In its first four non-conference bouts, Penn men’s basketball has shown very promising signs. The team, though young, has faced adversity on and off the court, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, racism, and of course, its opponents.
In the Red and Blue’s home opener against Lafayette, the team warmed up wearing hoodies and sweatpants highlighted by social justice messages, analogous to their NBA counterparts. During the national anthem, all but three players sat, and several players linked arms. The same gesture three games ago at the team’s season opener against Florida State prompted Seminole fans to yell racial slurs at Penn basketball players — and yes, that is still the name of Florida State’s mascot.
“A lot of some of the reactions we’ve gotten from sitting kind of illuminate the issue,” senior guard Jelani Williams told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “We went to Florida State … We got booed and yelled at, and one of our guys’ little brother and sister got into a verbal altercation with one of the fans there that left them in tears. Myself, I got called a slur by a Florida State fan.”
With all this emotion hanging in the background, the Quakers managed to pour in a season-high 85 points to trounce Lafayette and move to 2-2 on the season.
Lafayette was no sleaze of an opponent, as the Leopards are a rising team in the Patriot League, posting consecutive winning seasons. Senior captain Tyrone Perry and sophomore Kyle Jenkins, who made Patriot League All-Rookie team last season, are both talented scorers who can get their own shots easily.
Known for its willingness to shoot three-pointers, Lafayette’s game plan coming into the evening was clear. Yet, an observer might have guessed that it was Penn who had the reputation for lethal three-point shooting.
Penn immediately got out to a 9-0 start. The offense effortlessly attacked the paint, and when the Quakers opted not to take easy layups inside, willing shooters winged the three-point line and drained in a couple early threes.
On the defensive end, Penn gave up nothing on drives or cuts inside the paint, daring Lafayette to jack up threes, which the Leopards did to no avail. This early sequence set the tone for the rest of the game as the Quakers’ tight defense caused an inefficient shooting night from Lafayette.
On the other hand, Penn’s offense was fueled by inside drives. Williams, sophomore Jordan Dingle, and junior captain Lucas Monroe were determined to get to the rim, often alternating between tough finishes or great kicks outside to catch-and-shoot players like junior Jonah Charles and freshman Nick Spinoso.
The pair combined for 30 points with six three-pointers made, and most of these came off of beautiful assists to a wide-open Charles or Spinoso.
Penn shot nearly 56% from the field and 48% percent from deep, but it was not merely a lucky shooting night. The Red and Blue against Lafayette proved to themselves what the optimal offensive game plan is.
For the Quakers to thrive, athletic guards and wings — like Williams, Dingle, and Monroe — need to be ready to attack the paint, and then look to finish, dump it off to a big-man, or kick it outside to willing shooters.
While this should be the focus of Penn’s offense, impact players like Dingle and Williams also need to pick their spots, searching out key moments and capitalizing with isolation play or deep threes. Likewise, Charles should always be ready to shoot, and even if he has an off night and winds up 1-9 from deep, he should not let his confidence waver.
Penn is talented, and the team is well-rounded, which in my mind, means players need to focus on their strengths, whether that be perimeter shooting, hustling on defense, or facilitating the offense.
More importantly, the Quakers have consistently showcased their poise and maturity in the face of adversity. Racism, slurs, or discrimination have no place at a sporting event, much less when directed at student-athletes. What kind of "fan" berates college basketball players with slurs for expressing themselves before a game?
In spite of these disturbing remarks, Penn basketball has and continues to be graceful and intends to admirably stand by its beliefs. These instances only add fuel to the fire of justice.
NICHOLAS BELGRAD is a College junior from Los Angeles studying philosophy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.