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Men's Basketball defeated NJIT Credit: Isabella Gong , Isabella Gong

Right now, Penn basketball’s Darien Nelson-Henry is the big man on campus. But then again, that’s nothing new for him.

“I’ve always been one of the biggest  players on the court,” he said.

That’s an understatement. Listed at 6-foot-11 and 265 pounds — according to assistant coach Ira Bowman , he’s probably closer to 280 — and sporting a monstrous beard to match, Penn’s junior center is a rare commodity in college basketball nowadays: a bona fide big man.

“He’s one of a dying breed,” Bowman said. “Looking around the United States … there’s not too many guys who really want to mix it up in the paint.”

To give some perspective on Nelson-Henry’s size advantage, let’s take a look around the rest of college basketball.

Penn’s upcoming opponent, Delaware State, has only one player listed at 6-foot-10, and he is 25 pounds lighter than the man Penn fans fondly refer to as DNH.

In the Ivy League, there are only three players listed at 6-foot-11.

On Kentucky, a perennial basketball powerhouse, Nelson-Henry would be the second-tallest and overall biggest player on the current roster.

In his two previous years with the team, the Red and Blue have already seen the big man turn this tangible advantage into concrete results.

In his freshman year, it did not take Nelson-Henry long to emerge as a key contributor, scoring 7.6 points per game, blocking 25 shots on the year and earning 13 starts in the process. Last season, he was even more effective during his time on the court, scoring 10.6 points per game on an Ivy-leading 59 percent shooting.

And he hasn’t even come close to reaching his ceiling as a player.

Both of his first two years have been plagued by injuries, which — in addition to his large frame — have made it difficult for him to stay in good cardiovascular condition. As a result, he was only able to play 21 minutes per game last year.

However, after undergoing surgery over the offseason, both Nelson-Henry and his coaches are confident that he will be able to take the next step forward this season.

“I’m feeling great,” Nelson-Henry said. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m 100 percent going into the season.”

“He’s changed his diet,” Bowman added. “He’s increased his muscle mass. … He’s done everything we’ve asked of him.”

With key players in Miles Jackson-Cartwright and Fran Dougherty gone to graduation, Nelson-Henry — along with junior guard Tony Hicks — will be relied upon to be one of Penn’s top contributors on a consistent basis, both on and off the court. Fortunately for the Quakers, he has embraced the challenge.

“It’s not too much to ask,” he said. “Get a couple more rebounds a game, score a little more. It’s what should be done as you get older.”

To take full advantage of his size, Nelson-Henry will needs to develop both his relationships with Penn’s primary ball handlers and his own game.

“Our main focus is to run the offense through DNH,” Bowman said.

“Looking back on results last year, I think we could have done a better job with our interior game,” Nelson-Henry said. “We had a whole different playing style last year, but I think with the new guys and our returners, we’re gonna do a really good job.”

It remains to be seen how he performs this season, but a couple things remain certain: The Quakers expect big things from their big man, and if he comes through, the rest of the Ivy League could have a big problem on their hands.

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