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Senior Max Rothschild and junior AJ Brodeur, the twin engines that power Penn men's basketball, are constantly working together on the court and even have their own signature handshake.

Credit: Chase Sutton

“It’s totally unique. People don’t know what it is; we don’t even know what it is.”

What started out as a joke between senior Max Rothschild and junior AJ Brodeur has become somewhat of a sensation for those who know about “the handshake.” The infamous handshake, brought to life during a team workout, features a high-five between Brodeur and Rothschild, but with one massive twist: they don’t touch hands.  

“Other teams, you see the faces they make, they are just so confused,” junior guard Ryan Betley laughed. “I have a handshake with Max; it’s not as elaborate and AJ and Max’s.”

“They have that handshake going which there’s a lot of hype around, we think it’s kind of foolish,” senior guard Jackson Donahue smiled. “I think it’s really just a testament to how close they are.” 

Rothschild and Brodeur are close — how can you not be when you share such an iconic signature handshake? But just as their handshake is unique, so too is the relationship they have with one another. 

While not carbon copies, it is hard to look past their many similarities on the court. Although they are both capable of playing the five, they do not fit the traditional big-man mold. Both fit the more evolved version of a big man who can do it all, the stretch four. 

Credit: Chase Sutton

This allows Rothschild and Brodeur to complement one another on the floor, each one’s strengths feeding the other's. 

“We play off of each other really well,” Brodeur said. “We’ve both gotten to the point where we’re comfortable playing under the basket or around the perimeter and letting the other guy go to work in the post while still being an outside threat. Having that kind of compatibility and interchangeability is a big asset for us as a team.”    

“I love playing with [AJ] because it makes it easy for me,” Rothschild said. “He’s just a total problem [to guard] out there and that lightens it up for me. I think it’s really good for our offense when we have two skilled bigs with high [basketball] IQs.”

Credit: Gillian Diebold

Their views are shared by many on the team. It comes as no surprise that having two big men with such diverse skill sets makes it easier on the rest of the team to score. 

“[Our offense] is more relying on them to be able to read space,” Donahue said. “They know which one is supposed to be in the paint, which one is cutting, and which one is spacing. And they’re some of the best bigs that I’ve seen do that in this kind of offense.”

“It makes a world of difference having guys who are threats [in the post],” Betley explained. “It takes pressure off the shooters and gives us more opportunities when they get offensive rebounds. Having two guys like that, who want to go get rebounds and want to do the dirty work like the linemen in the NFL, that’s who those guys are. They represent the grit that we preach as a team.”

Credit: Ananya Chandra

While Brodeur and Rothschild certainly make the offense run more efficiently, their emotional impact on the court cannot be overlooked. If you’ve seen Rothschild and Brodeur play, you know their high-motor style: they are simply relentless on the court. And it helps drive the rest of the team. 

“I try to lead with passion. I try to go there and give it my all and put my full heart into it," Rothschild said. "[AJ] is the only person I could ever say went harder than I ever did. I go hard every play. But he would go harder.”

Brodeur describes Rothschild as the team’s emotional leader, the one who gets everyone fired up. Coach Steve Donahue views both as players that embody the spirit of the program in their mentality and how they compete. Betley said their motor and the passion with which they play gives them an advantage over the other bigs they face in the Ivy League. 

The now-teammates were actually once high school foes, going against one another on the New England prep circuit in January 2015, when Rothschild’s New Hampton Prep played against Brodeur’s Penn-heavy Northfield Mount Hermon. 

Credit: Gillian Diebold

Rothschild isn’t afraid to admit Brodeur got the better of him that day, a 72-61 win for Brodeur's Mount Hermon squad.

“He was totally working me out!” Rothschild laughed. “I was definitely pissed. But when he committed to Penn I was like, ‘thank God.’” 

Now that they’re on the same team, Brodeur and Rothschild work together to be the engines that power the Red and Blue. With Brodeur and Rothschild firing on all cylinders, you’ll be sure to see a lot of their signature handshake — even if you don’t know what it is. 

For more about the upcoming season, check out the project page for the 2018-2019 Penn basketball preview.