Penn guard Darnell Foreman (3) dribbles up the court against Dartmouth during his sophomore year.
(Luke Risher/The Empire)
Almost an hour and a half after capturing Penn’s first Ivy League championship in eleven years, Darnell Foreman finally emerged from The Palestra followed by a pack of family and friends. It was a little cold for March, the temperature sitting in the mid-40’s. Wearing just a grey t-shirt, Foreman should have stuck out. And he did, but his lack of coat wasn’t why.
Foreman stuck out because he was walking down the street carrying the Ivy League trophy.
Following Penn’s victory over Harvard in the championship game, a game where Foreman, a senior, scored 19 first half points and helped hold Ivy League Player of the Year Seth Towns to 5-14 shooting, Foreman wouldn’t let go of the trophy. He brought the trophy into the postgame press conference, where he sat it next to him. When a reporter asked one of his teammates a question, Foreman, who grew up just across the Delaware River in Camden, New Jersey, took the trophy seated next to him and started to clean it off from top to bottom. He polished it so that everyone could see its shine. When his portion of the press conference was finished, he left, only to return minutes later in search of the trophy he had accidently left behind.
The squeaky clean trophy was wrapped in Foreman’s arms when he stepped outside and slowly moved down The Palestra’s outdoor walkway towards 33rd street. It wasn’t long before he was stopped by fans. They talked to Foreman and the children took pictures with him, but he never let go of the trophy. As he continued down the street, cars honked and people yelled out of their windows. Foreman waved back and smiled at everyone who went by. He seemed as though he was savoring every second of this victory and of the attention coming his way.
Everyone around Penn’s program knew he had worked hard to get his hands on that trophy. Nothing came easy for him. He had grinded through coaching changes, injuries, and position battles to walk down 33rd street on this day. He deserved the pictures and honks. But then what? Where does Darnell Foreman goes from here? What happens when all of this attention is gone?
When Foreman first arrived at Penn in 2014, he challenged sophomore wing Matt Howard to a game of 1-on-1. A freshman challenging a sophomore to a game of 1-on-1? “Of course,” Foreman answers, scoffing at the notion it would be any other way. Of course he called out Howard.
Forget that Howard was one of Penn’s highest ranked recruits in recent years. Forget that Howard was expected to play major minutes in the upcoming season. Forget that, at the most basic level, Howard was 6-foot-4, 185 pounds, and bigger, stronger, and more athletic than the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Foreman. Forget all of that because it didn’t matter to Foreman. Foreman wasn’t worried about seniority or rankings or size. He was worried about making statements.
Those statements didn’t just include basketball. Foreman thought Howard was lazy, while Howard thought Foreman “was over the top with everything he was doing.”
The game lasted two hours. They hacked each other. They argued about calls. There was no easy game with Darnell Foreman.
“Every time I line up against Darnell I’m bringing my best because I know he’s going to bring his best and that’s why he made me a better player and that’s why he continues to grow,” Howard says. Now, they are best friends.
Despite taking on Howard right away, the transition to college basketball was difficult for Foreman. The year before he had led small-town Pitman High School to an unlikely state championship as NJ.com named him South Jersey Player of the Year. Still, playing at Penn was another challenge. Foreman started to notice this during a pick-up summer league prior to his freshman year where he faced off against other local college basketball players. He struggled, missing routine lay-ups and open three’s. While he knew he belonged at Penn, he was having a hard time proving it, taking much of the summer to do so.
“This is what Big 5 basketball is about,” Foreman remembers thinking. “The guards are physical...I feel like I’ve been in a 12-round fight just trying to defend these bigger guards.”
Growing up in Camden, Foreman was familiar with Penn. He knew it was a strong academic school and he knew they had some good years in the past. It took until he walked the halls of The Palestra, the school’s historic home gym, where pictures of important events and players lined the walls, that he really started to understand just how deep Penn’s basketball roots ran.
“I know he respects tradition, I know he respects legacy, I know he has walked the halls of The Palestra with his eyes open and payed attention,” says Mike Lintulahti, who coached at Penn during Foreman’s freshman season and still trains him in the offseason.
