There’s some good news for Penn men’s basketball heading into the new season. The team’s leading scorer, rebounder, passer, and shot blocker are all returning this year. The twist? They're all the same person.
Senior AJ Brodeur was a dominant force for the Quakers in 2018-19. The two-time unanimous first team All-Ivy forward carried the Red and Blue to a Big 5 title and Ivy League Tournament appearance, controlling the paint on both offense and defense.
Without star guard Ryan Betley on the court, nearly every possession had to run through Brodeur, and he produced, averaging 17.6 points throughout the season. However, that success came with a cost, as Brodeur played 32.5 minutes per game and was constantly involved in the action on both sides of the floor.
“I think he’s gotten worn down at times,” coach Steve Donahue said. “I never take him out. If you look at fours and fives over college basketball, they don’t usually play over 30, and I’m playing him 35 or 37 minutes sometimes. I hope we can play him a little less.”
Donahue might just get his wish. With the return of the injured Betley and the infusion of several talented underclassmen, the Quakers likely won’t have to rely on Brodeur as much for scoring, taking some of the pressure off him to do everything.
“I think it’s not going to be a reduced role, but I’m going to have to feel a little less stress [and] strain inside to feel that need to score it every possession because we’re getting a lot of scorers,” Brodeur said.
That increase in offensive playmakers for the Red and Blue could allow Brodeur to be more efficient when he touches the ball.
“Defenders won’t be able to double team like they did a lot last year because we didn’t shoot as well as we would have liked to,” he said. “Being able to have more room to operate both in the post and around the perimeter is just going to give us a lot more options as a scoring threat.”
His on-court presence isn’t the only way Brodeur’s role on the team will change this year. With the graduations of several key seniors, including Max Rothschild, Antonio Woods, Jake Silpe, and Jackson Donahue, a void was left in terms of vocal leadership for Penn.
In their absence, Brodeur, along with his fellow captains in Betley and senior guard Devon Goodman, has made an extra effort to speak up and help the younger players on the team in any way possible.
“He’s definitely taking on that leadership role,” sophomore guard Bryce Washington said. “He’s speaking more, he’s encouraging other players more, especially the younger guys. He loves the game, he wants to win, and that’s reflecting on to the rest of the team.”
In particular, Brodeur has been focused on getting the underclassmen acclimated with the team’s multifaceted offensive strategy, which is often much different from what they have experienced in high school.
“Getting them up to speed on such a complicated system that we run, it’s not going to be easy for anyone,” Brodeur said. “They’re not going to be where we need to be in order to be an Ivy League Championship team when we’re playing Alabama in the first game or even in the first couple weeks, but we’ve already made good steps to where we need to be.”
Despite his scoring and rebounding prowess, that process of learning about the nuances of playing college basketball at Penn and helping his teammates do the same is maybe where Brodeur has thrived the most. He has always been viewed as a true student of the game, as cliché as that might sound.
“I’ve never had to worry one day about AJ. When we go to film, I know where he’s at. He’s the first one there,” Donahue said. “If you’re a teammate and you’re not watching that, you’re not getting it.”
As impressive as Brodeur’s junior season was, this year could be even more significant for him in terms of accolades. Scoring just 463 more points would make him Penn’s all-time scoring leader, and he is also a prime contender for Ivy League Player of the Year.
Those accomplishments won’t mean a lot to Brodeur without a title, though.
“I would love to be recognized as [Player of the Year] given that we win the Ivy League; otherwise, it doesn’t really mean that much,” he said. “I’m going to be playing my best, and if they think that’s good enough to get those kinds of accolades, then given that we win, that would be awesome to receive.”
If those goals are achieved, it will be a perfect ending to an already historic Penn career.
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