matthoward

It’s hard to undergo more change in a two-week span than Penn basketball has.

The Quakers have made a quick transition from former head coach Jerome Allen, beloved by his squad and in his fifth full year at the helm, to Steve Donahue as the new man in charge. While Penn is done with the coaching carousel, the change has only just begun.

On March 7, the Red and Blue were getting ready to play Cornell in the second half of an Ivy doubleheader when the news broke that Allen would be gone after the season. After meeting with their coach, the team put together an impressive effort that evening, handily defeating Cornell, 79-72.

“Of course it’s been tough, especially that Saturday for Cornell,” sophomore guard Matt Howard said. “That was a tough game to play with the news right before it, but we wanted to play our hearts out and get the win for him, especially that night.

“Dealing with it now, only time will help the healing process. Just got to keep moving forward.”

Even now, the situation hasn’t quite settled for the athletes.

“It was definitely an emotional time – still is an emotional time – because of how close we are with coach Allen and how much he means to all of us,” senior captain Cam Crocker said. “We understand the situation and he’s going to be fine, so that helps with our situation a lot more. For the younger guys, [we’re] just trying to have a positive perspective on this and trying to keep them together at a time like this to go forward.”

Even with emotions still raw, Crocker said that the team understands the decision is part of the business, adding that the team must grow from it.

Donahue met with the team on Monday night shortly after reports came out about the imminent hiring. While in the midst of the healing process, Howard was still excited when he heard about his new coach, who connected with the squad right away.

Just like his new team, Donahue has a strong relationship with Allen, coaching him during his tenure as an assistant coach with the Quakers in the 1990s.

“I’d be remiss to say it’s not bittersweet to replace someone like Jerome Allen,” Donahue said at the press conference. “He had a lot to do with this program and with my development as a coach.

“He taught me a great deal about basketball. Unselfishness. Unity. All of my core values that I ... talk about, Jerome Allen instilled them in his teammates and me as a young coach.”

Donahue said that he has reached out to Allen, who remains positive after leaving the team, even ending a text message to Donahue with “Go Quakers.”

While those two men share a 25-year relationship, Donahue is only beginning to build one with a new group of players. According to those at his meeting with his new squad, Donahue was well received by the Red and Blue.

“From what he had to say, he said all the right things,” Crocker said. “He took control of the situation, expressed his sentiments with us as a team first and foremost and actually connected with so it was a good first impression with the team.”

Donahue takes over a young squad with which there will still be a veteran presence in the locker room despite the impending graduation of Crocker, Patrick Lucas-Perry and Greg Louis.

“You’ve still got a lot of leadership there even though the freshman are young,” said 2014 College grad and former guard Miles Jackson-Cartwright. “You’ll have Antonio [Woods], Mike [Auger] and Darnell [Foreman]. Those guys will be ready to step into a leadership role in their sophomore year. Matt Howard as well. You’ve also got Tony [Hicks] and Darien [Nelson-Henry].

“You’ve got a lot of leadership and a lot of guys who want to prove a lot of people wrong.”

With those players stepping up, the Quakers have strong prospects to improve on their 9-19 finish from this season, especially if the team can gel under a new man in charge.

For seniors like Crocker though, last week’s matchup with Princeton was the final game at Penn for both them and Allen. But they also hope their connection with Allen isn’t just that footnote in the history books.

“I feel like I’m going to have the same relationship that coach Donahue spoke of with coach Allen,” Crocker said. “I feel like I’m going to have coach Allen in my life for the rest of my life. That’s just how important and special he was and is to all of us.”

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