Since the day Steve Donahue was named head coach of Penn men's basketball, a lot has changed. The Quakers posted their first winning season in six years in 2016-17, and they made their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008 in Donahue's third season as coach. For a Big 5 squad looking for a return to its form from the early 2000s, Donahue was the solution.
Why has Donahue been able to find so much success for the Red and Blue? It all comes back to a 6-foot-8 power forward from Northborough, Mass.
Senior forward AJ Brodeur has been a consistent presence on the court from the moment he stepped into the Palestra almost four years ago. He has only failed to score in double-digits 20 times in 113 consecutive starts for the Red and Blue, and he has put up at least 15 points in 55 of those games.
But Brodeur's impact stretches beyond his ability to contribute baskets. The Northfield Mount Hermon alumnus led the Quakers in assists and rebounds last season, and he's leading the way again this season. He has averaged over 30 minutes in each of his last four seasons, and his ability to match up with players of different sizes makes him a valuable asset on the defensive end.
Brodeur allows Donahue to execute his game plan efficiently with four perimeter players and AJ down low in the paint. But even if Donahue rolls out a bigger lineup — like he did on Saturday against Yale — Brodeur can space the floor and change the course of the game with his perimeter shooting.
In a quintessential Brodeur performance, the veteran led the Quakers in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks in the win over the Bulldogs. He hit big shots at various points in the game, and he helped limit Yale forward Paul Atkinson in the first half.
Brodeur's three-pointer late in the second half pushed him past Ernie Beck for the most made field goals in Penn men's basketball history. His current total of 705 field goals is a testament to his remarkable consistency over the past four seasons.
He has never missed a game, and he has started every game he has played in. As friends, family, and fans surrounded him after the game to congratulate him on his record-breaking feat, it became clear how much Brodeur means to this program.
Particularly with injuries to senior Ryan Betley, junior Jelani Williams, and sophomore Michael Wang, among others, Brodeur's presence is crucial as the Quakers look to return to the NCAA Tournament. He has a chance to become the program's all-time leading scorer along the way.
Maybe Donahue had Brodeur in mind when he recruited another NMH graduate, freshman center Max Lorca-Lloyd, to Penn last fall. But for now, the focus is on Brodeur: he will be the backbone of this team as the Quakers continue to battle for a spot in the Ivy League Tournament in March.
JACKSON JOFFE is a College and Wharton sophomore from Nashville, Tenn. and a Senior Sports Associate for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.