Penn guard Devon Goodman dribbles the ball at the Palestra.
(Photo courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania)
In the past few years, the University of Pennsylvania’s Men’s Basketball team has finished below the expectations of the players, coaches, and fans alike. Since Penn’s streak of first place finishes in the early 2000’s, the former Ivy League power house has had eight losing seasons, including two second to last finishes and one last place finish. Despite almost a decade long struggle to climb back onto the Ivy League throne, the 2017-2018 Penn team has a plethora of guards who have shown the potential to help Penn not only reclaim their crown, but also rebuild their once great dynasty.
Head coach Steve Donahue’s upperclassmen guards are undoubtedly some of the most effective players in the Ivy. This cast includes two seniors in Darnell Foreman, who placed in the Ivy League Top 30 players in five categories in 2016-17, and Caleb Wood, who was fourth on the team last year in 3-point baskets with 27.
Penn’s junior guards include Antonio Woods, Jake Silpe, and Jackson Donahue. Woods hasn’t played college ball in a year and a half due to academic ineligibility, but showed a ton of promise in his first two years on the team. Silpe had a strong season his freshman year, but struggled mightily in his sophomore year. Donahue is a sharp shooter, who can play both the ‘1’ and ‘2’.
But Penn needs more than just its upperclassmen guards to perform at the highest level. Freshman Jelani Williams is equipped with an arsenal of skills including an incredible ability to make sharp moves that allow him to get spacing for an open jumper.
Penn will also need the help of sophomores Devon Goodman and Ryan Betley. Goodman finished his freshman year in the Top 15 for Ivy players in assists per game while Betley finished his season third on the team in points per game while averaging over 28 minutes per game.
Here’s how these pieces fall into place for this year and the years to come.
Darnell Foreman’s career has been all about yearly growth. In his freshman year, he played in every game and averaged 3.5 points and nearly 2 rebounds in 21.3 minutes per game. In his sophomore year, he played even better, averaging 5.4 points per game, 2.7 rebounds per game, and placed second on the team in assists and third in steals. Last season was his best season by far. The Camden native racked up 12 double digit scoring games, led the Quakers with 96 assists, and snatched up 22 steals.
This yearly growth brought Penn from a last place finish in his freshman year to a fourth place finish in his junior year. During that same span, Foreman has also yet to miss a game, a feat that allowed Foreman to become team captain and the starting point guard. Antonio Woods will have to mimic Foreman’s unbroken streak of games if Penn wants to be a force to be reckoned with in the Ivy.
Before being put on academic probation, Antonio Woods was an integral part of the team. The last time Woods put on a game uniform he led Penn to more than half of their total victories on the season in his 13 games with the team. During that span, he averaged nearly 11 points per game.
Woods showed his ability to effectively run the offense by racking up 11 more assists than Penn’s star small forward Matt Howard during the entire season, who started in all of Penn’s games in the 2015-16 season. Even though Howard played small forward, his play resembled that of a guard. He would bring up the ball on a regular basis and could shoot and pass and dribble at a similar level as many of Penn’s guards at the time.
Woods may have a hard time rebounding from such a lengthy suspension. Coach Donahue will likely ease him back into more and more playing time until he proves he can at least compete at the level he did in his sophomore year. This system might also help ease his fellow junior Jake Silpe back into more playing time as well.
Cherry Hill, New Jersey native Jake Silpe had a tremendous freshman year playing in all 28 games and finishing in the top 15 in the Ivy for assists and steals per game and in the top 40 in rebounding.
Silpe’s sophomore year was much more of a struggle. He scored just 23 points in 10 games after scoring 24 points in his first six games as a freshman. Silpe won’t start, but if he can prove in the little playing time that he gets this season that he can consistently contribute, the Quakers will be a tough team to beat. Because of Silpe’s lack of playing time last year, someone had to step up in his place. That’s where Jackson Donahue comes in.
Donahue played in 27 of Penn’s games last year. Despite not starting, he managed to lead the team in 3-point baskets with 47, while averaging nearly 7 points per game. He also racked up 9 double-digit scoring games and was fourth on the team in assists. Donahue will likely come off the bench this year, but will no doubt add a much needed shooting presence at a moment's notice.
But of course, these explosive guards need people to pass to. That’s where freshman Jelani Williams and junior Caleb Wood come into play.
Jelani Williams is equipped with an arsenal of skills that includes a quick release on his jump shot and a quick first step. He can use that quick first step to get himself to the hoop where he can finish off his defender’s wide-eyed teammates with a thunderous one-handed dunk.
