After an offseason of turmoil, change and speculation, there’s nothing more that Penn basketball would like to do than to get on the court and play.
Saturday, the Quakers will get their wish, hosting Delaware State at the Palestra to kick off the 2014-15 season.
The Red and Blue enter the start of nonconference play with a rotation in flux. They return only two players that started more than eight games last year — guard Tony Hicks and forward Darien Nelson-Henry — leaving the vast majority of available minutes up for grabs.
“Guys are gonna emerge, guys are gonna adapt to roles,” coach Jerome Allen said. “I just think the beauty of this team is that I’m not really sure how things will play out, but what I do believe is that this team is ready to compete.”
Some of that floor time is expected to be filled by freshmen — forward Mike Auger and guards Darnell Foreman and Antonio Woods in particular — but there will be plenty of opportunities for some once-sidelined veterans to make names for themselves.
One upperclassman in particular to keep an eye on is senior forward Greg Louis. After playing in all 31 games his sophomore season, Louis suffered through an injury-marred 2013-14 campaign, seeing action in only nine nonconference matchups.
Now first in line to see playing time at power forward, Louis will be battling hard for rebounds — and working to restrain the excitement that comes with playing in his first basketball game since January 4th.
“I pray a lot before games just to keep my mind in check and to not get too nervous,” he said.
If the Red and Blue want to get nonconference play off to a good start, their freshmen will need to be equally adept at managing their emotions. It only takes one player trying to do too much to collapse a game plan.
“It’ll be interesting to see, we’re gonna be counting on a lot of young guys,” assistant coach Nat Graham said. “How they respond [to live action] will be interesting and there will invariably be some bumps in the road. They’re gonna be very good and we’ve got to get them to that point as quickly as possible, and hopefully keep them as consistent as possible.”
Delaware State has certainly gone through some change of its own. The Hornets fired longtime coach Greg Jackson last year midway through a 9-21 campaign, replacing him with assistant Keith Walker. Walker had been an assistant under Jackson since 2000, and coached the final 11 games of 2013-14 before being permanently named to the position.
The Hornets don’t appear to possess much sting at first glance. Delaware State’s 61.6 points per game scoring average was 10th worst in Division 1 last year, and the team lost nine of its 11 nonconference games against D-1 foes by an average margin of 17.1 points per contest.
But Walker’s squad does manage to possess at least one piece that could give the Quakers a hard time.
Senior center Kendall Gray was a named a MEAC Player of the Year candidate in the preseason, and with good reason. Standing at 6-foot-10, Gray set a school record for blocked shots last season with 81 and led the Hornets in rebounding. His size and strength should be a tough matchup for Nelson-Henry in the early going.
“It’ll be a good test for Darien, “ Graham said. “Darien’s still coming along a little bit from his surgery and everything, but I would expect that he’ll be raring to go for that first game.”
Whether or not Nelson-Henry will handle Gray is just one of many sentences that will have the question mark at the end of it replaced by a period come Saturday.
Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.