Playing in pick-up with recent Penn graduates only heightened his desire to leave behind a lasting legacy. One of those players was former Penn guard and Ivy League Player of the Year, Zack Rosen, who had returned from professional basketball in Israel. It was then that Foreman had an “awe” moment, something he rarely had, playing with someone who was so successful at the university. He wanted to be like Rosen. He wanted to be like Jerome Allen, Mike Jordan, and Matt Maloney. He wanted to be a legendary Penn guard. He wanted to join those players on The Palestra walls. “That was a motivation tool,” Foreman says.
But when Foreman arrived in West Philadelphia, the Penn tradition was more representative of the past than the present. The Quakers hadn’t won an Ivy League championship in seven years when Foreman arrived in 2014. Not even Rosen had been able to add to Penn’s collection of 25 Ivy League championships. Now it was Foreman’s turn, something he desperately wanted. However, in order to do so, he would need to get out of his freshman summer slump and prove that he could play at the Ivy League level.
Part of that fight was showing a lack of fear and taking on players like Howard, but an equally important part was just sticking himself in the gym.
“If you heard a ball bouncing, and if it was early in the morning or the end of the day or later than you would have expected in the evening...the person you would most expect to see is Darnell,” Lintulahti recalls. “He certainly embodied first one in, last one out, I’m going to outwork everybody kind of [work] ethic from the beginning.”
Forward Sam Jones, who lived with Foreman during their sophomore and junior years, remembers his teammate getting up early to workout before class and then going back later in the day for a second workout. “This dude was in the gym more than any high major player I know,” Jones remarked.
Foreman’s commitment to be in the gym, to work on his game, left an impression on Howard as well.
“This dude used to piss me off so much because he worked out so much and he would make you feel like you weren’t working hard even though you were,” Howard says. “This dude was just on a psycho level.”
Before one of the biggest games of Foreman’s career, he arrived at the gym early. His stroll down 33rd street with the Ivy League championship trophy was a week earlier. Now the senior was getting ready to lead the 16th seeded Penn Quakers against the number one seed Kansas Jayhawks in the NCAA tournament. It’s typical for Foreman to get extra shots up or play 1-on-1 on game days. Prior to Penn’s semifinal Ivy League tournament game against Yale, Foreman woke up at 8 a.m. for the 3 p.m. game. He had to get himself prepared.
Getting up early was probably even more important now. But that wasn’t because he would be sticking Naismith Player of the Year candidate DeVonte’ Graham or facing one of the top four college basketball teams in the country. It was because he wanted to get used to shooting in the large 15,000 seat INTRUST Bank Arena. That backdrop would be a lot different from The Palestra. Playing against Graham and Kansas -- that wasn’t what worried him. He wasn’t in awe, as he had been with Rosen during their pick-up game. He wasn’t trying to prove anything, as he had been with Howard during their 1-on-1 game. “Game respects game,” Foreman says, matter-of-factly.
That’s what he had done the week before against Harvard in the Ivy League championship. He had earned the respect of the one seeded Crimson with 19 first half points. As the team sputtered offensively, it was Foreman who took over and led the Quakers into halftime with the lead. Foreman had never been the clear cut best player on his Penn teams, but he always seemed to fill a hole when the team needed it.
After playing major minutes during his freshman year, Foreman struggled to win the starting point guard position during his sophomore season. A coaching change made this harder. Penn legendary guard and head coach for five and a half years, Jerome Allen, had recruited Foreman to Penn, but was fired following Foreman’s freshman year. Former Cornell and Boston College head coach Steve Donahue was hired to replace Allen. Donahue ran an offense that emphasised three point shooting, never Foreman’s strength. Plus Penn had a bunch of other young, talented point guards. It didn’t look like Foreman was going to play much, not that year, and maybe he would spend the rest of his Penn career on the bench. But by the end of the season, Foreman emerged as the team’s most versatile offensive and defensive option, tallying three games in the final seven with 10 or more points, 5 or more rebounds, 5 or more assists, and 2 or more steals. The Quakers, however, had trouble winning as they went 20-36 during Foreman’s first two years. The tides would soon turn.