Although it is unclear how much playing time he’ll receive this year, the 6-foot-5 guard has the chance to become one of Penn’s next elite players due to the amount of talent that surrounds him. All of his fellow guards have something to offer him.
Antonio Woods can offer advice on how to man Donahue’s offense effectively, while also staying on top of one’s academic life. At the same time, Jake Silpe can show him how to rebound from a bad season and Darnell Foreman can show him how to maintain an injury free career which is specifically helpful considering the fact that Williams suffered an injury to a ligament in his left knee. Caleb Wood can show him how to walk softly and carry a big stick as Williams has a tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve.
The son of a former NBA player David Wood, Caleb Wood attended two California community colleges before arriving on Penn’s campus in the fall of 2016. He immediately made an impact dropping 27 three-point baskets (fourth on the team), 17 assists, and 10 steals.
Unlike Jelani Williams’ thunderous drives down court that end in the crowd yelling “OOOOHH” while pointing and laughing at the embarrassed defender, Wood keeps his plays short, sweet, and simple. He makes a quick move to the basket and either lays up the ball easily or throws a easy pass to an open man for the bucket.
This style of play resembles his personality on the court. During practice he is quiet but clearly focused. With no expression on his face, he makes jumpers rain from any part of the court.
The final member of this list of elite guards are two promising sophomores who flashed moments of greatness last year.
6-foot, 160-pound guard, Devon Goodman, is a bullet across the court that makes a living out of getting assists. He was one of the main players that ran the point for coach Donahue in the 2016-17 season. The Pennsylvania native finished third on the team in the assist column with 42, while also poaching 16 steals. He additionally had three double digit scoring games. Goodman’s game complements fellow Pennsylvania native, Ryan Betley.
Despite missing the first nine games of the season with a broken bone in his right hand, Betley averaged nearly 12 points per game and was sixth among Ivy players in 3-point field goal makes per game, averaging nearly two a game. He was third on the team with 35 three-pointers and tied for 3rd in double-figure scoring games with 12. He did all of this in just 18 games.
Goodman and Betley are in a similar position as Jelani Williams in that they have a lot of people around them that will help them improve themselves and the team in the future. While Goodman will likely see minutes off the bench this year, Betley will start and be a focal point of the offense.
The Quakers had their first game against the Fairfield Stags on Saturday where they fell 80-72. Coach Donahue went with a 13-man rotation that included a guard heavy lineup. This core of guards, however, will continue to shape itself throughout the year. Each brings different skillsets to the table and it will be interesting to see how they mesh. When coach Donahue does find that rotation and all of these pieces start working as one organism along with powerful forwards A.J. Brodeur and Max Rothschild, Penn has a chance to become the dynasty they once were and restore the Palestra as the palace of the Ivy.
The Empire's season podcast series will cover college basketball in the City 6. We will be releasing a podcast to accompany a written report covering our outlook for the teams' seasons. Please note that the podcasts and the written season previews may differ in writers and opinion.
After starting the year 7-12 and 0-6 in the Ivy League, Penn’s 2016-17 season looked done. But the Quakers rallied, going on a five game win streak to put them back in the Ivy League playoff hunt. After Jackson Donahue’s game winning 3-pointer against Harvard, Penn found themselves in a historic position, being the fourth seed in the Ivy League’s first ever tournament. Head Coach Steve Donahue returns for year three where he’ll certainly have one of his most talented teams since coming to Penn in 2015.
Who’s Gone? Matt Howard (G/F, Graduation), Dylan Jones (F, Graduation), Shawn Simmons (F, Unknown reason)
Penn loses their multidimensional guard/forward in Matt Howard. Howard at times would be the team’s go-to scorer and leading rebounder while also sticking the team’s best player on the other end. He covered the opposing team’s ‘4’ man, but could also switch to their wings as well. His versatility -- offensively, defensively, and off the court -- cannot be replicated by any one person on this year’s team, but they hope to make up for that with depth. Dylan Jones and Shawn Simmons did not have the same impact that Howard had. Jones is now doing a post-grad year at Rice while it is unclear why Simmons is no longer listed on the Penn roster.
Who’s New? Eddie Scott (G, Fr.), Jelani Williams (G, Fr.), Mark Jackson (C, Fr.), Jarrod Simmons (F, Fr.)
