By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
One thing you could say about Jerome Allen’s tenure as Penn head coach: people liked him. At his final game in Tuesday’s season finale against Princeton, the crowd at the Palestra gave Allen a nice standing ovation when he came out from the locker room. His players also put together amongst themselves a nice tribute for their soon-to-be former coach, wearing warm-up shirts sporting Jerome Allen’s no. 53 from his playing days as a Quaker.
Penn now all wearing warmup shirts with Jerome Allen’s 53 on them before his last game. pic.twitter.com/Ths1UzvM6I
— Mike Jensen (@jensenoffcampus) March 10, 2015
Although the Quakers would use that energy to race out to a 8-0 lead, that advantage quickly vanished, ultimately ended in a 73-52 defeat to the rival Tigers. Representative of the offensive struggles Penn dealt with all season, no player finished in double figures for the Quakers.
Coach Allen’s dismissal from the team certainly didn’t come as a surprise. As much as he was well-liked, he simply didn’t appear to be ready to take on a head coaching position at a D-1 program. Literally, his only prior coaching experience was a year as a player-coach at Snaidaro Cucine Udine in Italy, followed by a handful of games as an assistant under Glen Miller at Penn. After Miller was fired mid-season, Allen served as interim coach and was appointed the full-time gig the following offseason.
It seemed like a good fit: former star player for the program, who then went on to a brief NBA career before heading to a successful stint overseas. However, outliers like Jason Kidd aside, there’s more to being a good coach than having played the game, and Allen didn’t appear to have earned his chops on the sideline as of yet. He got the team to 20-13 in his second full season, but that was the only year the Quakers would finish above .500 during his tenure. The last three years have seen the Quakers go 9-22, 8-20, and finally, 9-19 this year. Certainly, those are unacceptable finishes for a program that was once a powerhouse in the Ivy League.
This final season with Allen at the helm saw the Quakers begin the year on a 5-game losing streak to start the season, while also suffering a 7-game skid in Ivy League play. The biggest disappointments were the regressions of juniors Tony Hicks and Darien Nelson-Henry. Hicks, expected to take on even more of a role following the departures of Miles Jackson-Cartwright and Fran Dougherty, actually saw his numbers go down from a year ago. He went from averaging 14.9 points and 2.9 assists his sophomore year, to 13.2 points and 2.5 assists during the current campaign. Not a huge drop-off admittedly, but you usually expect to see a steady upward linear progression during a guy’s college career.
The bigger drop-off was experienced by 6’11” center Nelson-Henry. The big lumberjack from the state of Washington went from 10.6 points and 5.3 boards, down to 8.5 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Allen actually benched him in the latter part of the season. It was certainly not the dominant season many hoped for from a guy with the size to be a force in the Ivy League.
Penn did have some success stories over the season, and there are definitely plenty of reasons on the roster for which whoever takes over the Quakers’ roster should be excited. Matt Howard had a nice breakout in his sophomore season, finishing third on team in scoring at 8.4 ppg on 47% shooting from the field, very solid for a perimeter player. Freshman Sam Jones came on the second half of the season and finished a team-best 43.2% from three. After dealing with a foot injury that caused him to miss a handful of games early in the season, freshman Mike Auger recorded averages of 5.5 points and 4.4 rebounds in less than 20 minutes per game. He’s a tenacious rebounder that should be an integral part of Penn’s frontcourt going forward.
Still, the most promising of the fresh young faces was freshman point guard Antonio Woods. Woods finished with line on the year of 8.4 points and 3.8 points per game, being named the Ivy League rookie of the week 5 times throughout the season. His successful first year culminated with his first career double-double, recording 15 points and 11 assists in the recent win over Cornell.
The next Penn head man will have all those guys at his disposal next year, as the only graduating rotation player was forward Greg Louis, who tallied 4.5 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. Joining the mix will be a very strong recruiting class, headlined by Jake Silpe, a point guard from Cherry Hill and first 3-star recruit for Penn since Miles Cartwright in the 2010 recruiting class. Alongside Silpe will be three other solid signees in 6’1″ guard Jackson Donahue, 6’6″ small forward Jule Brown (from Lower Merion), and 6’10” big man Collin McManus.
It’s been a disappointing stretch for Quakers fans and this year’s team by no means lived up to its potential. Now, it will be up to the Penn administration to find the coach capable of unlocking the good amount of talent that can be found on the roster. Hopefully, their search proves fruitful and one of the best venues in college basketball will see a great team on the hardwood once again (and not just when Villanova comes around).