For most Division I basketball programs, recruiting involves taking trips to high schools all across the country and even sometimes crossing oceans. For Penn and coach Steve Donahue, however, recruiting means something different.
In recent years, the Quakers have prioritized recruiting local players from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and New England. This trend is demonstrated by the Red and Blue’s most recent recruiting class, in which four of the five recruits hail from a school in the Northeast.
For Donahue, the benefits of recruiting locally have been clear throughout his coaching career.
“From the time I got here in 1990 [as an assistant coach], until AJ [Brodeur] won first team All-Ivy, every other All-Ivy was within two and a half hours of campus,” Donahue said. “I still say that’s the case. I just think you get to know kids a lot better that are closer to campus, [and] it’s a lot easier for them to get to know you.”
The Red and Blue’s emphasis on local recruiting does not just benefit the team. It provides local recruits a unique opportunity to become familiar with the program.
“I could come to games whenever I wanted to. I could come up and play pickup [basketball] with the guys and hang out with them,” freshman guard Lucas Monroe said. “I really got to know a lot of the players before I even committed. That was really helpful because it felt like home even before I decided to come here.”
When given the opportunity to decide between a variety of schools, getting to know a program better can make all the difference.
“Having a school like Penn real close to home, being in the Big 5, and having home court at the Palestra [is huge],” senior guard Ryan Betley said. “You really can’t beat it, especially at the mid-major level.”
The benefits that players enjoy from being local recruits do not end with their recruitment, however, as being close to home also helps to smooth the transition between high school and college.
“[Being local means] one less thing to worry about,” Monroe said. “For me, I can go home, and I’ve gone home a bunch of times. I get to visit my parents, and they get to come up here [for my games].”
Penn is well-known in the basketball world, and despite recruiting heavily in the nearby area, the team attracts talent from around the world. Nevertheless, Donahue still believes that local recruiting gives the team the best advantage in attracting talent to the program.
“I think the beauty of Penn is that it’s an international brand, and we can attract kids from all over the world,” Donahue said. “Obviously, we have [Michael Wang] from China and [Kuba Mijakowski] from Poland, and we can [recruit globally], but I think if we’re going to get a kid that’s getting really recruited, we have a better chance [to get him to commit] if he’s close to us.”
This strategy has been successful for the Quakers, as it has led them to players like Betley and impact freshmen like Monroe and Jordan Dingle. Local talent has been a defining attribute of recent Penn teams and has translated into on-court success.
The Quakers’ philosophy on recruiting has been consistent throughout the past few decades. Since Donahue’s hiring, the team has continued to build off of their existing philosophy, prioritizing the search for local talent for the program. With the success the team has enjoyed at the hands of this strategy, it is likely that the Quakers will continue emphasizing local recruiting for years to come.