Penn basketball was in shambles following a disappointing season in which the team won just nine games.
“After last year and all the stuff we went through, our team morale was kind of broken,” senior captain Miles Cartwright said.
Just like the tagline from the Southwest Airlines commercials, one can almost imagine coach Jerome Allen bringing the team together after one of their tough Ivy losses in February and saying, “Wanna get away?”
And so they did. The team travelled to Italy for nine days, seeing the sights and hearing the sounds of a foreign country with the main focus on rebuilding the team’s chemistry.
The journey was not without hiccups.
Originally, the Quakers were slated to play Italian club squads in three contests as they traveled throughout the country. But due to the previously scheduled Italian teams not being able to get enough of their players together to take on the Red and Blue, Penn had to scramble to find other opponents.
Who they found were two military teams and a B-level Italian club squad, all of whom did not play the level of defense the Quakers are accustomed to.
“It was tough not to play the teams that we expected to play,” Cartwright said. “But we just had to play with the cards we were dealt.”
What resulted were three routs by the Quakers, who won those contests by a combined differential of 276-142.
Allen was pleased with his team’s on-court performance.
“They moved the ball around,” Allen said. “They played good defense.”
In the five practices before heading to Italy and then in the three games there, Cartwright was impressed with the play of the younger players on the team.
“[The young guys] look ready to go,” Cartwright said. “And they look a year older, which is everything.”
Throughout the entire trip, the Quakers’ energy level was high.
“It didn’t matter who we played against,” Cartwright said. “It could have been against sixth-grade girls and we would have been excited to get out there and play after all the work we put in all summer and those five days of practice. We were ready to go.”
While Cartwright was unsure about the team’s ability to come together over the course of the trip, by the end, that hunger the team felt had brought them closer together.
“Before we left, I thought this trip would be everything,” Cartwright said. “I thought it was essential for us to be able to compete for a championship, and I didn’t expect us to come together the way we did.”
The trip turned into the Quakers’ way of making a statement to anyone watching.
“We were all hungry,” Cartwright said. “We wanted to show everybody, to show ourselves that we are better than our record showed last year.”
The goal now is for the Red and Blue to maintain the cohesion they developed once the school year begins. The season doesn’t begin for over two months, and ultimately, the importance of a trip such as this one can only be determined by how the team plays once the Quakers tip off against Temple on Nov. 9.
But if the Quakers stay this hungry, in Cartwright’s mind, they’ll find themselves in a good place to bounce back after last year’s down season.
Yet Allen knows more work needs to be put in.
“I’m not quite ready to say that this team is tight and together,” Allen said. “But they are on the right track.”