PRINCETON, N.J. - “This is unacceptable.”
I could say it, but Penn coach Jerome Allen said it for me at the postgame press conference following his team’s loss to Princeton. They were the very last words he uttered to the media following a loss that clinched Penn’s second straight 20-loss season.
And he found creative ways to say it over and over again, using either “unacceptable” or “not acceptable” to characterize the 2013-14 Penn basketball season no fewer than five times over the course of his presser. He even spat out the team’s final overall record for 2013-14 - 8-20 - on three separate occasions.
A broken record for a broken program.
We’ve heard all of this before. We’ve heard Allen articulate various combinations of “Winning is a function of effort,” “We didn’t show enough effort” and “It’s on me” as his team’s wins have become fewer and farther between these past two seasons.
But senior captains Fran Dougherty and Miles Jackson-Cartwright gave us something we haven’t heard before at the same press conference - the realization that their just-finished Penn basketball careers were failures on the court.
“It’s always gonna bother me that our record is what it was here,” Jackson-Cartwright said solemnly.
Dougherty said he thought a lot about how he wanted his Penn basketball career to be remembered, and his wavering voice and red eyes revealed how much he cares about the program, in case his obvious work ethic never did.
“I think a lot of guys in our class have [made a difference on campus], especially with [fellow senior captain] Dau [Jok] and Miles,” Dougherty said. “It’s more than just basketball to us. I want people to remember that.”
But the shame is that people will have to look beyond basketball itself to remember anything positive about these seniors’ time in the program. What’s most “unacceptable” of all is that these seniors are devastatingly disappointed in their ultimate lack of success during their Penn basketball careers. Penn basketball didn’t mean winning for them - it meant coping. So what is Jackson-Cartwright’s message for the program’s returning players?
“Gotta stick with it, gotta stick with it,” he said. “College basketball is a grind. Every day, it seriously is a grind.”
It obviously was a grind for Jackson-Cartwright, one that never had a chance of a happy ending. He and Dougherty both stressed that their Penn basketball experiences were invaluable and immensely rewarding, and that’s certainly true. But the disappointment and embarrassment that came with going 17-42 in their junior and senior seasons combined is likely to last a long time for competitors as fierce as they are.
When young talents sign up to play Division I basketball, they need to know they’re signing up to contribute to and benefit from a culture of winning. When players develop over the course of their careers, they need to know that their development is going to be facilitated by coaches and captains who know how to win.
Competency must come before killer instinct. This program has neither anymore.
If Penn basketball players live the Division I grind but can’t even conceive of Division I glory, what future is there for this program? If the likeliest final destination for next year’s seniors is another presser table where they can only tearfully express regrets about not being able to win more, why should supporters of the program stay on board for another letdown?
Allen knows there is quite the groundswell of criticism and angry disapproval over the program’s futility under his watch. I’m sure he knows that, as I reported last week, plenty of prominent program supporters are starting to sour on him as head coach. And he couldn’t care less.
“I think I put more pressure and expectations on myself than anyone. To be honest with you, I couldn’t care less what the periphery says because I’m committed to putting the work in. That being said, I don’t even make my own wife happy every day,” Allen said. “Everybody loves a winner. When you don’t win, that’s unacceptable.”
It is indeed. Players shouldn’t come here expecting to be disappointed anymore, and supporters of the program shouldn’t have to wonder whether university administrators really care enough to force a new direction for the program. Recruiting classes will continue to get less impressive and students and alumni alike will keep drifting further away from the program as it continues to fail. Losing begets more losing.
You can’t sell losing to recruits. You can’t sell losing to donors. And you can’t make the losing stop unless you have the strength to change.
A program culture that results in 70 losses the past four seasons, a lack of perceptible skill development among most returning players and consistent discipline issues with some of the program’s most important players is hopeless. All that’s left to say after the final permutations of “This is unacceptable” for this season have been uttered is that that culture needs to be overhauled as soon as possible.Comments powered by Disqus
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