Although Coach Donahue brings in one of his smaller recruiting classes since coming to Penn, he adds four legitimate first year contributors. Eddie Scott headlines the class after coming out of the much accredited basketball school of Gonzaga College High School. Scott, a confident, athletic 6-foot-6 guard, has a silky jumpshot and played on a stacked Team Takeover AAU team in high school. He is used to the bright lights and has consistently played against strong competition throughout high school. Jarrod Simmons may also throw a wrench into this year’s lineup. The big man from Crescent, PA had 11 points in the Red and Blue scrimmage as one of the higher scorers. If Simmons can edge out Rothschild and fit better with Brodeur he could be thrust into major minutes. His senior year averages of 19 points and 13 rebounds per game were no joke.
Mark Jackson could also do the same. It’s not a secret that the Ivy League doesn’t boast many 7-footers and he could find minutes quickly if he picks up the system and gets comfortable. Jackson spent the last two years on a Mormon mission trip and will have to get accustomed to college basketball before he finds consistent minutes. Jelani Williams, who is also from Washington D.C., went to Sidwell Friends School, where the Obamas and former Villanova star Josh Hart attended. Williams sat out during the Red and Blue scrimmage, but he also presents an interesting case to play with his 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame fitting into the point guard skills he possesses. However, Williams tore his ACL midway through his senior year of high school. The guard had averaged 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 2.2 steals up until that point. While he has been practicing, Williams was held out of the team’s intrasquad scrimmage and with a tall order of point guards, Williams may benefit from a year of getting used to college basketball, fully recovering, and learning from the competitive list of point guards ahead of him.
Projected Starting Lineup:
G, Sr.: Darnell Foreman (Proj. Stats: 6 PPG, 4 APG, 1.5 SPG)
Darnell Foreman returns for year four at Penn and it is looking to be his best. Foreman has improved every year since he has came to Penn, bumping his scoring averages over the years from 3.5 points per game his freshman year to 5.4 his sophomore year to 8.3 last year. He even saw his field goal percentage rise to 40% after shooting a poor 32% in the 2015-16 season. The guard from New Jersey will not be asked to score however, as the Quakers have a fair amount of firepower in that department. Instead, he will be a playmaker and a go-to perimeter defender. His long wingspan gives him the tools to cover the ‘2’ while his offensive skilset, compared to Woods’, should give him the keys to run the ‘1’.
G, Jr.: Antonio Woods (Proj. Stats: 10 PPG, 4 APG, .48 FG%)
After sitting for the past year and half, Antonio Woods comes back to Penn as a junior, with two years of eligibility remaining. Woods’ return has been much anticipated. The guard from Cincinnati is experienced, composed, and just a flat out good basketball player. Foreman solidified himself as a major part of the rotation as last season progressed, so Woods will have to coexist with Foreman as the ‘2’ man. But Woods’ ability to shoot and control the ball is invaluable and coach Donahue should sacrifice size for his basketball IQ.
Penn guard Antonio Woods posts up former La Salle guard/forward Rohan Brown.
(Luke Risher/Staff Photographer)
G, So.: Ryan Betley (Proj. Stats:13 PPG, 3 RPG, .44 3P%)
Betley is nearly a lock to start for the Quakers after a scorching hot stretch to finish out the year. The guard began the season battling a hand injury, but didn’t miss a beat when he began his first collegiate games. Betley scored double-digits in six of the team’s nine wins that he played in and was a huge factor in the Quakers’ turnaround. In their five game win streak that propelled the Quakers back into the playoff hunt, Betley averaged 17.2 points per game while shooting 48% from 3. Betley ultimately earned the highest offensive box-plus minus on last year’s team with 2.7, showing his value to the team when he’s on the floor. If the Quakers want to find their way back to the Ivy League tournament, Betley’s ability to shoot will be paramount. The inside-outside game with AJ Brodeur combined with the point guards’ playmaking abilities and coach Donahue’s system will create many open opportunities for Betley. He will need to capitalize on them or the Quakers will struggle without a major component of their offense.
F, So.: AJ Brodeur (Proj. Stats: 15 PPG, 7 RPG, 2 BPG)
The big man from Massachusetts returns for his second year in the red and blue. Brodeur emerged quickly as Penn’s most effective player on both offense and defense. His ability to bang with the best, but also step out and hit a mid-range jumper or even 3-pointer gave him an average of 13.8 points, top on the team. He was equally effective on the other end of the floor, averaging 2.4 blocks per game in addition to 6.9 rebounds. Of the players in the Ivy League who played over 50 minutes the entire season, Brodeur was ranked fifth with an overall box plus-minus of 4.5. Brodeur’s skillset works perfectly in coach Donahue’s system and he will look to solidify himself as the Ivy League’s best big man.
