On Friday October 30th The University of Penn Athletics Department released a press release disclosing that team captain and star guard Tony Hicks will not play for the Quakers this upcoming season. If Penn were to build upon their nine-win 2014-2015 season, it would have been Hicks leading the team as far as he could take it. Now, with a new head coach in Steve Donahue and the loss of their leading scorer, The Penn Quakers are looking at a rebuilding year that likely will not produce much success. Another season of hovering at the bottom of the Ivy League standings is a reasonable expectation for this year’s Penn Quakers men’s basketball team. But, looking at the big picture, I have reason to believe that the Quakers will benefit long-term from this season’s loss of Hicks.
First, I want to touch on what Tony Hicks brought to the table last season for the Penn Quakers. Hicks was the leading scorer (13.2 PPG) for a Quaker team that finished with an abysmal 60.3 points per game, good enough for 325th out of 351 NCAA Division I schools. Hicks also averaged 2.5 assists per game, second on the team. In Jerome Allen’s offense, Hicks fit in well as a player that has solid athleticism and body control when driving towards the lane and using his basketball instincts to make the best play available. Coach Allen used Hicks as the number-one scoring option in many of his offensive sets, that included “floppy” action, where Hicks would start under the basket and come off of a screen for a three-point shot, as well as “flex” action, where he would set an off-ball screen and then pop out for an open three. When coach Allen’s offense was not working, isolating Tony Hicks was never a bad option and usually resulted in him getting either a tough lay-up, or going to the foul line, sometimes both.
Hicks was also greatly valuable to the Quakers on the defensive side of the court, often guarding the opponent's best wing-scorer. Hicks’ defensive rating per 100 possessions was 107.5, not a great number, but one attribute that the box score does not include was his ability to communicate with his teammates. In any sport, team defense is about how well the players cohesively work together as one. Hicks’ prowess at this is evident simply by watching game film and noticing the amount of pointing and directing of his teammates Hicks did on defense. This “defensive floor general” role for the Quakers will need to be taken up this season; I look for senior center Darien Nelson-Henry to be Hicks’ successor.
If Hicks did play, I honestly do not see his individual skills conducive to much more team success for the Quakers this season. Considering the team was returning the majority of their rotation from last season, only marginal improvement win-loss wise could have really been expected. In his senior season, we would have certainly looked for Hicks to grow cerebrally as a basketball player and become more offensively efficient, as do most players, as they get older. If this were the case, Hicks would look to show improvement in certain areas of his game like his turnover rate (3.2 per game last season) and FG% (.403). Hicks’ improvement would have made his individual stats look better, but sometimes having one player as the first scoring option during most possessions creates problems with the offensive continuity of the entire team. Remember when the Denver Nuggets traded Carmelo Anthony in 2010 and then became instantly, inexplicably better? Or when the same thing happened to the Detroit Pistons after getting rid of Josh Smith last season? Because basketball is a team sport and good ball movement is more effective than isolation basketball, loosing a number-one scoring option is not always as big of a blow to a team’s success as it appears to be at first. Not to mention that with new head coach Steve Donahue installing his brand of the motion offense, there will be an adjustment period offensively for the entire team, even if that had included Hicks. There were also concerns of Hicks not gelling well with coach Donahue and not liking the idea of the equal-opportunity offense that Donahue is imposing. Now that Hicks is done as a Quaker, coach Donahue can find the guy he wants to be his shooting guard of the future.
Next season, coach Donahue has a number of lineup options that I could see him implementing. There are three players that are definite starters, they are; (Guard) Antonio Woods, (Guard) Matt Howard, and (Center) Darien Nelson-Henry.
The last two spots on the lineup may see some mixing and matching from coach Donahue as the season starts, as he is still learning about his new team. Sophomore forward Sam Jones is a player that I could see cracking the lineup on a consistent basis this season. Jones is a 6’7” forward that can provide a scoring punch from either the small forward or the power forward position. He was a red-hot shooter last season, making 43% of his 3-point shots, best on the team. In a motion offense, a player who plays within the confines of the offense doesn't turn the ball over (only .5 turnovers per game) and thumps 3-point shots at a 40% clip is highly valuable.
Another player that could make an appearance in the Quakers starting lineup is sophomore guard Darnell Foreman. The Camden native started 16 games for the Quakers last season (3 of them alongside Antonio Woods) and averaged 21 minutes per game. The experience that Foreman gained his freshman year will prepare him for a role as either the starting shooting guard, or backup point guard. Additionally, a much-improved jump shot hopefully will help him on the offensive end.
Sophomore forward Mike Auger registered two starts last season and will have a great opportunity to have even more this season. Auger is a prototype college power forward at 6’7” and 225lbs. He scored 5.5 points per game and grabbed 4.4 rebounds per game in 19 minutes of work per game. If Coach Donahue does not start Darnell Foreman as the shooting guard, Auger will likely find his role this season as the team’s starting power forward, with Sam Jones at small forward and Matt Howard at shooting guard. This would be a traditional lineup that provides a balance of offensive punch, rebounding, and size.
The dark-horse candidate to start for the Penn Quakers this season is freshman Jake Slipe. Slipe is a hometown kid from Cherry Hill, NJ. Last season he was the South Jersey Player of the Year by the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Courier Post and no doubt, is the highest profile freshman joining the Quakers this season. Coach Donahue may be wise to find minutes for Slipe this season so that he can adjust to the college game. His development will be crucial to the success of the Penn Quakers the next four years.
For the Penn Quakers, losing a talent like Tony Hicks will not help in the Ivy League standings. The burden is now on coach Steve Donahue to implement his system and get his players ready to go by the time the season starts. More playing time for some of the younger members of the Penn Quakers will assist in their development as a team. Two or three years from now, we may see Penn giving Princeton, Yale, Harvard, and Columbia a run for their money in the Ivy League. As for Tony Hicks, he will finish his degree at the University of Penn and have one year of NCAA eligibility remaining to most likely become a graduate-transfer and finish off his college basketball career. I wish him only the best of luck for the rest of his career.
Photo courtesy of www.pennathletics.com