Every year, the Ivy League men’s basketball scene continues to improve. Each freshman class sees a new group of increasingly athletic and talented individuals coming to play from all over the nation and beyond.
This Quakers' 2017 freshman class is no exception.
The freshman four — Jarrod Simmons, Jelani Williams, Eddie Scott, and Mark Jackson — complement each other well and are looking to make an immediate impact on the program.
“We have a lot of different pieces. Usually you don’t get a whole bunch of different guys playing different positions that work together, but we do," Simmons said. "We have Mark, a 7-footer who puts in work, Ed and Jelani, two great guards, and myself, who can play different positions. We gel and I love those guys.”
Simmons, a Pittsburgh native, tries to emulate some of the best two-way players in the game today — Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo. At 6’8”, he adds plenty of athleticism and length on the perimeter and the front-court. As Simmons explains, he looks up to those two professionals because of their versatility.
“Those are guys that try to do everything — they defend, they dribble, they shoot, and they help their team in any way possible. I’m just trying to be a guy who can do everything and not be a liability."
Williams is a 6’5” point guard from Washington, D.C. Due to injuries, he will not be taking part in live scrimmages until early December. When he returns, he looks to contribute as a guard who can do it all, just like Russell Westbrook, the NBA's Most Valuable Player in 2017.
“I watch a lot of Russell Westbrook," Williams said. "I try to be an athletic point guard and get a lot of rebounds. The height helps with looking over defenses and making great passes. I play like a big guard.”
Scott is a Bowie, Maryland native. The 6’6” guard also takes pieces from Russell Westbrook’s game in terms of scoring and offensive aggressiveness as well as assertiveness on the floor. Coming into the campaign, Scott already has great chemistry with Williams, as the two grew up together. Nevertheless, there is plenty of room for growth.
“The goal is to always grow as a team. We have a lot of young players on this squad, and we need to build on everything we accomplish this year to move forward,” Scott said.
Finally, Jackson is a 7’3” center from Salt Lake City, Utah who seeks to emulate Jazz center Rudy Gobert’s impact on the court — although, he admits he looks a lot like Larry Bird. Jackson returned from a two-year mission trip to Paris, and his main focus is getting back into playing shape before he can contribute.
“I have a great relationship with the coaches and liked what they had in store for the program. Also, the Palestra and the campus are great,” Jackson said, explaining why he committed to Penn.
Clearly, the freshman four value a family atmosphere. The chemistry that they build on the floor over the next few months will allow each of them to flourish and help the Quakers reach new heights.
For all four newcomers, there was one goal that was universally shared: winning the Ivy League and competing in March Madness.
“We can be the best team in the Ivy League," Williams said. "We’re a really confident team — the younger guys and the older guys are talented and everyone has something to bring to the table."
Time will tell if the Quakers can reach their expectations. Coach Steve Donahue sees a lot of promise in the freshman four, and equally lots of room for improvement as they get accustomed to the system.
One thing is for certain though — after last season’s impressive (albeit heartbreaking) finish, the likeliest time for a breakthrough is now.