This summer, after a long day as counselors for Penn basketball’s summer camp, the program’s student-athletes were ready to turn in for the evening. But now-sophomore Darnell Foreman had other plans.
“It’s like 10 p.m., [and he says], ‘Who wants to go shoot?’” freshman forward Max Rothschild said. “I’m like, ‘No way. Not right now. Go shoot? What?’ Then we walk back to the place we were staying and it’s like 11:30, almost midnight, and he’s like, ‘I’m gonna go.’”
After a small speech from Foreman, Rothschild and the others quickly got the message, and left to shoot around at the boiling hot Palestra in the midst of summer.
“I knew what he was trying to do,” Rothschild said. “It wasn’t like him trying to scare us freshmen, but it was really more influential and inspiring to see him want to go shoot at midnight at the Palestra.”
For those in the program, this action doesn’t come out of the ordinary from the hard-working guard. Despite his status as a freshman, Foreman was a consistent voice at practices last season, taking a leadership role he’s assumed for every team he’s been on since middle school.
A sterling example came in early May when Quakers’ recruit Ryan Betley was getting ready for a workout at the Palestra during his official visit. Foreman told Betley to show up at 3:00 p.m., but the recruit arrived half an hour early.
When Betley got there, Foreman was already in the gym, steadily working on his game by his lonesome.
“Even in the little scrimmages we had there that day, he was definitely the one who was going hard, coaching me, helping give me tips while I was playing,” “He just seem[ed] like he would be a great teammate to have, someone who wants to win at all costs.”
While Foreman takes a leadership role on the court, he stepped up his game as soon as he arrived on campus. The Camden, N.J., native received very little interest from Division I schools in his recruitment out of Pitman High School and chose Penn after then-coach Jerome Allen reached out to him in Spring 2014.
Due to injuries and players leaving the program, Foreman — along with the rest of his freshman class — found plentiful playing time, earning over 20 minutes per game in his first year. Although his inexperience was apparent at times, his admittance that he made a lot of mistakes has helped him grow from those same miscues.
But his personality shined brighter, even in tough moments for the Red and Blue. Before playing their final game under Allen — who was forced to resign at the end of last season — the entire team donned No. 53 T-shirts to honor their coach. Allen said after the game that it was Foreman who organized the gesture, although Foreman humbly demurred that it was a group effort.
“We just wanted to commemorate him going here, being a great influence on us, recruiting us to come here, so we wanted to thank him for that,” he added.
According to Darnell, Allen had a “major impact” on Foreman and the team, teaching them a lot. Foreman has even remained in contact with Allen into this season. But with their former coach gone, this summer meant a big transition for the remaining players in the program.
Yet, based on Betley and Rothschild’s anecdotes alone, Foreman has kept moving forward, trying to bring his game to another level.
Within a new system that demands decision-making by playing percentages, Foreman has adjusted through his usual method: Practice. Each day before practice, he is visible working on a different part of his game, most often his three-point shooting. He’s also tried his hand at the ball-in-each-hand dribbling drill that Stephen Curry has made famous, although he hasn’t mastered it quite like the NBA’s Most Valuable Player.
While Foreman can handle the ball, when you ask any person in the program what stands out about the sophomore, it’s his personality. Beyond his skill set on the court, the Jersey native brings a vibrancy that impacts everyone around him, to the point that it’s infectious among his teammates.
“It was amazing over the spring and summer [when] you need some of the guys to come in and play pick-up and his ability to pick up his phone and have 10-15 guys here in an hour,” coach Steve Donahue said. “I think that’s the thing about Darnell that’s so valuable to our program.”
Combined with Donahue’s new system, a strong incoming recruiting class that included multiple guards meant that Foreman had to earn his playing time all over again this year. Donahue stressed Darnell’s need for consistency with the ball and in making jumpers. While senior guard Tony Hicks left the program, fellow senior Jamal Lewis returned, meaning the backcourt was just as packed and full of competition, off of which Foreman thrives.
“That grit, that competitiveness, that’s one thing [Donahue] preaches, so I think I’m perfect to try and embrace that to the team,” Foreman said before the season began.
So how has Foreman stuck in the Quakers’ rotation this year? It all starts with his tenacity on defense. The sophomore continues to take on the role as one of Penn’s primary on-ball defenders, using his wingspan to befuddle opposing guards.
This was especially apparent in the Red and Blue’s second game of the year against Central Connecticut State. Foreman came off the bench early in the second half and was part of a lineup that held the Blue Devils to four points while scoring 19 as a unit. That five-minute stretch was essential to the 77-61 Penn victory.
Foreman has also improved offensively this year, averaging over six points per contest. He is third on the team with 2.2 assists per game. Yet his numbers, as one might expect, aren’t a big deal to the sophomore, who couldn’t help mentioning the team when asked about his individual expectations.
Instead, he continues to try to help the team get better, whether it’s in a sweat-soaked Palestra at night in the middle of summer or at practice in season.
“Me being a sophomore now, I’ve realized that every time, every minute on the court is very special,” he said. “I try to play practice like it’s a game. ... The same things that you see in practice are going to happen so if you make practice very much game-like, it will translate.”
If Foreman’s role from practice continues to translate onto the court, his impact on the team may be immeasurable.
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