Survival of the fittest. Darwin may not have known much about Penn Basketball when he used the term in 1869, but that phenomenon may be an apt way to describe the Quakers’ ballooning 2010-11 roster.
In fact, those were the choice words of rising sophomore Brian Fitzpatrick, who will no longer ride the Penn bench. He’s transferred to Bucknell, a school with a basketball program that he believes will be a better fit for him.
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of what appears to be a strong 2010 recruiting class, especially one that will play under a new coach who is committed to restoring “the brand of basketball the Penn community is used to seeing,” to steal Jerome Allen’s words from his introductory press conference.
But seven solid recruits are still seven recruits, bringing Penn’s roster count over 20, as injured upperclassmen return to join the incoming freshmen.
“You play your five starters and maybe an eight- or nine-man rotation, so 13 kids aren’t playing at all?” Fitzpatrick hypothesized. “I really don’t know how it’s going to play out and I just don’t think I could have been a part.”
And worse, Fitzpatrick says, if Penn doesn’t put more wins on the board next season? “They’re going to bring in eight more freshmen. Survival of the fittest.”
Even star point guard Zack Rosen, who started 27 of Penn’s 28 games as a freshman, admitted that in order to grow as a player, “you’ve got to get out there.”
And while the maintenance staff can continue to add bench seats in the Palestra — Ivy League teams don’t face roster restrictions — next year’s players will be fighting for a spot on the bus; NCAA basketball teams can only take 15 players to road games.
Unfortunately for players like Fitzpatrick, this less-targeted recruiting seems to be the style du jour in the Ivy League, for coaches to bring in as many prospects as they can and then see how it pans out.
Cornell did it, and with great success. Last year’s Sweet Sixteen team boasted 19 active players, nine of which were in that celebrated senior class that won three straight league titles.
Harvard’s roster sits just at the travel limit, 15, while Princeton carried 16 players.
Seeing as those three topped the Ivy standings this year, this ‘grab-n-go’ roster strategy seems to work.
But as Fitzpatrick points out, it’s not fair to the players, even if it puts them in contention.
“I just can’t imagine what next year’s going to be like. Just imagine practice. You only play 10 guys on the court, so you have 13 guys waiting to get in? It’s crazy; it’s really crazy.”
Hopefully the incoming recruits know the situation. How is Allen going to handle his roster? He can demote a few players to JV; he can redshirt some who might be injured, but will he start to cut some of the weaker links?
Dropping players from the roster could wreak havoc on future recruiting. If high school players know that Penn commits to eight guys and only four or five are around come November, they might begin to look elsewhere for a school where a roster spot is guaranteed, as Fitzpatrick did.
Something has to be done. This system might help athletic programs stock their trophy cases, but it’s not fair to the 17-year old who just wants to play college ball.
Allen does have two things in his favor. First, invoking this “competition” among players for spots on the team could elevate everyone’s game. As Rosen said, “a little competition never hurt anybody.”
Second, Allen can use that old Penn brand that he knows and loves. If you’re a borderline talent choosing between a shot at the Penn roster and a sure thing at a D-III school, you can always fall back on that Penn degree. And after graduating from Penn, you’ll be one of the more fit when it comes to surviving the job market.
CALDER SILCOX is a rising junior science, technology and society major from Washington, D.C., and is Sports Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
SP Sports Editor Brian Kotloff contributed to the reporting of this article.Comments powered by Disqus
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