It's often said that there's no such thing as a second chance to make a first impression. Last month, Penn men's basketball showed the first glimpses of its upcoming season at Ivy League Media Days, where coach Steve Donahue, senior guard Clark Slajchert, and senior center Nick Spinoso spoke to the media at large for the first time since last March.
Given the turnover that's taken place since that point, it may be necessary to get reacquainted with the Quakers before their season tips off next week. The team lost a talented senior class that included forward Michael Moshkovitz and guards Jonah Charles and Lucas Monroe. Star guard Jordan Dingle — who finished second nationally in scoring during 2022-23 and won Ivy League Men's Player of the Year — transferred to St. John's. In September, forward Max Martz took a medical retirement, ending his Quaker career.
With this, some familiar faces from last season will have to step into increased roles, especially Slajchert and Spinoso.
"[With] Clark, I don't think there's a better guard in the [Ivy] League, quite honestly, and I don't know if there's a better big than Nick Spinoso," Donahue said. "What I'm asking them to do now is just be a consistent player every single day [and] when we go and play an opponent, those two are going to have to play really well up to their capabilities."
For his part, while Slajchert welcomes this challenge, he acknowledges that the burden of replacing the pieces Penn lost will be a group effort.
"I expect to draw teams' best defender [or] at least best guard," he said. "But I think we're going to replace guys that we lost by committee. It's not going to be just me, it's not going to be just Nick. It's going to be the team."
Some of the members of this committee will be suiting up in Red and Blue for the first time this season. In addition to sophomore forward Johnnie Walter — who transferred from CSUN over the summer — the Quakers are welcoming a strong freshman class that includes local Philadelphia product Sam Brown and Washington-area recruit Tyler Perkins.
"[He] is going to help us out a lot," Slajchert said of Perkins. "I think the way that he rebounds the ball, the way that he pushes the ball offensively, the way that he scores, the way that he says screens is really important."
But beyond just the new faces, Donahue expects several returners to have larger roles on the team this season, including players like junior guards Ed Holland III and George Smith.
This year's team also predicts to have a new look on offense, which is set to capitalize more on the strengths of Spinoso, the reigning Big 5 Most Improved Player. Donahue complimented the center's improvement, and suggested that he could have even more room to grow this season. Beyond just his ability on the boards, Spinoso could be more of a focal point as an offensive distributor.
"My intention when I go to play basketball is just to include absolutely everybody, and just getting everybody a touch," Spinoso said. "The way we run offense [and] the way coach orchestrates everything just fits what I've always brought to the table."
In terms of the team's goals for this season, Donahue was steadfast that they remain the same as they are every year: an Ivy League Championship. On the cusp of beginning his ninth season at the helm of the Quakers, he doesn't think his team is terribly far away.
"I'm [as] excited as I've ever been for this year and these guys," he said. "We have really good basketball players. I think we build a strong culture here. I think we can take it to another level. The goal is to get them to the NCAA tournament. That's what I want these guys to experience."