Since July 2018, when the news broke that former Penn men’s basketball coach Jerome Allen had taken bribes to recruit a student-athlete, much has been said about the scandal and how Allen should not be celebrated by Penn Athletics – with some arguing that he must be removed from the school’s Hall of Fame. Nonetheless, Allen had four stellar years as a player for the Quakers and is still considered one of the best in school history.
Allen’s time at Penn started in 1991. After leading The Episcopal Academy to four consecutive Inter-Academic titles, Allen made a name for himself and joined the Red and Blue with high expectations. He soon became the Quakers’ starting shooting guard, and with an average of 12.2 points per game, he helped the team take second place in the Ivy League during his freshman year.
From them on, Allen’s career took off as he became the Quakers' most important player. During his sophomore season, Allen started in all 27 games and consistently put up impressive performances, helping lead Penn to its first undefeated conference title since 1971 and a thrilling victory over Princeton to cap off the regular season. His average of 13.1 points and 4.9 assists per game were also enough to earn him his first Ivy League Player of the Year, an honor which he shared with Columbia’s Buck Jenkins.
“After the first title, more pressure was put on him to perform,” former teammate Don Moxley said. “But he definitely developed as he came along, and you can see [by] the way he conducted himself both on and off the court. He would come back stronger every year.”
The Red and Blue would go on to repeat that historical achievement, remaining undefeated in the Ancient Eight to claim the following two Ivy League championships. Despite sharing court with fellow future NBA players Matt Maloney and Ira Bowman, who was also recently implicated in the bribery scandal, Allen played more minutes than anyone else and led the team in points and assists in 1994. These efforts paid off, as he was awarded Player of the Year honors again and the Quakers went 25-3 overall, advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to Florida.
In his last season as a Quaker, Allen served as team captain and led the Ivy League in assists per game. He dished out 504 total during his career, which remains a Penn program record. He also graduated as the team's all-time leader in steals (166) before being surpassed by Ibrahim Jaaber in 2007.
But Allen's importance to Penn men's basketball went beyond the statistics. According to Moxley, Allen was a natural leader, constantly trying to improve the team’s relationship both on and off the court. Moxley, who was a year younger than Allen and played alongside him for three years, credits some of his growth as a player to Allen.
“Jerome definitely took me in. He showed me around the campus and did a lot to help me get acclimated to being at Penn," Moxley said. "He also showed me what teamwork is and how to be a good teammate. He certainly had a leadership role on the team, not a vocal or ‘in-your-face’ kind of leader, but he led by example. He was the type of guy that you want to emulate. … He wanted us to win and that showed in his performances.”
Moxley also recalls the impact that Allen’s absence had during his senior year, when the Quakers went 12-2 in the Ancient Eight. The record was good enough to give the Red and Blue a share of the title, but Princeton ended up receiving the automatic bid to March Madness.
“We lost four of our starters that year, and we definitely lost the scoring and the leadership that Jerome had,” Moxley said. “Jerome definitely left his mark. He taught us how to rise to the occasion, remain calm and collected, and match the moment. That’s one of the most important things I learned from him — the moment is big, but you want to match that so that you don’t let it overtake you. I owe him a lot, and I hope it showed in my performances as a senior and throughout my career at Penn.”
While his career as a coach wasn’t nearly as dominant and is now riddled with scandal, it’s undeniable that Allen was one of the greatest basketball players in Penn history.
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