It's only fitting that when the Penn men's basketball team hosts La Salle tomorrow night in the first game in the renovated Palestra, that Philadelphia's finest will be on display. Led by a pair of Philly natives -- Rasual Butler and Victor Thomas -- the Explorers (2-3) are looking to open their Big 5 slate with a win over the Quakers (0-4) and its own hometown hero -- Lamar Plummer -- for the second straight year. Butler, a 6'7" junior forward was one of 50 hoopsters named to the pre-season Wooden Award list, an award annually given to the best college player. Not backing away from that honor one bit, through five games, Butler has thrown down an impressive 19.2 points a night. And that's not even tops on his team. The senior Thomas -- also a 6'7'' forward -- leads La Salle coach Speedy Morris' potent one-two punch with 22.4 points per game. Last December, the day before Penn squared off against La Salle at Tom Gola Arena, Quakers coach Fran Dunphy made a very prophetic statement. "Victor Thomas can burn you and Rasual Butler can burn you for 25 to 30 points," the Penn head man remarked at the time. And sure enough, Butler poured in 25 points and Thomas finished with a double-double -- 14 points and 12 rebounds -- as the Explorers rolled, 83-76. Penn fell behind early thanks to three trifectas in the first five minutes from Butler, and the Quakers were never able to recover. This season, both of La Salle's second-team All-Big 5 honorees are back for more. Their first goal? Spoiling Penn's first City Series game. But this isn't to say that the Explorers superstars are invincible. Just four days ago, Butler threw up an outlandish 5-for-29 from the field -- including 2-for-12 from three-point range -- against Seton Hall. Still needing to improve his shot selection, the erratic junior is shooting just 31 percent on the year. In that sloppy 63-54 loss to the Pirates, Butler was looking to torture a familiar face -- former high school teammate and freshman phenom Eddie Griffin. A 17 percent shooting effort from the erratic Butler, however, was no match for Griffin's 20 point, seven-block effort as the Explorers star lost the battle of Roman Catholic graduates. Though Butler might be overshadowed by his high school teammate, this certainly was not the case back in the day. As a senior, Butler was named city Player of the Year by both the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News. "Rasual Butler has the opportunity to be a very special player. He's very, very talented," said La Salle coach Speedy Morris, before Butler even stepped on the court as a freshman two years ago. Across the paint, Thomas -- playing the role of the cooler, more collected senior -- has been more reserved in his shot selection in 2000, shooting at a 58 percent clip. The senior power forward has averaged in double-figures in scoring in all three years on Olney, tallying 15.5 per contest last winter en route to 11 double-doubles. Yet another Philly native on a Big 5 roster, Thomas attended St. John Neumann High School. As a senior, he averaged 15 points and nine rebounds as his squad won the Philadelphia Catholic League Championship. Playing in a city overshadowed by Temple and Villanova in the hoops landscape, the names Butler and Thomas may have slipped through the cracks. But against Penn, at the Palestra, in a Philadelphia game, it's a safe bet that both players will bring their 'A' games. And so when the historic Palestra reopens tomorrow night, there will be a distinctive Philadelphia flavor in the air. It won't necessarily be from former Sixers star Julius Erving, or from former Penn coach Chuck Daly -- both of whom will be in attendance. And for the most part, it won't even be from Plummer, the Quakers leading scorer at 16.0 points per game. Instead, it just might be coming from La Salle's dynamic duo of Thomas and Butler. Get used to the names, Quakers fans, because if recent history is any indication, you'll be hearing those two names over the loudspeaker all night long.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.