Much has already been said of Penn’s inability to cultivate excitement around its basketball teams.
And most of it is right.
Penn students would rather sit at home, go out and party, or spend time on just about anything other than watching a live college basketball game in person, right on campus. It’s a sad truth. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
This year's Penn men’s basketball team — ranked number one in the Ivy League preseason media poll — has the potential to be special.
Last season, one of coach Steve Donahue's most frequent remarks was how the Quakers featured the most inexperienced roster in the entire NCAA. Few players had substantial experience on the collegiate floor, let alone any minutes after high school. Yet this season, Penn returns all but one key player — Jelani Williams — and boasts a roster seemingly devoid of any major holes.
To mend the team's rebounding issues, senior center Max Lorca-Lloyd is returning from injury. Senior forward Michael Moshkovitz also enters the 2022-23 campaign a far better player after finally gaining collegiate experience, and 6-foot-10 sophomore forward/center Gus Larson will look to enter the rotation. Where there were defensive struggles last season, “fours and fives” will roam the floor more, according to Donahue.
And concerning the challenge of finding a superstar, well, that's wasn't — and isn't — really an issue.
Junior guard Jordan Dingle comes off a sophomore campaign in which he erupted for an Ivy-high 20.9 points per game — six times scoring 30 or more – and carried Penn's team largely on his shoulders alone for a considerable portion of the season.
Rebounds and defense are not the flashy selling points that will magnet students into the Palestra stands. But Dingle is arguably the most exciting player in the Ivy League, and warrants attention in a way that no other aspect of the team can. Anyone who was at the Harvard game last season knows exactly what I’m talking about.
With just over a minute left and the score tied at 71 apiece, two Crimson players kept Dingle trapped behind the three-point line and prevented him from any obvious options. On a prayer, the junior guard lobbed a heave toward the basket that banked off the top right corner of the backboard, bounced on the front of the rim, and finally sank into the hoop. It was an incredible moment that not only swung the game in Penn's favor, but electrified the home crowd — many of whom were in attendance for the last time at the Palestra that season.
Plays like this were habit for Dingle all season, and though his role will likely evolve into a more distributive piece within Penn's game, his talents deserve witness up close in person.
Many people at this school call themselves basketball fans. They root for an NBA team, they root for another college team, maybe they just hang around Pottruck and watch 35-year-old grad students practice — I don’t know. But if you really are a basketball fan, there’s no reason to not get behind this team, as it looks in prime position to vie for its first March Madness berth since 2018, all while calling the historic Palestra its home.
The experience is there and the superstar is there. Whether or not Penn can transform into a basketball school no longer comes down to the quality of the team — it comes down to the fans who can fill the stands and show up for their peers on the court.
MATTHEW FRANK is a Senior Sports Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian and is a College junior from Miami studying English. He can be reached at email@example.com.