If Steve Donahue doesn't win Ivy League Coach of the Year, it'll be a goddamn travesty.
Let me remind you where this team has come from. On Feb. 7, 2017, the Quakers got blown out on their own home court by Princeton. They were 0-6 in the Ivy League. Nothing was going right for them. I even pronounced their season dead.
Fast forward 382 days, and the Quakers are now on top the conference after a nail-biting 74-71 victory over Harvard. They've gone 17-3 in regular season Ivy play since that dreadful loss. They've become a completely different team: a juggernaut that can beat you in many different ways.
And Donahue has led them through it all.
It's been his steady hand, his trust in his role players, his willingness to let the hot hand carry the team on any given night, and his ability to cultivate a system that plays to everyone's strengths that has brought the Quakers here.
He's done it with a talented team to say the least, but certainly not one that's above and beyond the rest of the Ivy League. Ryan Betley and AJ Brodeur are two of the best players in the Ancient Eight, but the rest of Penn's starters probably wouldn't make it into the starting lineup for Harvard. But Donahue has gotten the best out of each and every one of them, creating a team that's greater than the sum of its parts.
All of Donahue's decisions might not make sense in the moment, but they've all worked like a charm in retrospect.
After getting back into the rotation this season, Caleb Wood has developed into one of the premier bench options in the Ancient Eight. Donahue turned to Devon Goodman when his team was struggling to provide a spark against Columbia, and he's continued to do so ever since. Jake Silpe and Matt MacDonald have gotten minutes down the stretch, providing Penn with valuable efforts from deep on the bench.
And that doesn't even scratch the surface with what he's done with his starting five. He's turned his bigs, Brodeur and Max Rothschild, into legitimate passing threats, without sacrificing their scoring abilities. He's entrusted his senior captain, Darnell Foreman, with the job of leading the team on both ends of the floor, one he does extremely well.
This team averaged 69 points last year. And with almost all the same parts back this season, they're now averaging 76. By constantly tweaking his lineups, and finding the right combinations almost every game, Donahue's turned this offense into one of the best in the league.
But more than the offensive output, Donahue has inspired his team to play with a new attitude — one that exudes confidence. Penn played defeated for the first half of Ivy play last year. This year, they play hungry, they play energized, and they play tough.
It's incredible to think that the Quakers who fell to Princeton last year and the Quakers who just topped Harvard are almost completely the same team. There has been only one significant change from last season's lineup — graduate Matt Howard was replaced by a returning Antonio Woods — but the Red and Blue look entirely different, and significantly better.
There's a lot of different reasons for this, but it all starts with Donahue. He's brought Penn men's basketball out of the dark days and back to relevance for the foreseeable future.
Jonathan Pollack is a College junior from Stamford, Conn., and is the Senior Sports Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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