Transfer felt lost in the shuffle
Bucknell-bound forward Fitzpatrick frustrated with Penn's treatment of freshmen
June 10, 2010, 4:05 am · Updated June 10, 2010, 12:00 am·
As the seconds ticked down during the Penn basketball team’s fifteenth loss of this past season, to Harvard February 6, little-used freshman Brian Fitzpatrick sat on the bench wondering why he had spent the entire game riding the pine yet again.
“I couldn’t understand how I didn’t play at all,” Fitzpatrick said Tuesday. “I didn’t get an opportunity.”
Three months after the freshman forward asked head coach Jerome Allen for his release from the team following the conclusion of the 2009-10 season, Fitzpatrick is now hoping for that opportunity at Bucknell University, where he will continue his basketball career after sitting out next season in accordance with the NCAA’s transfer rules.
With the help of his high school coach at Northfield Mount Hermon, John Carroll, Fitzpatrick chose Bucknell over Davidson, with Sacred Heart and Wofford also in the mix.
Tuesday, the Cheshire, Conn., native voiced his frustration over his personal experience trying to earn playing time on a team in transition, after the man who recruited him, coach Glen Miller, was fired in December.
“I thought I should have been playing like 10-15 minutes a game,” said Fitzpatrick, who played in 17 out of the Quakers’ 28 games and averaged 9.2 minutes per game. “I just didn’t understand, especially because we weren’t very good this year, 6-22, so I thought you should be giving the freshmen a little bit more of an opportunity.”
After missing three months before the season with a knee injury, Fitzpatrick said he struggled to gain back proper conditioning and fully grasp the playbook throughout the season, especially after coach Jerome Allen took over and put a new system in place.
"At Bucknell, coach [Dave] Paulsen has a system and I think I’m gonna fit well in it," he said. "At Penn, we didn’t really have a system ... I can’t really tell you exactly what we ran."
And while Miller was prepared to make Fitzpatrick a regular in his rotation, Allen had a different philosophy.
“Coach Miller was more of a ‘freshman is as good as a senior' [coach],” Fitzpatrick explained. “You play the freshmen because they have more potential, where coach Allen was more ‘if you have a senior and a freshman who are similar, you’re gonna play the senior, because for a freshman to play in front of a senior, he has to be that much better [than the senior.]’”
According to Fitzpatrick, he was benched for the remainder of the game after making a single mistake on two different occasions, in back-to-back Big 5 games against Temple and LaSalle in January. He played just 30 minutes in February and March combined after playing 25 against St. Joseph’s on January 25, and noted that the lack of playing time damaged his confidence.
"I expected a little bit better year out of him," said Carroll, who coached 26 current Division I players. "We were hoping for a little bit more consistency out of his performance."
Sophomore point guard Zack Rosen, who shot just 35 percent during his freshman year before becoming a first team All-Ivy selection last season, said that while Fitzpatrick worked hard, he failed to cope with "the normal ups and downs of any freshman year."
"There’s a certain patience with the process of becoming a really good player that you have to have," Rosen said. "Sometimes you've got to work through some stuff."
He disagreed with Fitzpatrick's view that Allen favored upperclassmen over underclassmen, explaining that "it was equal opportunity for everybody, including the guys that were starting before he took over the job."
"I thought that he went with who played the best and who proved themselves," Rosen added.
Fitzpatrick also said next year’s large roster, which could include up to 21 players with the addition of seven incoming freshmen, was a factor in his decision to transfer. He even went as far as to say he would have been “miserable” had he stayed next year.
“It’s gonna get really ugly,” he said. “You can’t have everybody happy when you have [20-plus] kids on the team.”
Instead, Fitzpatrick will move from the Ivy League, which issues no scholarships and has no roster limits, to the Patriot League, where teams are permitted to carry 13 players on scholarship each year. He will initially join the Bison as a non-scholarship player.
Considering the roster size, his familiarity with Paulsen, their style of play and the school’s smaller size, Fitzpatrick feels the Lewisberg, Pa. university is a “better fit” for him.
“I really trust the coach, not that I don’t trust Jerome, but I really feel confident with coach Paulsen,” he said. “It’s a better basketball fit [based on] where I’m playing and what I can do.”
"He’ll be a perimeter guy," Carroll said. "He’s a strong, physical kid; he’s athletic and it sounds like those fit in well with what Bucknell is gonna do with Brian."
Fitzpatrick added that he was “really close” to choosing Bucknell out of high school, but ultimately chose to come to University City because of the Penn program’s mystique.
Despite reversing his decision a year later, Fitzpatrick feels little regret and, as Carroll put it, has developed "a new hunger for basketball."
“At the time, I thought Penn was the right place,” Fitzpatrick said. “Now that it didn’t work out, I’m gonna be extra motivated.
“You have that extra desire when people say ‘yeah, he transferred. Who cares, he didn’t play that much,'" he continued. "You have that swagger where you have to prove them wrong because you know you can be a good player.”
The complete version of this article has been added since it was first uploaded at 12:05 a.m. on June 10.