When the season began, most knew that Penn was bringing in a good freshman class. Jake Silpe and Tyler Hamilton had won state championships. Jackson Donahue was all-state as a sophomore. Max Rothschild and Collin McManus came in with already big frames at 6-foot-8, 225 pounds and 6-foot-10, 230 pounds, respectively.
People understood that these young guys would be good down the road, but not many thought that they would be major contributors in early January. And on January 2nd, against Binghamton University, the freshmen showed that they are more than ready to play significant minutes for the Quakers in their 80-45 win.
It wasn’t any coincidence that the freshmen of Penn combined for 40% of the game’s minutes, highlighted by guard Jackson Donahue’s 38 minutes played. They brought the energy and production on a day that Darien Nelson-Henry only played 13 minutes, Antonio Woods scored a mere 8 points, and Sam Jones shot just 20% from three.
Donahue, in specific, was coming off of an 18 point performance against Villanova and made the most out of his opportunity in the starting lineup versus Binghamton. He was able to pick up where he left off, hitting a three ball for the game’s first points. It was followed up with 14 points and 3 more threes.
“Jackson’s brought a lot to our team the last two games,” head coach Steve Donahue said. “I think these guys feed off him, he makes quick decisions and he can make shots, so that loosens everybody up. That loosens the defense up physically and it gets guys like [Matt Howard] even more open.”
After the guard Donahue opened up hot, Tyler Hamilton saw early minutes, despite only playing in 4 games and 8 total minutes prior to the appearance. He came in with 15:55 minutes left in the first half, before the likes of Darnell Foreman and Jamal Lewis, and showed that he can compete with the big boys. Although he hasn’t played much, Hamilton didn’t show much inexperience, as he instantly got an assist and then turned around to get a rebound on the defensive end.
“Tyler’s done an excellent job in the [last] month and a half,” added coach Donahue. “Where he’s come maturity wise to now, he deserves to get a shot and that’s what I do, I reward guys that come every day and practice, and make plays in practice. For me, you’ve got to reward guys. He’s playing well right now. I thought he played well today, he makes a couple open threes, he played great...He’s a little different than anyone we have. He’s probably similar to [Matt Howard] in athleticism and size. But he’s more of a guard, he’s got a little more up and down string to him. So he gives us something else we don’t have out there.”
And then late in the first half, when Penn held on to a strong, but not commanding 16 point lead, Chicago native Max Rothschild hit his fellow freshman, Jackson Donahue, for an open three. Later in the game, he followed it up with a beautiful post move to give Penn a 29 point lead.
“Max had a great week and that’s why you saw Max out there today,” coach Donahue said. “He got confident, he spun, he didn’t hesitate -- hit a jump hook.”
But it was really Jake Silpe who set the tone early. He came out early with lots of energy, diving for balls and playing with a certain amount of intensity that got his teammates going. He was the one who hit Jackson Donahue on his first three, and then three possessions later, he hit his own three pointer. It was Jake Silpe who helped to fuel this team early on.
“I think he brings such competitiveness, almost like he plays too hard,” responded coach Donahue. “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.”
Not only does that emulate the play of Silpe, but it does for the entire 2015 freshman class. Unlike in the first half against Villanova, where the team seemed slightly defeated, Penn came out and played with a purpose against Binghamton. The freshmen provided the spark for the Quakers and each brought energy to the team in different aspects.
Donahue hit the threes and never gave out. Silpe brought the aggression. Rothschild and Hamilton played with the confidence and poise. And although McManus didn’t get to play much, when he did check in, he was able to score 2 points and corral an offensive rebound. However, each of these guys played hard and with the intensity you want from your team. They set the tone for the team.
The bottom line is, these freshmen aren’t here to wait their turn to play in the next couple years. These freshmen are proving that they are ready to produce right away.
Photo: Luke Risher-The Empire
-Penn loses to Kansas in the first round of the NCAA tournament