On Saturday night, the Penn men's basketball team will be matching up against either Fordham or UNC-Charlotte in the CoSIDA Classic in Raleigh, N.C. Several hundred miles away, Steve Donahue -- a man who has not been away from the Quakers for their opening game in 10 years -- will be making his debut as a head coach. Donahue took the head coaching job at Cornell over the summer, replacing Scott Thompson, who stepped down after being diagnosed with colon cancer. After years as an assistant at both the high school and the college levels, Donahue is finally getting his chance. Fran Dunphy will be busy with his Quakers in North Carolina when Donahue paces the sidelines for the first time as the head man. The mentor won't be able to watch his former assistant in his first game, but he will be sure to check the result as soon as he can, and he'll be rooting for Donahue to do well. It's just that Dunphy won't be able to take sides in this particular contest. The Big Red will open their season against the Lafayette Leopards and their coach, Fran O'Hanlon. And O'Hanlon isn't exactly a stranger to the small-but-growing Fran Dunphy coaching family. Before becoming the head coach at Lafayette, O'Hanlon spent six seasons with the Quakers as an assistant under Dunphy. In every year since then, the Red and Blue have faced off against the Leopards, with Penn taking four of the five contests. It's a game that Dunphy both looks forward to and wishes he could skip. In every other game Lafayette plays, the Penn coach roots for the Leopards to win, but trying to beat his friend is never easy. Donahue will be in the same situation on Saturday night. And Donahue and O'Hanlon are not simply connected by the time they spent together at the Palestra. Before either of them came to University City, Donahue was an assistant to O'Hanlon at Monsignor Bonner High School, helping guide Bonner to a Philadelphia Catholic League Championship. "It's definitely going to be strange," Donahue said. "It's ironic that I begin my head coaching career against someone who has had so much to do with helping me get to where I am." Donahue will probably have a similar approach to the Big Red's games on January 13 and February 16 when his Cornell squad will meet the two-time defending Ivy League champions. Sitting on the visitors' bench -- for the first time in 11 years -- when he comes to town with the Big Red in two months could be a disorienting experience for Donahue. But that game is well in the future. While the Ivy title is always the ultimate goal -- and that road leads through Philadelphia -- he is now totally focused on this weekend. And this weekend is the matchup with O'Hanlon and the defending Patriot League champions. Up to this point, Donahue has said that this preseason has been similar to the previous 10. He has been running his team through practices and doing everything he needs to do to prepare for the 2000-01 season. He credited the freedom Dunphy allowed him at Penn for the easy transition, but admits that he thinks it will be different once the games start, when he has to take responsibility for the way his team performs and do what he can to fix it. That all begins on Saturday. Donahue was hired over the summer, but his first experience as a head coach will really come this weekend. And it will be against a former colleague and a close friend. It will also be a historic game in the Fran Dunphy Era of Penn basketball. While the contest has no direct effect on the Quakers, it will be the first game ever between two men who cut their coaching teeth under Dunphy at the Palestra. And even though he can't be there, the Quakers veteran coach will be interested. "I would love to be there to see those two guys compete against each other," Dunphy said. "I think it will be a great game. Fran O'Hanlon has proven himself to be an excellent basketball coach, and I think Steve Donahue will be an excellent coach as well." More than anything, the Penn basketball family is about loyalty, and Dunphy's dedication to his former pupils proves that. As for Donahue, how will he spend the last night before his first game as a coach -- the night the Quakers open the season against the Wolfpack of N.C. State in Raleigh? "I'll get to a satellite," he said. "I'm going to see that game somehow, someway."Comments powered by Disqus
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