F, Jr.: Max Rothschild (Proj. Stats: 6 PPG, 7 RPG, .58 FG%)
Max Rothschild returns as the perfect person to complement Brodeur’s game. The big, aggressive, hard playing forward will provide the Quakers with offensive and defensive efficiency. Rothschild will be able to push Brodeur to the ‘4’ where he will be matched up against smaller defenders. Rothschild will need to play hard and make his open opportunities (shot 54% from the field last year). The Chicago native was second on the team last year in total rebounding percentage with 14% as well. That is what they’ll need from him, especially if coach Donahue chooses to play two point guards. With that said, he can also score, exemplying that his freshman season when he exploded for two 18-point games and a 14-point game in an average of 24 minutes across those three games. Expect this position to be interchangeable however, as coach Donahue may opt to go for a more uptempo, better shooting lineup as the year progresses.
Reserves: Matt MacDonald (G, Sr.), Caleb Wood (G, Sr.), Devon Goodman (G, So.), Jake Silpe (G, Jr.), Jelani Williams (G, Fr.), Jackson Donahue (G, Jr.), Tyler Hamilton (G, Jr.), Sam Jones (F, Sr.), Eddie Scott (G, Fr.), Jarrod Simmons (F, Fr.)
The point guard position will be a hotly contested battle because there are simply not enough minutes to go around for many players. While Foreman and Woods will certainly see minutes, it is not set in stone who will be the first point guards off the bench. Caleb Wood started the beginning of last season, but lost the job and was buried on the bench in favor of the then freshman Devon Goodman. Wood brings true scoring and shooting ability, attributes that are important in Donahue’s offense. Goodman is different than Wood and brings a more “true point” guard feel. One of the quickest point guards in the Ivy League, Goodman is a strong defender and a good decision maker. And then there’s Jake Silpe, the steady, competitive point guard from South Jersey. Silpe has still yet to get comfortable in his first two years at Penn. He was handed the keys his freshman season but failed to seize the reins, and after averaging 23 minutes per game his first year, he played only 7 minutes per game in his sophomore season. If Silpe wants to find minutes he has to do a better job of controlling the offense (2.2 turnovers per game freshman year) and has to compete harder than the other point guards. Jelani Williams also will check in as a ‘1’, but will likely see the least amount of minutes between all of the freshmen. Jackson Donahue, as a 2-guard, sits in the same boat as the point guards and will probably be competing with them for minutes at the ‘2’. Donahue was up and down last year after a promising freshman season where he looked like the next great Penn guard. Donahue should see minutes because of his ability to shoot and his leadership. He could possibly be a scoring spark plug off the bench after leading the team in 3-point attempts last season.
Matt MacDonald serves as an x-factor and sleeper off the bench. He could see some minutes in place of Matt Howard’s minutes from last season. Howard was often asked to cover the other team’s 4-man due to his size and competitiveness. MacDonald, who has bulked up from 185 pounds to 200 pounds since being at Fairleigh Dickinson (where he spent two years), could do the same for the Quakers. While he’s not as strong as Howard is defensively, his size is encouraging for that small ball lineup. On the offensive end, he can provide mismatches, especially with his ability to shoot. After starting last season, MacDonald struggled and found his way to the bench by the end of the year, but his size, experience, and leadership may be enticing for coach Donahue.
At the ‘2’ and ‘3’, Tyler Hamilton could also etch out some minutes like he has done in the past. Hamilton is an athletic guard who will compete and hit his open shots. Playing more of the ‘3’ and ‘4’, Sam Jones is a streaky shooter, but owns one of the nicest jumpshots on his team. His 6-foot-7 size also presents an enticing option. The athletic freshman wing Eddie Scott could also very well factor in at the off-ball position. He provides a dimension to the game that isn’t already brought to the table. That should be a nice tactic for Donahue to throw in here and there. Jarrod Simmons, like mentioned above, could see minutes if the Rothschild experiment doesn’t work. Donahue is not afraid to rotate freshmen in the lineup and that bodes well for Simmons.