Despite beginning his junior year behind newcomer Caleb Wood, Foreman quickly regained the starting point guard role. He finished the year with career highs in points, assists, rebounds, field goal percentage, and three point percentage. The team, after starting conference play 0-6, finished strong and made it into the inaugural Ivy League tournament (which would be hosted at The Palestra) where they would face the Princeton Tigers, who had gone undefeated in conference play. But the Quakers’ late season surge had given them some momentum too. Plus, they would have home court advantage.
The Quakers led for most of the semifinal game, before falling in overtime. It stung to have a chance at history, at winning in the first Ivy League tournament on their home floor, only to come up a few points short. Foreman knew, however, that if the team was finally going to break through and win an Ivy League championship in his senior season, he may have to make some changes.
It’s no secret among his teammates that Foreman isn’t scared to put himself out there. In Howard’s words, “the one to say stuff that no one else wanted to say.” Foreman always knew his plan -- to win an Ivy League championship, to find himself on The Palestra’s walls, to create a legacy for the next generation -- and nothing would stop that process. Sometimes that could be too much.
“He’s got kind of a blue collar, workmans like attitude and his determination, he’s trying to get better every practice, everyday,” Lintulahti says. “I think that probably is annoying to teammates sometimes, because he never takes his foot off the gas. But it’s just how he’s built. He’s a guy who is really maxed out.”
His confidence, too, could lead to stubbornness, as assistant coach Nat Graham noted in a guest column for The Daily Pennsylvanian following the 2017-18 season. Jones also added that Foreman could “have a really upfront attitude” which made him “harsh on people” at times.
That was just how Foreman was wired. Howard calls it Foreman going “100% full throttle.” Still, this style didn’t always work. Throughout his senior year, with a talent-filled and personality-filled team, teammates noticed a difference in Foreman. The undeniable drive and determination still there, but more control over how he led.
“From his freshman year everyone has been trying to coach him, everyone’s been trying to hold him back,” Jones says. “He has so much energy, so much want, and so much passion that sometimes it overwhelms a lot of people that can’t be coached that way. So he had to learn how to coach on the court to every type of person. He could yell at me or he could yell at Matt Howard in his normal way that he had been used to and accustomed to. As a leader you have to learn how to talk and communicate with people that aren’t easily attuned to that.”
On the court, as a senior, Foreman enjoyed his best year at Penn. Handed the keys to the team from the beginning of the season, he thrived as the leader and starting point guard. He was more balanced on the court as well, knowing when it was time to take over and shoot and when it was time to pass up shots and move the ball. He notched a career high 44.7% from the field, while averaging 10.7 points per game, his best ever at Penn. On defense, he could switch and stick bigger guys, like Yale’s 6-foot-7 first team All-Ivy guard Miye Oni, harassing them with his long arms. But one of his biggest improvements was his ability to get to the free throw line, attempting more than double the amount of free throws he had taken during his junior season.
As Foreman made changes for the better of the team, he kept his identity in check. He continued to push himself in the gym, while riding his teammates a little less. As a result, he played his best when it mattered the most, like during that Ivy League championship game against Harvard. After leading Penn to their first winning record since 2011-12, the senior opened the game with 11 of the team’s 13 points. As the first half came to a close with the clock reading 12 seconds, the Quakers gathered a rebound. Down by one, a big shot could send The Palestra into a frenzy.
Fellow guard Antonio Woods brought the ball up the floor, but, noticing the moment, almost instantly gave it back to Foreman, who came off a screen and nailed a fadeaway three point shot with two players draped all over him. He sprinted off the court towards Penn’s locker room, flapping his arms up and down, telling the crowd to get louder, but he never cracked a smile. There was still work to be done.
It was unequivocally a bad shot, even with the clock winding down. His teammate AJ Brodeur, who had set the screen, stood five feet away from him, wide open. But it was just one of those confident shots for Foreman.
Almost an hour after Penn beat Harvard 68-65 and won its first Ivy League tournament championship, Foreman had an idea. 18 years ago, Ivy League Player of the Year, Mike Jordan, sat on the rim after his Penn team won the Ivy League title. It was captured and placed in The Palestra halls. For four years, Foreman had walked and studied the history that was plastered on these walls. He knew exactly what Jordan did following his championship. He knew that another Penn great, Ibrahim Jaaber, would mimic Jordan seven years later. There was only one way to honor those who came before him.
