Senior forward AJ Brodeur sat in front of his locker late this morning. He tied his shoes, put on his basketball shorts, and prepared for coach Steve Donahue to start Penn men's basketball's film session. Just over two weeks ago, Brodeur wasn't even sure he'd still be playing this late into the season. Three straight Ivy losses — including a poor-shooting loss at Dartmouth — pushed the Quakers to fifth in the Ivy League.
But Brodeur has never been a quitter — not when Penn started 0-6 in conference play his freshman season, and not when the Red and Blue were down big against Kansas in the 2018 NCAA Tournament his sophomore year. Riding three straight performances of 20 or more points from Brodeur, the Quakers reversed their fate this season, his final campaign for the team, capping off a three-game winning streak with a lopsided 20-point victory over Columbia last weekend.
That Senior Night win saw Brodeur become not only the team's all-time leader in points scored but also the first Penn player to record a triple-double in school history. The final victory also allowed Penn to sneak into the Ivy League Tournament as the No. 4 seed, extending the Quakers' season.
On Tuesday, Brodeur's mind was on top-seeded Yale — a team Penn had already beaten once earlier in the season. Donahue sat down in his usual spot, ready to talk to his team.
"And then he started to talk, and his tone, I thought someone had died; something was clearly wrong," Brodeur said.
Donahue didn't know how else to say it: "The Ivy Tournament is canceled."
Brodeur was shaken to the core by what his coach said. He couldn't believe what he had just heard.
"I got chills," Brodeur said. "I'm still speechless."
With the increasing precautions being taken to combat the rise of coronavirus across the world, the players knew that there was a possibility that the men's and women's tournaments would be played without spectators. Canceling the tournament altogether, though? No one saw it coming.
"Never in a million years would I have thought this would happen. We were all just stunned after he broke the news," Brodeur said. "I think the locker room was just quiet for the next 45 minutes. No one knew what to do, no one wanted to leave."
Donahue, too, didn't expect this decision to come down from top brass. For him, the decision was not only implausible; it was hypocritical.
"I didn't see it coming. To pull this from our kids, it's the most horrific thing I've dealt with as a coach," Donahue told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "To have to tell kids their seasons and their careers are over, while lacrosse teams are going off to play games and wrestlers are going to nationals. ... If you’re letting Yale go to the NCAA Tournament — if they’d said across the board, we’re shutting down all sports, you’d understand."
Women's basketball coach Mike McLaughlin was similarly shocked — and frustrated — at the League's decision to cancel the Tournament.
"We knew canceling the tournament was an option, but we really didn't consider it a real possibility. Coaches had minimal contact with the League while this decision was being made, and I had no say in the final decision," McLaughlin said. "It's hypocritical of the Ivy League to do this. There are other teams [in the League] traveling who are midseason who are being treated differently. Hockey is still going on up at Cornell with Princeton involved."
Senior guard Phoebe Sterba, gearing up for what she expected to be her final game or two in a Penn uniform, also voiced frustration in the League's decision, criticizing its abruptness.
"From the six-mile run at the start of August to get into shape, we've been fighting for a chance to compete in the NCAA Tournament," senior guard Phoebe Sterba said. "To end the entire season in a sentence? It isn't justifiable."
Though the women's basketball team will most likely be competing in the WNIT after securing a win last weekend, the men's season is over.
"So many ups and downs this season," Brodeur said. "Full circle from the Alabama game; everybody in the room — from the coaches to the managers — believed we were playing as good as if not better than any other team in the Ivy League."
Saturday night's win over Columbia was the final time Donahue's first recruiting class would be together. On Tuesday, it was a bittersweet moment in the locker room. The coaches started to describe how much the seniors had meant to this program — a storied basketball school that made its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 11 years and won a Big 5 title — while the harsh reality that this team is done playing sunk in.
“Hearing the pain in the coaches’ voice,’’ Brodeur said. “It hurt all of us to hear them. These are great role models, and to hear them, it humanized them. They’re feeling the same way we are right now.”
Both the men's and women's teams may never come to terms with how the season ended. But perhaps they won't have to.
"This whole thing, it doesn't feel right. But I am extremely grateful for a fantastic career here at Penn," Brodeur said. "Growing with this team, making it to the NCAA Tournament, facing adversity, those things I won't forget."
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