Tony Hicks was objectively the most talented player on Penn basketball’s roster.
For three years, Hicks — who Penn Athletics announced was quitting the team on Oct. 30 — was a dynamic scorer, one able to knock down shots off the dribble and make defenders miss on drives to the basket.
But heading into his senior season with the Quakers, Hicks was going to have to learn an entirely new offensive scheme. Throughout the preseason under first-year coach Steve Donahue, Hicks had to adapt his game and his skill set. And for the first time since his freshman campaign, he was going to have to fight for minutes, touches and possibly even a starting role.
What his role would have been exactly, Donahue cannot say for sure.
“I don’t necessarily know what Tony would’ve done for us because I hadn’t had him,” Donahue said before practice the week following Hicks’ departure. “What I will say is that there were a lot of guys that I think were pushing him for the role he’s had in the past, and this would’ve been a different role [for him] within our offense.”
During Jerome Allen’s tenure with the Red and Blue, set plays were common on the offensive side of the ball. On top of that, despite the fact that Hicks was not a point guard by trade, it was not uncommon to see him bring the ball up the court with most possessions flowing through him.
At times this was extremely successful, as Hicks averaged double-digit scoring totals in all three years with Penn. And even when it wasn’t, it was almost always the best option for teams that often played with undersized and under-skilled players from 2012 through 2015.
On a team lacking players who could create their own scoring chances, one stood apart from the rest: Hicks. But heading into the 2015-16 season, there are more pieces to the puzzle, and Donahue looks to incorporate them all into his offense, including freshmen Jake Silpe, Jackson Donahue and Tyler Hamilton.
The goal of Donahue’s offense is to knock down a three or drive for layups. More people will touch the ball, and there will be fewer set plays. Consequently, it was unclear how a player like Hicks — someone who primarily shoots mid-range jumpers and worked with the ball in his hands — was going to fit in.
However, Donahue was struck by the veteran’s talent and work ethic, naming the Illinois native a captain along with fellow senior Darien Nelson-Henry.
But it was Nelson-Henry more than Hicks who found himself closer to the nucleus of Donahue’s vision for what the team would be attempting to do on offense this season.
“For Tony, it’s probably a little more difficult. Just because he’s been a guy who’s been relied on to score so much, and this offense isn’t necessarily gonna ask him to take the ball and create plays for himself and others,” Donahue said in a meeting with The Daily Pennsylvanian a few day before Hicks’ decision was announced.
“We’re going to do it collectively,” Donahue added. “Assists are going to be shared. [It’s] just a different way to play. I think he’s been committed to getting better. No one works harder, on and off the court.”
It appeared that, as tipoff for the team’s Nov. 13 season opener with Robert Morris approached, Hicks — a player who had been a star for his entire college career — may no longer be as important of a figure for the Quakers as he had been previously.
“I don’t know if he would’ve been comfortable in that role,” Donahue said after the departure was announced. “That’s what I saw. And him and I talking basically agreed to disagree.”
Despite the circumstances, Hicks’ decision came as a shock to both the team and coaching staff.
“Like all of us, including me and Tony, [the players] were kind of surprised where this went,” Donahue added.
“We’re sad to see Tony go,” sophomore Darnell Foreman added. “I think more or less we’re just going to come together as a team and just fill that void. Nobody can replace what he was able to do on the court. He was such a special player but we’re just going to do it as a team.”
Hicks did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
Foreman’s point seems to reflect the mentality of the Quakers this season: Do it as a team.
One player will not be able to replace the sizable chunk of offensive responsibilities that Hicks’ had. But luckily for the Red and Blue, in Donahue’s offense, no one player will have to do so. What led to Hicks’ departure may be the very thing that allows the team to improve following his absence.
As he did last season, sophomore Antonio Woods will likely take on the bulk of replacing Hicks at the point. However, Foreman, senior Jamal Lewis and Silpe are expected to see expanded minutes and be relied upon to carry the load.
“[Hicks] has a great future and I’m as big a fan of him as anyone,” Donahue said. “But my number one priority is to run this program and to make it successful, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
With Hicks out of the picture, fulfilling that goal may be tougher in the short run. However, after a stretch of troublesome seasons for Penn basketball, change was a necessity.
Unfortunately, for all those involved, Hicks will not be a part of that next chapter.Comments powered by Disqus
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