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