The Penn men’s basketball season is right around the corner, and nobody is quite sure about what to expect. The Quakers, along with the rest of the Ivy League, did not compete during the 2020-2021 season. As a result, it has been hard to forecast exactly how the Ancient Eight will shape up in 2021-2022.
With Penn’s season opener at Florida State only weeks away, The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke with coach Steve Donahue to see what can be expected from the team this year.
The questions and answers below have been lightly edited for clarity.
What has it been like going through the team’s first full preseason since 2019?
I keep using this word because I think it fits. It feels normal… having trained in the spring, and [having] been here and then coming back in the fall, I think we’re ready. It feels really normal getting ready for a season. The excitement is probably higher than it’s ever been, but it feels like every year.
Injuries have kept Jelani Williams off the court for his entire Penn career. Now that he’s coming into the season healthy, what are your expectations for the fifth-year senior?
After you’ve waited five years, there’s no easing it in. He’s played a lot of basketball. [Although] he hasn’t been on the court in front of people, this comes second nature to him. For us he’s like a coach on the court, someone we feel strongly understands what we’re trying to do on offense and defense. I can feel it already that we’re going to need him out there in particular at critical times. He’s going to hit the ground running, and [I] feel strongly that he’s ready for it.
Lucas Monroe has taken a veteran position on the team and is someone that has been in the program for a while now. How do you see him impacting the team this season?
I think that’s a good way of putting it, he’s been here a while. [He was] voted as a unanimous team captain as a junior. I think the strength of Lucas is that he does a little bit of everything in every aspect of the game. I think he can score it, he defends at a high level, he’s a good playmaker, he guards one through four, [and] he’s a terrific rebounder. So, he’s going to have a big role for us.
Two seasons ago, Max Martz and Jordan Dingle both had an instant impact as freshmen. With them having taken a year off in 2020-2021 to preserve a year of eligibility, how do you expect the two to do now that they’re back as sophomores?
I think people recognize that both of them are so much better than they were as freshmen. I thought they were good as freshmen, but they were freshmen, and they had their rollercoaster. Both of those two, I expect to be at a high level from the start. Both have improved and both can really score. Obviously, Max from three, but both are really good three-point shooters [and] mid-range shooters, and they can finish, so I think you’ll see just a better version of both of them.
This team has a lot of depth and a lot of young players. Who are some younger players that could compete for minutes this season?
We have Michael Moshkovitz, who’s a junior college transfer [and] who’s with the older guys, and Clark Slajchert, who’s a sophomore. Those guys are in the top nine for sure. Our freshmen have been terrific. Reese McMullen has been hurt, but Gus Larson, George Smith, Nick Spinoso, and Eddie Holland III, to me, having been in this league for a long time, are kids that are going to be very good players in this league. I don’t know when the opportunity to really shine comes because we have such depth, but a month from now, it may feel different because they keep getting better and because that’s what I see every day in practice.
Is this a team that you see operating under a set rotation, or a team utilizes their depth and changes things up based on the situation?
I think we’re going to play a lot more guys than I’ve ever played consistently. My years at Cornell toward the end, we played 10, 11 guys. I think we play 10, 11 guys here pretty consistently in the first half of games. We’re playing much faster on both sides of the ball, so it’s imperative that we are fresh and have the energy. So, sometimes that means shorter stints out on the court for guys.
You’ve talked this offseason about retooling some approaches and strategies for this year. What are some things that might look different this season?
I think the biggest difference you’ll see is the pace of the game is going to be faster. We’re pushing teams to speed them up. Picking them up full court [and] mixing up defenses are different things we’re doing to speed them up. We’re going to transition more than we ever have. I think we have depth on our team that allows us to do that and kids that are really willing to do more when they’re out on the court. I think the result will be that the pace of the game is a lot faster.
This has been a team that’s historically shot a lot from beyond the arc. Do you see the team continuing to match those high three-point attempt totals in 2021-2022?
I definitely think we’re going to shoot the ball from three. Unfortunately, I think we haven’t shot it as well as we’d hoped over the past couple of years, for a lot of reasons. Some of it’s some key guys who were three-point shooters getting hurt. But I think you’ll see we have different offensive players that score in so many different ways. Unlike the last couple of years where you had AJ [Brodeur] and three-point shooting, I think you’ll see a lot more variety of that. In transition, if you can get an open three, you certainly will take it.