After 6 seasons of much disappoint, the Quakers moved on from former head coach Jerome Allen. They brought in former Penn assistant coach, Steve Donahue, who helped Coach Dunphy win multiple Ivy League championships. After that, Coach Donahue moved on to the head coaching vacancy at Cornell. He had much success there, including 3 NCAA appearances and a sweet sixteen run in 2010. Coach Donahue then moved on to Boston College and lead the Eagles to one winning season, in his first year. He had the honor of coaching NBA point guard Reggie Jackson, ACC rookie of the year in 2013 Oliver Hanlan, and 2010 Ivy League player of year Ryan Wittman. Now Coach Donahue takes his positive attitude, basketball knowledge, energy, and success from his previous experiences to Penn as their new head coach.
The Empire had the treat of sitting down with Coach Donahue.
Benjamin Simon: What are the differences between the ACC and Ivy League?
Steve Donahue: There are a lot of differences. I think in some way they are similar as well. I think the biggest difference is the amount of travel and missed class time, at that level, is pretty enormous. At [Boston College] we had 9 road games, all flights, probably half in the middle of the week. It just made it very difficult to travel. Obviously arenas are very different. Size of players. The Ivy probably has as much skill, if not more than that league. Very different styles. In the ACC, everyone is kind of similar, they’re big, throw it up on the glass and go get it. Ivy’s have a lot of different systems for the smaller, lesser talented kids. But when it all comes down to it, it’s basketball, you’re coaching and it feels the same. I coached in the Ivy’s, I coached in the ACC, everyday you come to practice and try to get kids better. Same aged kids, feels the same.
B: What did you learn from Fran Dunphy in your time under him that you still use today?
S: I think the number 1 thing I took away from my 10 years working with [Fran Dunphy], and there’s a lot of things I took away, but if I said one, it was how he valued practice and the energy that he brought every single day and how important that was. I probably didn’t understand it as a young coach, but how he prepared himself, how hard he went, mentally and physically, and making sure there was a high level every of [energy] practice. That was something I still think about today when I go into practice.
B: What is it like coming back to Penn? Was it always part of your plan?
S: I don’t know if you can say it was always in my plans. But I was dreamed that if I could be a college coach it would be at Penn. And honestly I thought it would be an unrealistic goal. There is only one of these, and only five of these in the Big Five. I grew up coming in the Palestra. And then to be an assistant, I remember thinking, I am an assistant in the Big Five, it was an incredible feeling. So I do not know if I planned it, but to me, there is not a better place than being a head coach at Penn.
B: What has been your favorite moment coaching college basketball?
S: Yeah there's been a lot of them. There are so many great things that have happened, I have been very fortunate. The whole maturation of Cornell, from we were last in the RPI to getting to the sweet sixteen and being ranked in the top-25, from where we were, and while doing it with incredible kids and having a great time doing it. That is the pinnacle and that is what we will try and achieve here at Penn.
B: As a coach, what are some of your pet peeves?
S: There are 5 core values that we go by at Penn. The first one is passion. Nothing bothers me more than someone who is not passionate about playing basketball, coming to work, and getting better. Having that energy. So, one thing that bothers me is someone who is an energy drainer instead of an energy giver, not having that passion, to me that is the biggest thing that bothers me.
B: What do you think of the reducing of the shot clock in NCAA play?
S: I think it is great, I think it is great step. I think what people say are problems with our game are really related to grassroots basketball, it’s very poor in our country. It is so scattered, so many different ways being pulled. I would love to see a much more organized [game] at a younger age. For instance, lower the baskets till seventh grade. They should be 8 feet 6 inches tall. Smaller balls. At seventh grade, start a shot clock. Get used to it. So for 6 years, by the time they get to college, they are much more prepared. I don’t have all of the answers for that, but part of the reason basketball in college has digressed a little bit, in particular on the offensive end, has to do with all of our grassroots issues.
B: What are the challenges of recruiting at an Ivy League school and how do you beat them?
S: There’s a lot of challenges. There are three components of recruiting in the Ivy League. Essentially, at most schools it is one, can he play and help your team, that is one part of ours. There is an academic hurdle. [Penn] is an incredible academic school that needs to find kids that can achieve great things in the classroom. It’s a pretty [big] hurdle. And lastly it is a financial aid hurdle. We don’t have scholarships. So we have to find kids that can either afford it or qualify for money that make it affordable for their family.
B: What are your expectations for this season with Penn?
S: I think our expectations are more qualitative than quantitative. What I mean by that is I am trying to build a championship program. So we are going to try to judge our guys on how they come into practice, how they act as players on and off the court, how hard they play, how much accountability, how unselfish. Rather than [saying], “oh hey we are shooting a high percentage. We are trying to score points.” They're are all important. But initially, to get where we want to be, there are qualitative things that have got to be part of who we are, that is how we are going to judge ourselves this year.
B: You first coached high school basketball, when did you decide it was time to move college basketball and why? Have you thought about going back?
S: My initial thought was I admired my high school coach a great deal and that was kind of what I thought. I would be a high school coach. But I never thought about teaching. That was always the problem. I was never passionate enough about getting in the classroom and doing it. So I opened up my eyes to college, that I can do this 24/7, be with kids, and help them with their academics. But I can be around the game of basketball more and I just thought that this was a great way to interact with kids at a little older age and basketball being a larger part. I do not think I would go back, but I love teaching the game, I love helping young kids. Never say never, but I love what I do and I am very fortunate.
B: What are some things that you love about Penn, that make it a good place to coach?
S: I love the idea that there is more to college than just basketball. Penn has incredible resources, you meet remarkable people, the students you get to recruit are well rounded. I want to help kids achieve everything around their life, not just basketball and that is what Penn does. And at the same time, they have kids that can achieve, reach their dreams, and play professionally from here and I want to help them do that. Penn is a place where you can do both.
B: How would you describe your coaching style?
S: The things I try to do as a coach are motivate and inspire. I am not negative, I am very positive. I am don’t try to beat kids up. But at the same point I am not going to lower their bar. I want them to achieve great things and I am going to push and hold them accountable, but it is going to just be in a positive way. I want them to be extremely happy and grateful to play basketball and try to do that only a daily basis by motivating them and inspiring them.
B: You touched in broadcasting. What was that like? Did you enjoy that? Is it in your future plans?
S: I loved the year off and doing the TV work and getting a chance to see other programs work to figure out game plans and watching practice and then giving my honest opinion about what was going on in the game. But the thing that was lost was the interpersonal relationships that you have with players and helping kids, which is an important part of their life. It had none of that. It was fun. It was like a good hobby. But it wasn’t what I want to make my living at.
Picture courtesy of philadelphia.cbslocal.com
-Penn loses to Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament