Welcome back to the Palestra.
On Saturday, Penn men’s and women’s basketball will play at home in the annual Red and Blue Scrimmage. The two intrasquad games mark the Quakers’ first public competition this season, giving both old and new players a chance to impress their coaches and shine in front of the teams’ fans.
For the men, the scrimmage will serve as a joyous return to the court where they won the Ivy League tournament championship over Harvard in March. The Quakers have been practicing for some time now, but the Red and Blue will provide a unique experience that coach Steve Donahue believes will be particularly valuable for the team.
“It’s a different stage,” Donahue said. “It’s a longer stretch of live action that you don’t have [in practice]. It’s refereed in front of people. It gives you an idea of what we can expect from certain guys that we maybe didn’t see in practice.”
Getting used to game action in the Palestra will be particularly key for Penn’s freshmen, who take up four spots on the team’s 20-man roster. Junior forward AJ Brodeur thinks that the scrimmage will highlight their adaptation to the Quakers’ offensive strategy.
“We do run a pretty complex system with very few set plays, and it’s more about making reads off of what the defense is giving you,” Brodeur said. “A lot of the times, [when] we play live it’s a good indicator of who is getting it and who needs to work on it a little bit.”
This is especially important as Penn tries to fill the void in the starting lineup left by the graduation of guard Darnell Foreman. Freshman newcomer Bryce Washington appears to be a strong candidate to step up, as he has impressed so far in preseason practice.
“He’s definitely in the running for the starting spot,” Donahue said. “He’s played really well. He’s competed on both sides of the ball. He’s a very good stand still shooter. He’s definitely someone who I think can help us.”
When the women’s team takes the court on Saturday, it will mark the beginning of a new era. Senior starters Anna Ross, Lauren Whitlatch, and Michelle Nwokedi all graduated after last season, leaving a need for younger players to pick up the slack. The task won’t be simple, but coach Mike McLaughlin thinks the Quakers still have the potential to be very successful.
“This has been an awesome group to start with,” McLaughlin said. “Their commitment is phenomenal. We’ve been up and down. Some of the play has been good at times, learning at times. We showed growth, took a couple steps backwards which is normal, but I can’t complain about our commitment and our effort.”
With five new freshmen on the team and several older players looking to take on an increased role, the Quakers still have plenty of work to do to get everyone comfortable in the competitive environment. The Red and Blue Scrimmage provides them with a chance to make this transition more successful.
“It’s just a chance to get on our court and play with the lights on a little bit, the scoreboard on,” McLaughlin said. “It will let the freshmen get themselves acclimated to the Palestra floor, and I’m actually looking for some of the players who have played a lot in the past here to take that big step.”
While the players are certainly taking the scrimmage seriously, they know that it can also be an enjoyable experience as well.
“We’re just going to go out there and have fun,” sophomore center Eleah Parker said. “I think at the Red and Blue we’re going to have a few fans there. Some people are going to have their families there, so I think it’s going to be a good time.”
In addition to Saturday’s game, the men’s and women’s teams will both have two more closed scrimmages against opponents from other schools before their season openers in early November. What happens at the Palestra this weekend, however, will give fans their first taste of what can be expected from the teams for the rest of the season.
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