Campaign season is just wrapped up, but another season is just getting started.
Penn basketball will travel to Robert Morris this Friday to kick off its 2016-17 campaign. A generally young squad, the Red and Blue will likely give heavy playing time to a cast of new characters as they look for a repeat of their victory against the Colonials a season ago.
“There’s a whole lot of excitement coming into this season,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said. “There’s this dedication and passion that I sense this year that I didn’t sense as much as I did last year.”
Headlining the additions to the reenergized Quaker squad will be freshman center AJ Brodeur and junior transfer guards Matt MacDonald and Caleb Wood. All three players figure to start, and Brodeur, a prized recruit who turned down offers from Notre Dame and Boston College to join the Quakers, should be the centerpiece of the team’s low-post attack for seasons to come.
“AJ is an excellent 17-to-19 foot shooter,” Donahue said of the rookie’s versatility. “And I wouldn’t have brought in transfers if I didn’t feel they could be substantial upgrades and help us this year.”
The Colonials, meanwhile, have lost their top two scorers from a season ago, after guard Rodney Pryor graduated and center Elijah Minnie was dismissed from the team. Sophomore guard Isaiah Still is the squad’s leading returning offensive performer, having notched 9.9 points per game a season ago, though he was held to just three in the contest against the Quakers a season ago.
That game — a 76-75 nail-biter at the Palestra in the season opener — was won on a Darien Nelson-Henry go-ahead layup with 31 seconds remaining. Sharpshooter Sam Jones, now a junior, led all Quaker scorers with 21 points.
This year, the locale of the contest will move to Robert Morris’ Pittsburgh-area campus.
“This Friday is going to be a real test of team chemistry,” junior guard and noted locker-room leader Darnell Foreman said. “We have a real chip on our shoulder, trying to rebuild our program and get back to the top. It’s gonna be a hard-fought game.”
Though the integration of new players is perhaps the most intriguing storyline as the Red and Blue kick off their season, the team remains stocked with experienced talent. Nelson-Henry, the team’s erstwhile low-post anchor, was the only starter to graduate following last season.
The guard duo of sophomores Jake Silpe and Jackson Donahue will look to build on the chemistry built in extensive playing time during their rookie seasons, even if their minutes may be curtailed by the additions of Wood and MacDonald. Silpe led the Quakers in assists a year ago while Donahue paced the squad in three-point makes and percentage.
Senior forward Matt Howard, the team’s leading scorer and most versatile offensive weapon, will look to provide veteran cohesion to the squad.
But perhaps most importantly of all, Friday’s contest will be the first opportunity for the Red and Blue to demonstrate that they have taken tangible positive strides towards improving on their middling 11-17 record in coach Donahue’s first season.
“Coach’s style was challenging and hard for me to adjust to,” Foreman said of Donahue’s first season. “So over this last summer, we were better able to familiarize ourselves with it.
“And now we’ve got to master it.”
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