Darien Nelson-Henry (DNH) was Penn’s most valuable player last season and the Quakers will need to replace his production if they hope to improve as a team. DNH was always active in coach Steve Donahue’s motion offense, setting ball screens and rolling towards the basket, posting up, and attacking the boards. However, DNH’s skills extend beyond those of a typical big man. One of the best parts of Nelson-Henry’s game was his passing ability. In a motion offense, a big man that can pass and make good decisions with the basketball is extremely valuable and Nelson-Henry used his height and vision to dish out a total of 1.8 assists per game. Whether it was at the top of the key or out of the post, Henry made the right decision with his passes and was able to put up an assist percentage of 15.2, a high number coming from the center position. On the offensive side of the court, this will be the most difficult aspect of Henry’s game for the Quakers to replace. Defensively, DNH was the team’s anchor. Coach Steve Donahue ran with him next to four perimeter players, and DNH alone accounted for 43% of Penn’s blocked shots and was often Penn’s only source of interior defense and rim protection.
How will the Quakers account for the loss of DNH? Penn’s projected frontcourt is deep with bodies and shallow in experience. As it stands now, there are six frontcourt players that are looking to build off of the frontcourt success that Darien Nelson-Henry found with Penn.
The most likely candidate to step into Nelson-Henry’s role in the Quakers starting lineup is sophomore Max Rothschild. Rothschild’s role came off the bench for coach Donahue last season. His freshman season, Rothschild played well for the Quakers. He averaged 5 points and 3.6 rebounds in 15 minutes per game. Rothschild has a good feel for the game and gave Penn some valuable minutes during the middle portion of last season. In the one game Nelson-Henry sat out due to an injury, a late January conference matchup at Brown, Rothschild was dynamic in replacement, scoring 18 points and grabbing 6 rebounds in 23 minutes of play. Injuries, however, did hold him out of four games last season. To successfully take on a larger role for the Quakers, Rothschild will have to stay healthy. If all things go right, he could be headed for a breakout season.
Another player who should find some time on the court is Mike Auger. The 6-foot-7 junior had a good freshman season where he saw 19 minutes per game. But injuries and a new coach set him back his sophomore year and held him to only 15 games played. If he is healthy, Auger could have a bright future with the Quakers. He has shot 56% from the field and 72% from the free throw line and holds a 20.3 defensive rebounding percentage over his two seasons as a Quaker. Augur should see time at both frontcourt positions, especially if his teammates are struggling. With that said, it is no secret that he is a tad short to have long-term success at the center spot and may be better off as a backup power forward.
Of all the incumbent frontcourt players who earned regular minutes last season, the most experienced is junior Dan Dwyer. Dwyer averaged only 1.3 points in 11 minutes per game, but made his mark through energy and defense. In Dwyer’s freshman season, he flashed the potential to be a good defensive rebounder as he boasted a 21.5 defensive rebounding percentage. However, as his minutes increased that number dropped, and in his sophomore season, he grabbed only 14.4% of available defensive rebounds. For Dwyer to see an expanded role, he will have to improve in both defensive rebounding and better develop his offensive skills, where he often seemed limited.
Dylan Jones is the solo senior manning Penn’s frontcourt next season. Jones played in only four games last year as he battled with a hand injury. Throughout his Penn career, Jones has struggled to find time on the floor and has never averaged more than seven minutes per game. He is a long, defensive minded player who should look to use his three seasons of experience to help not only himself, but his young teammates as well.
The only true center returning on Penn’s roster is sophomore Collin McManus. There is a lot of potential in his 6-foot-10, 230 pound frame. Coming into Penn, the Bedford, New Hampshire product’s strength was his shot blocking and touch around the basket. With DNH’s departure, McManus should have an opportunity to get on the floor much more next season. Although he averaged only 2.6 minutes in nine games, a year of sitting behind and learning from DNH could prove to be very good for his development.
There is also one incoming freshman that coach Donahue will be adding to the frontcourt mix next season and that is A.J. Broduer. Coach Donahue has to be happy with landing Broduer after he chose to attend Penn over Ivy League rivals Yale and Harvard. The three-star recruit is a versatile offensive player who plays the pick and roll well, has an effective post-up game, and can step out and hit a perimeter shot. A dynamic offensive player like that will fit well in the big man role for the Quakers. As a freshman, Brodeur already stands 6-foot-8 with a 215 pound frame. He will have to make the adjustment to go from being one of the physically largest players on the court in high school, to just another Ivy League big guy. Although playing time might not come right away, Broduer has the potential to be a very successful player for the Quakers and his offensive game may develop to compare to DNH’s skills with a solid pick and roll game and mature post skills.
Penn may be thin on experienced frontcourt talent, but, because coach Donahue likes to spread the floor offensively with four shooters surrounding one inside player, the Quakers need only one player to backup Rothschild at the center position and spend spot minutes at the power forward spot. Between the six big guys on Penn’s roster, there will be plenty of bodies available for coach Donahue to use. Each player has a unique skill set to contribute to the team and coach Donahue will have plenty of flexibility to experiment throughout the season. How coach Donahue utilizes Rothschild’s offensive prowess, Dwyer’s hustle, McManus’ and Jones’ interior defense, and Augur and Broduer’s all-around potential will make interesting story lines for fans to follow next season. Aside from Darien Nelson-Henry, Penn had a young squad last season and with DNH’s departure, some of the underclassmen forwards will have an excellent opportunity to develop their game. No one player will likely be able to replace the production that DNH is leaving behind. But, Quaker fans should be encouraged by the potential that is waiting to be tapped into in the young Penn frontcourt.
