Josh Verlin is the owner/editor of the excellent City of Basketball Love. COBL covers high school and college basketball in the Philadelphia area. We asked Josh to give us a little more perspective on what Penn brings to the table.
Q: So, I guess the obvious question would be what happened with Tony Hicks? Forget on the floor for a second, how do you think his unexpected departure effects the teams psyche?
JV: What it seems is that Hicks wanted to have the ball in his hands a lot and be a featured player as a senior, but that wasn’t quite on how Donahue wanted to use him; Hicks just didn’t think this was the best situation to play out his senior year, and so he withdrew. Honestly, I don’t think it’s going to have that much of an effect on the team’s psyche; the focus for Penn is on the future anyways, and this will just mean more minutes for some youngsters who will be the ones to lead the Quakers back to the top of the Ivy League, if that happens in a year or two.
Q: How does not having Hicks affect the teams style of play?
JV: It won’t in the slightest. Donahue’s been installing his system, which will be his system no matter who’s running it–which is one major reason Hicks wasn’t very happy. It means that freshman guard Jake Silpe will slide into the starting lineup, where he’ll likely take over point guard duties from Antonio Woods though the two will both have the ball in their hands quite often. Donahue’s focus is all about high-percentage shots, whether that’s open 3-pointers or layups, and he’s not going to alter that one bit based on Hicks’ presence or absence.
Q: Who are some names Robert Morris fans should know?
JV: Silpe, mentioned above, could be the player to bring about the Penn basketball renaissance. A 6-2 point guard, he’s a tough-as-nails leader who was the two-time South Jersey Player of the Year, and he was wanted by more than a dozen Division I schools for a reason. He’s got excellent court vision and toughness, defends at a high level and was arguably the team’s most impressive performer in its Red & Blue scrimmage last month.
Beyond Silpe, Woods looks headed for a big sophomore season after averaging more than 8 ppg and nearly 4 apg as a freshman. Another 6-2 guard, he’s a solid outside shooter who is crafty when he gets into the lane, and will also fit well into Donahue’s system. His classmates include 6-7 Sam Jones, who will start at the ‘4’ slot but is out there for his perimeter shooting ability, and 6-7 Mike Auger, a bull of a power forward who will come off the bench.
The x-factor could be Darien Nelson Henry, a 6-11 senior center who’s seen plenty of minutes in his Quaker career but hasn’t quite had the breakout season many expected of him upon his arrival. He had high-major offers coming out of Washington (state, not D.C.), and Donahue is going to make him more of a focal point than what Jerome Allen did; Nelson-Henry has been coming out to the perimeter now and even attempting some 3-pointers as well as putting the ball on the floor.
Q: What kind of team does Penn have this season? What are your expectations for them?
JV: Penn’s definitely young–Silpe, Auger, Jones, Woods, and more freshmen (shooting guard Jackson Donahue and forward Max Rothschild will play this year, and there are others who should develop into good players) mean that Donahue has talent to work with moving forward, but by no means should they roll over this year. I would expect them to improve throughout the season as they get used to themselves and their new coach, but I think this team is a year away from being a serious threat. Donahue’s had success in the Ivy League before, but nobody knows how much of an impact he’ll actually have on the team until they take the court for a few games.
Q: Finally, what do you expect from this game?
JV: Honestly, I’m not expecting this one to be very pretty. Both teams are young, and with all the new rule changes and emphasis expected to create foul-heavy contests, I feel this could be one of those games. I think there will be some good energy in the Palestra for Donahue’s debut and Toole’s return, but I have no idea how either team will react. I’ll take Penn by a few points considering RMU is still young, 64-58.