn’t changed.
“I’m just excited about working towards our ultimate goal of bringing a championship back to the University of Pennsylvania.”