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Sophomore guard Jackson Donahue was just one of the Quakers to play against NBA-caliber opposition — not just in the 2015-16 season, but also in high school — including this year's No. 5 overall draft pick, Kris Dunn. 

Credit: Ananya Chandra

Penn basketball hasn’t sent a player to the NBA since 2000.

That player was none other than Ira Bowman, who still frequents the Palestra as an assistant coach to the Quakers. The last before Bowman? None other than Jerome Allen in 1996, who coached the Red and Blue for five and a half seasons before being fired in March 2015. Allen has since returned to the NBA, this time as an assistant for the Boston Celtics.

While no members of the team Allen used to coach in University City will be signing lucrative rookie contracts this summer, that doesn’t mean they are strangers to some of the NBA’s top incoming talent.

Just take sophomore guard Jackson Donahue. Back in his high school days, Donahue played against Kris Dunn, the Providence point guard that was drafted as the number No. 5 overall pick by the Timberwolves.

Dunn will join a Minnesota squad rife with young talent, including last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year Karl Anthony Towns. Dunn’s selection by the Timberwolves has even prompted some NBA insiders to wonder if he will replace veteran point guard Ricky Rubio in the starting lineup.

Dunn isn’t the only top-ten draft pick to play against the Quakers in 2015-16. During Penn’s West Coast jaunt against Washington last November, a 104-67 loss, Donahue and his teammates went up against Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray.

Chriss, a six-foot ten forward, was drafted as the eighth overall pick by the Sacramento Kings. His arrival in California preceded the alleged subtweet of the 2016 NBA Draft, as future teammate DeMarcus Cousins tweeted “lord give me the strength” moments after the Kings traded with the Phoenix Suns for No. 13 pick Georgios Papagiannis, a Grecian center.

Luckily for Chriss, he won't have to worry about playing alongside the disgruntled Cousins, who claimed the tweet was in response to a hot yoga class rather than his front office’s decision-making, as the forward was traded on draft night to the Phoenix Suns.

Joining Chriss in the NBA ranks is teammate Dejounte Murray. The Huskies point guard averaged 16.1 points per game and scored 22 against the Quakers — a performance solid enough to get picked 29th overall by the San Antonio Spurs.

Several Big 5 players will also continue their playing careers in the NBA next season. Shooting guard DeAndre Bembry of St. Joseph’s will remain a Hawk after getting drafted to Atlanta at No. 21. In his team’s 75-60 win over the Quakers in January 20, he scored 17 and picked up eight rebounds.

Villanova, the reigning national champions, saw two players ink contracts with professional teams. Although neither player scored a spot in the two-round, 60-player NBA draft, next season Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu could play for the Spurs and Washington Wizards, respectively, assuming they make the final cuts.

Arcidiacono, a 2016 graduate, had 13 points and six rebounds in the Wildcat’s 77-57 victory over Penn. The guard went on to blossom at the Big Dance, averaging 15.8 points per game on .663 shooting and being named Most Outstanding Player of the 2015-16 NCAA Tournament.

Back in December against Penn, teammate Ochefu was dominant on defense with 10 rebounds and 12 points, matching his season average in points per game.

Funnily enough, Donahue’s first start of his college career came in that December match up against Villanova. He outscored both of the Wildcats’ future professionals and buoyed Penn’s offense, netting 18 points and shooting five of 12 from three. Not too shabby.

Given the pre-professional culture of Penn, it’s unlikely that any of the 20 players on the Quakers’ roster will join their Big 5 compatriots in NBA colors in the years to come. But going against players headed for the pro’s still elevates Penn’s level of play at the Palestra and pushes coach Steve Donahue’s team to an even better finish than last year’s fifth place.

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