Photo: Nick Buchta/ The Daily Pennsylvanian
In Philadelphia, for an early Saturday in January, it was pretty warm. During the past week, it had been freezing, nipping in the 30s and low 40s. So on Saturday, January 9th, it felt pretty good for it to hit 54 degrees.
Despite the temperature it said on the thermometer, Saturday January 9th felt like it was much colder than 54 degrees for Penn fans. The night before they had been blindsided, as they lost their starting point guard Antonio Woods, who had started every game for the Quakers up until that point.
On Saturday night, the team played their best game of the season against one of the best teams (and their archrival) in the Ivy League without arguably their most valuable player, only to fall two points short in a heartbreaking loss. After the game, coach Steve Donahue fought back tears, as he reminisced on the past 36 hours and how disappointing they had been. But despite the heartbreaking finish and loss to Princeton, there was an undisputed positive that came from the game.
The world met the real Jake Silpe.
Jake Silpe came into the season holding quite a few expectations on his back. After leading nearby Cherry Hill East to a state championship appearance, Silpe was named the Inquirer's South Jersey Player of the Year and the Courier Post Player of the Year, as he averaged 18 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 rebounds. Many expected Silpe to compete for the starting guard positions if not completely seize them. And he did, starting the first seven games as a freshman at one of the Ivy League’s most successful basketball schools.
But they weren’t the best seven games Jake had played. While averaging 23 minutes per game, he only put up 4 points per contest and shot 8 for 29 from the field. Despite playing hard, Silpe didn’t look ready yet to be a starting guard competing against Division 1 competition. Silpe seemed reserved and unable to produce consistently.
Coach Steve Donahue noticed. Silpe didn’t start for the next five games, as he averaged a mere 12 minutes and failed to score above 2 points in any of the games. He even hit his low point in the season against Drexel on December 22nd, when he logged zero minutes. The next game, a match against Villanova, where Penn was annihilated in the first half, but came back in the second half, Silpe returned to the rotation, playing 25 minutes. The next game, he had earned his starting spot once again, but only played 15 minutes thanks to foul trouble against Binghamton. Although his energy level was high like usual, diving on the floor for balls, his stat line looked all too familiar -- unspectacular. He tallied 5 points, 2-3 from the field, 2 assists. Coach Donahue, however, was pleased with Silpe.
“I think he brings such competitiveness, almost like he plays too hard,” said coach Donahue after the Binghampton game. “I love his energy, I love his tenacity. I think he’s someone who did it in practice, I reward guys who did it in practice. And I sense he’s going to keep getting better.”
The production just hadn’t been there yet. That was, until a week later, where that “tenacity” and “competitiveness” was put on display, in Penn’s biggest game of the season. The production finally followed. Without starting point guard Antonio Woods, Silpe would take the reins and start at the 1. Little did he know that that would entail 42 minutes of relentless attacking. But that’s just what Silpe does.
If you look at the Princeton game for face value, Silpe’s stat line is....confusing.
42 minutes played. 11 points. 5-16 from the field. 1-4 from the line. 7 rebounds. 7 assists. 7 turnovers. 5 personal fouls.
Without seeing the game, it’s hard to identify whether it was a bad game or a good game for him. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to say whether or not he played a good game even if you did see the game. But there are some undisputed facts.
Jake Silpe played that game as the starting point guard on short notice against arguably the most experienced and talented team in the Ivy League. He was asked to play more minutes than the last three games combined. He was asked to pick up where Woods had left off and lead this team to victory. Whether he did those things or not, he was surely asked to play hard. And there’s no disagreeing that he did that.
That night we saw the true Jake Silpe, a player who is willing to fight until the very end of a game, regardless of the stat line, opponent, or circumstances. Although we had seen it before, this was against a top team, a team who would nearly win the conference. Against Princeton on January 9th, Silpe’s relentless attacking created for teammates and energized the team. Yeah, he had some reckless plays, but he produced and didn’t play passive. Without his heart, there is no way they would have competed in that game.
The game proved to be a sort of icebreaker for Silpe. After failing to score over 7 points in his first thirteen games, Silpe had seven games over that mark in the fourteen games following the Princeton game and he also doubled his points per game from the first half of the season.
Silpe’s better play earned him more minutes, as he averaged 24 minutes during the time and only had three games where he played less than 20 minutes.
This was capped off by a 13 point performance, 8 assist, 5 steal, 0 foul (the only time he would do that in a game that he played in all season) game against Dartmouth where Silpe dictated the pace of the game, relentlessly attacking the opposing guards.
“[Jake Silpe] had some bad turnovers tonight,” Donahue said after the Dartmouth game. “What I liked is that some kids after that, they’re done. He probably hasn’t turned the ball over four times in his career at any time. But he competed even harder. I thought the out of bounds play where he stole that ball, that was just symbolic of the fact that the kid that doesn’t quit. He’s our third leading offensive rebounder. He had two tonight. He just does those things. You love to have him on your side. He’s not great yet, but we all see what this kid can be.”
In the 14 games after the Princeton game, Silpe looked much more comfortable with making mistakes and it significantly helped to improve his game. The stat that shows that is his turnovers, which doubled after the January 9th game. He attacked and played more free, becoming comfortable in the role as the starting point guard. The hope is that after an encouraging second half, Silpe can keep playing hard, but under more control next season and with consistent confidence.
“I was just trying to play towards my instincts,” said Silpe after the first Princeton game.
For Jake Silpe, those instincts are just to play hard.
Photo: Luke Risher/The Empire