After the final buzzer had sounded, the fans had stormed the court, and each player had cut off a piece of their own net, senior point guard Darnell Foreman climbed up the ladder in the east end of the Palestra one more time. He hoisted himself on top of the hoop and unleashed a cheer while swinging the remainder of the championship net high above his head.
After four long seasons for Penn basketball, Foreman had pulled off the improbable. He was a champion, and the snapshot of him atop the basket would go down in Quakers history forever.
Winning has always been at the forefront of Foreman’s mind. He came to campus in 2014 with one main goal: bring Penn men's basketball back to relevancy.
“That was his dream,” coach Steve Donahue said about bringing an Ivy League title back to the Palestra. “That’s what motivated him and inspired him every day to work.”
Foreman sought to add another chapter to Penn basketball's legacy, and in the process has become something like a team historian. He’s familiar with the successes of James "Booney" Salters, Ibby Jaaber, Jerome Allen, and Mike Jordan, and prides himself on mirroring their work ethics. For four years he awaited his own championship moment. On Sunday afternoon, he got it.
The image of Foreman sitting on top of the netless rim, arms outstretched, echoes distant but familiar memories for the Quakers. Photos of Jordan and Jaaber in the same victory celebration after their respective titles hang in the Palestra atrium. Those shots served as an inspiration for Foreman each time he entered the gym.
“I wanted to be like Mike Jordan,” Foreman said after the game.
"Like Mike" might have a different meaning to Penn basketball than the rest of the hoops community. But for Foreman, it carries the same message: embody greatness.
“Hopefully it serves as some type of motivation,” Foreman said.
“It’s just something to add to the history of this place. When people come back here they’ll look at that 2017-18 team.”
After enduring three losing seasons, the success of Foreman’s senior year has been even sweeter for the Camden, N.J. native. But behind the scenes, this campaign has presented roadblocks of its own.
Around halfway through conference play, Foreman suffered a stress fracture in his left foot. Donahue says he hasn’t practiced in six weeks, and he is often forced to wear a walking boot. But Foreman wasn’t going to let an injury get in the way of his goal.
As the season hit its final stretch Foreman didn’t let up. Over his final five games, while injured, and without practicing a minute, he averaged 16.2 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting.
“It sucks because it’s so boring. You wish you were going up and down a lot,” he said about missing practices. “In the games you just got to fight through it."
"Right now I’m not worrying about it. The pain is far less than the joy of the game."
He did more than fight through it on Sunday.
“I thought his energy in the first half, his step was as good as it’s ever been in his career,” Donahue said.
Full of exuberance from the beginning of warm-ups, Foreman often had a huge smile on his face throughout the title game.
Down 13 early in the first half, Foreman sparked the crowd by leading the Quakers on a tear to finish the first period. He ran down the court celebrating made baskets, waved his arms to pump up the Penn faithful, and put on an offensive clinic.
After hitting a heavily guarded three-pointer as the first-half buzzer sounded, Foreman sprinted off the court with an outstretched hand, sending the Palestra into a frenzy.
“Hard work can take you to a lot of different places,” Foreman said the day after the victory.
Soon the spoils of that labor will be on display throughout the arena. The photo of Foreman atop the basket will be placed alongside those of Jordan and Jaaber, and the title banner will hang amongst those won by Allen and Salters.
In the more immediate future however, that same hard work will take the Quakers to Wichita, for a matchup with the Kansas Jayhawks and an opportunity to take down Goliath.
“This whole season has been a dream come true,” Foreman said ahead of the first NCAA tournament game of his career. “Let’s make it even sweeter.”
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