Phillips | Better days are soon to come for Penn basketball


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Freshman guard Tony Hicks posted 15 points and five rebounds in 25 minutes of play Saturday against Brown.

Photo by Maanvi Singh


Brown head coach Mike Martin was an assistant at Penn for six years, and during that time, he coached the best and worst teams that the Ivy League had to offer.

These are not the same Quakers that Martin met when he came on as an assistant coach under Glen Miller’s new regime in 2006. Back then, a bid to the NCAA tournament was a necessity for Penn. It wasn’t a question of if.

Nor are these the Quakers that Martin watched decay at the hands of a coach who did a poor job running a proud program.

Indeed, Martin has seen the whole spectrum, from the talented crew that Miller inherited from current Temple coach Fran Dunphy, to the bottom of the barrel team that led to Miller’s firing.

And so Martin’s view of this team that Allen has constructed carries more than a little weight.

“They’re extremely young. They play four freshmen a ton of minutes,” Martin said. “And I think better days are ahead for them, for sure.”

If the Quakers continue to play like they did Saturday, when they were patient on offense, attacked the boards on both ends and didn’t cough up the ball, then Martin will be spot on

The first part of Martin’s comment, on Penn’s youth, is crucially important when considering whether the latter portion of his statement will come to fruition.

Can we expect junior Miles Cartwright to develop much more between now and next season? No, but that’s okay. It’s not his potential that needs to soar — it’s the youth on this team.

There are times watching freshman Tony Hicks attack the hoop, or fellow classmate Darien Nelson-Henry big-man on his way to the basket, when it’s hard not to envision this team competing for a bid to the NCAA tournament next season.

And while Cartwright isn’t going to learn much from a poor shooting night throughout the rest of the Ivy slate, Hicks will. He went 4-for-12 against Brown, and a few of those misses are ones that he shouldn’t have taken. But that knowledge comes with time.

Patience, aggressiveness, protecting the ball — these are things that are preached to kids from the day they pick up a basketball. But it really takes being in the trenches, not just for one game, but game after game, to really see that those intangibles ultimately win basketball games.

Is Penn 23 points better than Brown? No, they’re not, but…

“They played like a team that needed a win,” Martin said.

And that’s the key.

Last season, the Quakers played like a desperate team each and every night, and it got them one game in Jadwin Spaceship — I mean, Gymnasium — away from going to the NCAAs.

This season, with a bunch of youngsters, it may appear as though they’re back at square one.

But that’s the funny thing with growth — it doesn’t happen overnight. Penn will still lose a few more games this season, but don’t let that bother you.

Because when Martin makes his trip down to the Palestra around this time next year, those better days of which he spoke Saturday night may just have arrived for the Red and Blue.

JOHN PHILLIPS is a junior English major from Philadelphia. He can be reached at dpsports@theDP.com.

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