After Steve Donahue cut down a last piece of the net and climbed down the ladder, Foreman got ready to climb back up. When he got up there, he sat himself on the basket, just as Jordan had done, paying homage to the great guard. The perfect painting of Foreman emerged with him on the rim, net in hand, mouth open, and hands up.
Darnell Foreman sits on the basket after defeating Harvard in the Ivy League championship game.
(Benjamin Simon/The Empire)
After winning the Ivy League championship, Darnell Foreman walks from The Palestra with the trophy.
(Benjamin Simon/The Empire)
A week later, the Quakers would fall to Kansas 76-61 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. No more Palestra games. No more Ivy League championships. No more chances at the NCAA tournament. And then there was the attention, the articles, the autographs, the tweets, and the congratulations from professors. Those things would be gone soon as well. From seeing him sit on the basket to carrying the trophy around Penn’s campus, Foreman seemed like someone who enjoyed the public spotlight. But it was the exact opposite.
“He doesn’t care about that type of stuff,” Howard says. “He expects that from himself. Everything that happened he already expected that. So it’s nothing new to him.”
It wasn’t the spotlight from the public that he so cherished, but the recognition from the legendary Penn players who had played before him. So when asked about the most memorable interaction he had following the Ivy League championship, he instantly mentioned Mike Jordan. That happened in San Antonio, Texas.
More than a month after the Ivy League championship, Foreman flew to Texas to play in the Dos Equis 3x3U National Championship. In its first year, the 3-on-3 tournament was designed for college basketball players who had exhausted their four years of eligibility to win money ($1,000 per win, $50,000 for capturing the title). The tournament was organized by conferences and after winning their group, the Ivy League would fall in the quarterfinals to the Big West conference.
In the meantime, Foreman sat down with Jordan at the 3-on-3 tournament. After capturing the Ivy League crown, Jordan had reached out to Foreman via phone to congratulate him. Speaking with Jordan in person was different. It was meaningful to Foreman that, despite never receiving higher than Honorable Mention All-Ivy, former players like Jordan respected his game, admired his accomplishments, and wanted to meet him.
“They’re telling you that you did a great job and that you’re up there with as far as legacy wise. You go to a place like Penn, you never expect yourself to be thought of or even considered with those types of players,” Foreman says.
And so with a championship under his belt, Foreman has the next piece of his puzzle to fill. “It just gets back to the grind,” says Foreman. After his college career ended, he was faced with a decision to play professional basketball or head into the workforce. There wasn’t much of a discussion, however. Foreman had known for a while that professional basketball would be his next step after college. “His whole day, his whole life” is centered around basketball, Howard noted. It didn’t come as a surprise that he would choose to continue playing.
“[Foreman] has a passion and a love for the game,” Lintulahti says. “You can tell when it’s just in someone’s complete DNA, it’s how they define themselves in many ways. He’s one of those guys.”
While he rested his ailing foot and aching muscles following the end of his Penn career, Foreman started the process of finding an agent. That’s when he met Merle Scott, who would help him schedule workouts and garner invitations to exposure camps in front of American and international teams. But Foreman couldn’t stay away from basketball for too long and two weeks after his final game, he jumped back into the gym. “Grind mode,” he calls it.
These days Foreman is grinding in Philadelphia, playing pick-up with current professional players, getting in the gym several times a day, and working out with various trainers, including Lintulahti. One major point of emphasis has been his jump shot. While Foreman wasn’t a poor three point shooter in college, he wasn’t a great one either. With a career three point percentage of 28%, Foreman will also have to adapt to a longer three point line at the professional level. And just as he did at Penn, he will once again have to get used to a new level of physicality that comes with playing against grown men.
By early August, he should start to hear from professional teams, probably overseas. Foreman doesn’t have an idea of where he’ll end up, but says “I’m willing to experience new places and adopt to different cultures.”
Regardless of where he goes, Foreman knows he will wake up before practice to workout, he will matchup against the best players on opposing teams, and, as he did at Pitman and Penn, he will win.
“I do this,” he reminds those around him. In other words, don’t worry about Darnell Foreman. This is just what he does.