Serving as a preview for the season to come, the Red and Blue scrimmages for Penn men's and women’s basketball were held on Oct. 21 at the Palestra. The scrimmages allowed Quaker fans to get a glimpse of both returning players primed for productive seasons and new faces looking to leave their mark on the program.
For the women’s squad, an injury cast a shadow of doubt over the scrimmage — and the start of the season. Senior forward Floor Toonders was seen wearing a large boot on the court during pregame workouts. During the scrimmage, Toonders was stretching out her injured foot as well as pedaling on an exercise bike. This injury could take a toll on the Quakers as Toonders ranked second in the Ivy League in blocks and anchored Penn's defense last season.
When asked about the nature of Toonders’ injury, women's coach Mike McLaughlin said, “I would just say she’ll be out a little while. Unfortunately, she's in a boot as you saw. She has a fractured bone in her ankle. She’ll return.”
But on the positive side, freshman guard Mataya Gayle looked like she would be ready to make an instant impact on the Red and Blue. The 2023 Georgia 6A Player of the Year was exceptional throughout the scrimmage, scoring the first points of the game off free throws following a tenacious drive into the paint and never looking back. Gayle was on fire from the three-point line, going 3-for-3 from deep and ending the game with 17 points. Additionally, the freshman logged five assists including multiple key passes to her teammates on fast breaks.
“It felt really awesome to play in front of everyone," Gayle said when asked about what it was like playing at the Palestra in front of fans for the first time. "This gym is amazing.”
Senior forward Jordan Obi also impressed in the scrimmage, finishing with 10 points, seven rebounds, and a game-high +/- of +35. Obi is looking to pick up where she left off last year as well as make up for the absence of former guard Kayla Padilla.
In the second scrimmage of the game, an array of players played well for men's basketball. Notably, senior guard Clark Slajchert logged a game-high 16 points as he looks to take on a larger role following the departures of former guard Jordan Dingle and former forward and guard Max Martz. After losing out on Dingle's 23.4 points per game last season, Penn may be looking to Slajchert to increase his scoring.
Another guard that fans should keep their eye on is sophomore Cam Thrower. After a lackluster first half, Thrower bounced back in the second and ultimately finished with 11 points, five assists, and four total rebounds. Thrower seemed noticeably more comfortable on the floor once his shot started hitting and was able to be an effective floor general in a winning effort for his team.
“In the first half, I was struggling and trying to force stuff," Thrower said postgame. "But in the second half, once I kind of calmed down a little bit and played within the offense, everything was a lot easier."
“In some ways, he could be our best scorer some nights because he can really get it going," men's coach Steve Donahue said of Thrower. "He's got a good motor.”
Junior forward/center Nick Spinoso was also doing it all on the court. Ending with six assists, Spinoso built on the play-making ability that made him the Big 5's Most Improved Player a season ago. But passing aside, Spinoso’s paint dominance and unshakable rebounding were on full display for the fans in attendance.
When asked to describe his team using one word, Spinoso replied, “dogs.”
This designation may be appropriate, as men's basketball's offseason was largely dominated in the media by the departures of Dingle, Martz, and a talented senior class. Fans will get to see if this mentality pays off as Spinoso, Slajchert, and the rest of the Quakers open their season against John Jay College on Nov. 6. The women's squad will take the court not too long after, when the team faces Marist on Nov. 11 to open its season.