Though the last four years have been thrilling for men’s basketball’s senior class, the group wants more.
Their tenure at Penn has been wildly successful. They earned their first NCAA tournament berth in 11 years. They’ve earned five All-Ivy selections and four All-Big 5 selections. They beat Villanova for the first time in 16 years. They’ve battled injuries, grown as players and students, and couldn’t be more respected by their peers and coaches. They’re also not quite done yet.
It all starts with forward AJ Brodeur. A unanimous first team All-Ivy selection each of the last two years, Penn’s star big man has a real chance to become the program’s all-time leading scorer. He needs just 175 points in the next 10 games to go ahead of current leader Ernie Beck.
It’s not just about Brodeur’s play on the court. He’s a respected on-court leader whose passion is infectious.
“[Brodeur] was the first one to run to half court from the other end when we won the Ivy League tournament,” fellow senior guard Ray Jerome said.
Multiple players brought this up when asked about their favorite moments of the last four years.
“I think I was already celebrating before the ball even got to the rim. I couldn't contain it. The whole last two minutes of the game, I’m thinking, 'man we’re really going to win this.' I got a little excited at the end, and I started running before I even knew what happened,” Brodeur said.
The on-court success doesn’t stop with Brodeur, but it comes in different narratives. Senior guard Devon Goodman barely played his first two years but had a huge turning point at the end of his sophomore year.
“[Devon] didn’t play a lot his first year, then comes out that championship year at Columbia. In the first half, we were playing horrible and he just exploded,” coach Steve Donahue said. “From that point on, I thought he was a really impactful player.”
Before that game, Goodman averaged just nine minutes per game. After it, he averaged 23. He took over the starting point guard job the following year and earned a second-team All-Ivy selection for his efforts. Donahue called him the best defensive guard in the league. He’s a workhorse.
Goodman’s success at Penn is not just on the court. He studies architecture, a demanding, time-consuming major. He was unable to come to the scheduled interviews because he was in class. When he finally arrived at the Palestra, he quite literally sprinted from the locker room to the weight room to maximize his time in the gym.
Senior guard Ryan Betley also had a unique path to success at Penn. He’s struggled with injuries. Last year, he suffered a season-ending injury in their first game. But when he's on the court, Betley is good. Sophomore year, he led the team in scoring as they earned their first NCAA tournament berth in 11 years.
“[Sophomore year] at Brown, [Betley] had something like twenty points in the first half. He was really going off,” Brodeur said. “He’s such a reliable and consistent scorer. That one game really exemplifies it.”
Their on-court success speaks for itself. Not lost on them is how important Donahue has been, both in their development as players and people.
“[Donahue’s] style of coaching is really different. He’s very laid back and leaves a lot in the hands of the players. To be able to do that, in his recruiting, he recruits a lot of culture guys who can put forward a culture of accountability,” Brodeur said.
“He’s so understanding about things on and off the court. I went through a lot of injuries, and he was always looking out for my best interests,” Jerome said.
If their careers ended today, their tenure at Penn would be remembered fondly. But that’s not enough for them.
“A dream ending for me would be to win the Ivy League Championship and have a chance to make some noise in the NCAA tournament,” Betley said.
They’ll have a chance to do so. Following a slow start to Ivy League play, the Red and Blue have rattled off three consecutive wins, including an overtime thriller against Harvard. They’re hitting their stride at just the right time. They’re led by three spectacular seniors who have always excelled in the Ivy League. They’re hungry for more.