College basketball is still a few weeks from starting up again, but fans have already gotten their first taste of Penn basketball.
On Saturday, the men’s and women’s teams held their annual Red and Blue Scrimmage. The women took the court first before the men played in the sequel. Both games were closely contested with the Red squad squeaking out a 65-62 victory in the women’s game and the Blue team was victorious 78-72 in the men’s game
The intrasquad competition allowed a number of players to shine with extended minutes, but five players stood out in particular.
Last year’s Ivy League MVP showed few signs of rust in her first game back for the Red and Blue. Captaining the Reds to a 65-62 victory, Nwokedi dominated the paint against her teammates. She faced off against smaller teammates wearing blue, but even still, it was clear that no one could match her physically.
However, the Houstonian played almost every minute of the scrimmage — only classmate Anna Ross seemed to get as much playing time. That hard of a workout so early on in the season brought “a little bit of fatigue, but we’ll work on it,” she joked.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” she said of her own and her team’s playing levels. “But I like where we are right now.”
Nwokedi will be hard to stop this year as she seeks out her third Ivy League title to cap off her career for Penn. Consistently putting up double-digit performances like she did in the Red and Blue scrimmage on Saturday morning will mean that the Quakers won’t have to worry too much about the loss of program legend Sydney Stipanovich in the paint, either.
Playing alongside Nwokedi for Team Red was a freshman who could be thrown straight into the starting lineup.
Eleah Parker, at 6-foot-4, proved a powerful presence in the paint against her teammates. The center showed she has talent, picking up a few points and a number of rebounds, but she also showed her youth with a relatively low field goal percentage.
“Eleah has tremendous potential,” coach Mike McLaughlin said. “She’s gonna impact us right away.”
The Quakers will look forward to Parker’s development, as she could very well be the only rookie getting regular starts for her team this season. Nwokedi made sure to point out that she will see to it that her younger counterpart will progress nicely.
“I think my biggest role this year, being a senior and having my experience, is just guiding her,” Nwokedi said. “I know we’re gonna need her....she showed great progression today.”
A number of players on the fringes of the rotation last season impressed in Saturday’s scrimmage — sophomore Phoebe Sterba was one who made a strong case for herself in particular.
Another was Sterba’s classmate, Kendall Grasela.
The guard got only a handful of big opportunities her rookie season, averaging about four and a half minutes a game with a max of 14. But against the Red squad over the weekend, Grasela demonstrated strong ball skills and commanded her team while on the court in the one slot.
“I was getting a lot of reps at the one,” she explained. “Last year I was at the two and transitioning to the one, so it was definitely just a way for me to practice pushing the ball and leading the team from a different position this year.”
“I think definitely from last season, I’m pushing for more time,” Grasela continued. “I guess we’ll see what this season has though.”
McLaughlin backed the sophomore up after the scrimmage, noting that although he expects senior Anna Ross to start at point guard at the onset of the season, the situation could very well reach the point when Grasela gives Ross more freedom by taking some of the senior’s responsibilities off her hands.
Additionally, McLaughlin praised the special skill set that Grasela brings to the team.
“I believe Kendall’s got a really good chance to be really good. She can do a lot of things well. She’s a great defender, long and active.
“In the open floor, Kendall can make plays and make shots,” he continued. “Once we continue to give her opportunity after opportunity, I think she’s really gonna help us.”
Playing in his first live game-action in front of fans since the 2015-2016 season, junior guard Antonio Woods showed no signs of rust. He opened the day’s scoring with a bucket in the paint and continued to attack the basket throughout the scrimmage.
“We have no one like him, who can get to the rim, create his own, get to the foul line, make play for others,” coach Steve Donahue said after the scrimmage. “I thought he was good. It adds another dimension that you need.”
The biggest concern with Woods is what kind of shape he will be in once the season starts. The Quakers have plenty of depth at the guard position between Jackson Donahue, Darnell Foreman and Devon Goodman, but Woods will need to be able to keep up his level of play through two full halves of basketball if he wants to be Penn’s primary scoring guard this season. Woods is not particularly concerned with his conditioning, though.
“For me, it’s just like getting my wind back,” Woods said. “You know at times, I kind of relax—not like taking a play off, just trying to get my wind back, you know. And that’s just going to come with games, getting on the track and running some, just continuing to work.”
Freshman forward Jarrod Simmons started the scrimmage out a little slowly, but displayed his strength and skill on a series of impressive post scores down the stretch of the second half, including some over star sophomore forward AJ Brodeur. After the scrimmage, Simmons admitted that he was a little flustered at the start, but grew more confident as the game possessed.
“Yeah I think it was me getting more comfortable, just me getting some confidence out there,” Simmons said. “You know I saw some people for the first time, and I don’t know why I acted like I didn’t know how to play basketball, but you know I kind of settled down.”
While Simmons proved that he could he bang down low with the best of them, both Simmons and Donahue emphasized the importance of him cutting down on careless errors.
“There’s been flashes of just naturally scoring the ball, and then he’ll have lapses,” Donahue said. “I think we’ll see some ups and downs but the good stuff makes you encouraged that he can play.”