The bottom line is that the Quakers are deep and maybe even the deepest in the City 6. Coach Donahue loves to play around with rotations and it would be no surprise to see the lineup change many times before he comes to a starting group that he likes. Anyone and everyone will have a shot to see time in Donahue’s system.
vs. La Salle (Nov. 13th, 2017)
In the second game of the season, Penn will face a tough matchup with La Salle coming to the Palestra. It will be a big test for the Quakers in their quest to return to the Ivy League Tournament. Not only will it be an important measuring stick for the team, but it will also be a good opportunity to set the tone early. A win against a Big 5 rival at the Palestra to start the season would be a huge confidence booster for the talent filled team. La Salle will be led by 6-foot-7 forward BJ Johnson, who can shoot, drive, and create for his teammates. He will be a matchup problem for the Quakers. It will be a good test to see how Penn is able to challenge a team with a star like Johnson.
at Dayton (Dec. 9th, 2017)
Penn travels to A-10 juggernaut Dayton right before the beginning of conference play. The Flyers are coming off a 24-8 season and an NCAA tournament berth. Beating Dayton could be a huge confidence booster heading into Ivy League play. It will also give the Quakers a taste of NCAA Tournament caliber competition. The better teams that Penn faces throughout the season, the more prepared they’ll be down the stretch of Ivy League play.
vs. Princeton (Jan. 5th, 2018)
How could Princeton not make the list? The last time Penn played Princeton, they walked out of the Palestra after an overtime loss in the Ivy League’s first ever conference tournament. Leading most of the game and on the brink of history, the Quakers just couldn’t get it done against their archrival. What better way to begin Ivy League play than facing Princeton once again. This time, Penn is a year older and the Quakers will look to get the best of the Tigers after multiple close meetings in recent years.
18-12 (8-6, Ivy League)
While the City 6 and Ivy League play always features challenging competition, their non-conference schedule combines an interesting mix of teams. While they’ll face off against lower level teams such as Fairfield, Penn State-Brandywine, and Delaware State, they’ll also be tasked with going up against Dayton, who is coming off their fourth straight NCAA Tournament berth, and Monmouth, who went 27-7 last season, just missing out on the tournament. Coach Donahue also secured the Quakers a spot in the Gulf Coast Showcase, a tournament in Florida that will feature an abundance of strong mid-major programs. Finally, the Quakers will play five road games after battling it out in the Gulf Coast Showcase. That means it will be longer than a month between home games during a stretch that spans from late November to late December, making a tough run for Donahue’s crew. The Quakers will hit some bumps in the road with their non-conference and conference schedule, but a substantial improvement from last year’s 13-15 record is expected.
“I love the pressure. I love the big games. I love the Big 5 games. I love them when there’s tons of people here (in the Palestra).… I certainly will never shy away from taking the last shot.’’ -Ryan Betley to Philly.com
“Running with the Team Takeover travel program this past spring and summer, the DMV native (Jelani Williams) is someone that is capable of facilitating an offense but also scoring the basketball in various ways, yet remains at his best as a playmaker from off of the bounce, something that Steve Donahue and his staff sold him on. ‘They told me that they would use me similar to the way that I play at Sidwell (Friends): put the ball in my hands and let me make plays,’ the versatile guard stated about how he might be used.” -HoopSeen.com on Jelani Williams
“ ‘It makes our offense better, it makes our defense better, it makes our rebounding better, if indeed AJ could play the four and be that versatile guy on both sides of the ball,’ Donahue said in the preseason teleconference. ‘Can he switch ballscreens, can he play on the perimeter on offense? I think he’s done a very good job of that, and I think you’ll see a kid who shoots the three and makes plays off the dribble.’ It’s gutsy on Donahue’s part. It’s also a worthy gamble at this point in the year: Pairing two big men can help cover for Penn’s backcourt, which is undersized and includes some iffy defenders. Offensively, Brodeur will have to work harder to find space inside, but smart teams can make it happen — just ask Yale, which has been overpowering Ivy opponents for years.” -NYCBuckets.com
“If there is a team that can crack the top three (of the Ivy League) this year, it’s Penn. A.J. Brodeur is a stud and the Quakers return just about everyone from a team that won six of their last eight games a season ago and came within a missed front-end of beating Princeton in the Ivy League tournament.” -NBCSports
“He’s just a special player. Jarrod (Simmons) put up big numbers all season long, but he was at his best in our most important games. He averaged around 24 points and 19 rebounds in the playoffs, and in the WPIAL championship game he had 22 points and 23 rebounds.” -Adam Kaufman, coach at Moon Area High School, on Jarrod Simmons To The Times after he was named the paper’s player of the year for the area.