“I’m not saying come back to me in two years and I’ll give you a better answer, but I’m saying come back to me in two years and I’ll give you a better answer.”
It may be double talk, but it’s also the status quo for Penn men’s basketball right now, as spoken Tuesday by Penn Athletic Director Steve Bilsky.
The Athletic Director gave a vote of confidence to coach Jerome Allen despite the fact that the Quakers could still end up with their worst record in the Ivy League era, since Penn is now 2-13 on the season.
For Bilsky, though, Allen has ticked all the right boxes since he took over as head coach in Dec. 2009. As Quakers fans remember all too well, Allen took over for Glen Miller, who Bilsky fired when Miller went 45-52 after inheriting a program in much better shape than Allen did. The Quakers had won 10 Ivy League titles under Fran Dunphy, Miller’s predecessor.
And that’s why, for Bilsky, the heat’s off Allen.
“When coach Allen was hired, he was given kind of a two-tier task. The first tier was take these guys that he inherited and get them to play harder and with more enthusiasm,” Bilsky said. “Get people feeling good about Penn. And I think he did a great job on that. He took a team that had won six games in two years with the same guys more or less and took them to 20 games.”
So in Bilsky’s mind, 20-13 makes 2-13 a lot more bearable, since Allen has already proven he can succeed.
“But at the time it was clear [that] when that period was over, the rebuilding was going to have to take place,” Bilsky said. “We knew we were going to have no seniors this year, [and] we would have a limited group of juniors who would have court time. I don’t say that as an excuse, but there are growing pains associated with that.”
Ah, there’s the magic word — rebuilding.
“You hate to say it’s because we’re young, because you can turn on a game any day of the week and you see young guys,” Bilsky said. “Really it’s the fact we have no seniors and only two juniors, and one of them is sick. So when you look at one junior or senior who’s had any significant time, you can’t speed that clock up as much as you’d like.”
But 2-13 seems like too many growing pains for a team which came into this season with a clear emotional leader (Miles Cartwright), a wealth of hyped talent (Tony Hicks and Darien Nelson-Henry) and a secret weapon (Fran Dougherty). Youth doesn’t preclude talent, especially since the Quakers came into this season glowing about their on-court chemistry and prospects as an offensive ensemble in the wake of Zack Rosen’s departure.
Henry Brooks keeps getting into foul trouble, Steve Rennard has disappeared as an offensive weapon and five Quakers were suspended for substance abuse. With the glaring exceptions of Fran Dougherty and Tony Hicks, progress has been too scarce, and the off-the-court distractions have been too many. Allen shares the responsibility for these shortcomings. He’s got an extremely youthful team and he’ll rightfully be given the opportunity to see it mature.
But to borrow Bilsky’s language, Allen is now in his second tier. It’s up to the current junior class to give Allen a cushion next year.
“I think the championships we win two, three, four, five years from now have something to do with what I do now,” junior guard Dau Jok told the DP in November. “What we do now has a larger impact on what goes on in the future.”
He’s right. The second tier begins now, and Bilsky’s better answer is coming soon.
MIKE TONY is a junior English and history major from Uniontown, Pa., and is Senior Sports Editor-elect of The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at email@example.com.