In the minutes after the final buzzer sounded and sent Penn men’s basketball to the NCAA Tournament, sophomore AJ Brodeur hugged a lot of people.
He hugged his teammates. He hugged his friends. He even hugged a few strangers.
But out of all of AJ’s hugs — “hundreds,” by his own estimation — there was one that stood out.
As the team eagerly waited to cut down the net in celebration of its Ivy League Tournament championship, Penn President Amy Gutmann made her way to the players. With one of his arms pointed to the Palestra’s banners, and the other wrapped around Gutmann, AJ did something he never saw himself doing.
He picked up Penn’s president.
“Never would I have ever thought that I would have been picking up Amy Gutmann coming off an Ivy League championship game,” Brodeur said just moments after the hug. “That was definitely not something I pictured.”
It’s hard to blame AJ for that. After all, when he committed to play for Penn in July of 2015, few could have ever expected the Massachusetts native to lead the Quakers back to March Madness so quickly.
Back then, the Red and Blue were coming off a 9-19 season that saw them finish tied for last-place in the Ivy League, and at the time of his commitment, then-newly hired coach Steve Donahue had yet to sign a single other recruit.
But AJ stuck with Penn anyway — even though much higher-profile programs like Notre Dame also came calling.
And now it’s all paying off for the sophomore.
Brodeur, who was named the Ivy League Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, is preparing for a chance to be a part of the first-ever No. 16 seed to take down a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. And as for Notre Dame, who was at one point this season ranked top five in the entire country this season? They’re getting ready for the National Invitation Tournament after failing to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
“I can’t say that I expected it to happen, but I can definitely say that I thought that it was possible,” Brodeur reflected a day after the Ivy Championship. “Just seeing it all come to fruition, at the end where we are right now, is a dream come true.”
The dream season very well might reach its end on Thursday, but regardless of what happens against the Jayhawks, AJ will now always be able to call himself something that, for the last eleven years, had been virtually taboo within the halls of the Palestra: a champion.
“Waking up a champion, being able to come back to the Palestra, see the new nets after we just cut them down — it’s a great feeling,” he said.
And it’s a feeling that won’t be going away anytime soon.
“I don’t know how long it is going to take for me to get over this Ivy League Tournament win that we just had,” Brodeur added. “I woke up this morning, I thought I just woke up from the best dream of my life because I woke up and I felt like a champion.
“In a way, I didn’t really wake up from it because it is kind of like I’m living that dream now.”
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