Heading into Penn men's basketball's season opener against Alabama, sophomore forward Michael Wang and highly-touted freshman guard Jonah Charles were ruled out for the contest. Both were expected to play large roles for the Red and Blue in nonconference play. The Quakers already had to cope with the departures of several key seniors from last year.
These circumstances would have caused a crisis for most teams. For the Quakers, it was just "next man up."
Those three words have become a part of the Quaker way, coach Steve Donahue touts. Like "do your job," "next man up" is a simple and definitive instruction that radiates to the end of the Penn bench.
"We really do have a lot of talent on this roster. We have guys who can step up and play big minutes, and this year, with the injuries to [Wang] and [Charles], we've needed that," Donahue said. "With those guys being out until sometime in January, it's important that we've gotten some contributions from other players."
Leading the pack of players who have stepped up this season is freshman phenom Jordan Dingle, who is averaging over 17 points per game this season.
"From our first workout in late August, it was apparent that Jordan was a talented kid. He doesn't get too high or too low, and he's a very good competitor," Donahue said. "From that point, we saw what he could handle in practice, and when we got down to Alabama, he was so key to us winning."
Freshman forward Max Martz has been another underclassman who has contributed significant minutes as of late. Standing at 6-foot-6 with a knack for spot-up shooting, Martz scored 17 points on six three-pointers against Long Beach State, and he averages nearly 17 minutes per game.
"My teammates did a really good job of finding me when I was open, and really I was just in the right place at the right time," Martz said. "We have a lot of unselfish guys on this team, and really my scoring was just a product of us sharing the ball."
Donahue has nothing but good things to say about the Ohio native.
"Max is rugged and tough enough to guard bigger guys but skilled enough to make plays on the offensive end, and that's a hard combination," Donahue said. "Last year, we went big with two bigs, but we just weren't competitive enough offensively. Max is a tremendous shooter, he's physical, and he has a pedigree of scoring in different ways."
Freshman guard Lucas Monroe, who has quietly averaged 14.1 minutes per game off the bench for the Red and Blue, espoused the next man up mentality.
"Coaches keep us engaged and tell us to be ready for our names to be called," Monroe said. "Some games you might play five minutes, some games you might play 20. For me, I'm just ready to provide good energy when I come off the bench and help us win games."
Not all of Penn's freshman class has shared the limelight this season. Freshman center Max Lorca-Lloyd, a four-star recruit from Northfield Mount Herman School in Massachusetts, has seen action in only two games so far.
"We've rolled with [junior forward] Jarrod [Simmons] for most of the year because of his experience," Donahue said. "That being said, Max is a great player, and he will be a great player here at Penn. Whether it's three weeks from now or three months from now, I think you'll see Max become a big part of what we're doing once he's ready."
As the freshman class continues to get more time on the court, some players have seen their minutes decline this year. Sophomore guard Bryce Washington, who averaged nearly 21 minutes per game with 20 starts in 2018-19, has only averaged 8.6 so far this year.
"Like everything else, it's based on practice, on who comes out and competes and earns their spot," Donahue said. "If Bryce continues to get better and play well in practice, he will see the court more."
With the emergence of Martz, Dingle, and Monroe, Donahue has been able to grow his rotation. Though the Quakers played around seven players per game last year, this year nine Quakers have played over six minutes per game.
"I'd like to continue to grow it to maybe 10," Donahue said. "I thought we ran out of gas last season with injuries and kids that kind of hit the wall, so I am really hoping to grow the rotation."
The Quakers' quality bench play means Donahue will have some difficult decisions to make in January when Wang and Charles return from their lengthy absences.
"They both make us a better team, so they will see some action for sure, but it does give us more leeway to where we don't have to rush them back in," Donahue said. "The good thing about Ivy League play is that we start late, so they will definitely be important to have come Ivy season."
But one thing is for sure: When Wang and Charles return, they'll be ready. They're the next men up.
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