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They Got Game

Expect strong seasons for men's and women's basketball. By Noel Hynd

PERHAPS ONE CAN BEST UNDERSTAND the upcoming men's basketball season by glancing back at last year's campaign. In the opening weeks of the season, Penn lost starting-center Geoff Owens for the year to a medical condition, versatile forward/guard Frank Brown suffered a recurrence of a knee injury that had previously required surgery, and forward Paul Romanczuk struggled with a stress fracture.
   While another Ivy team of note -- the one from central New Jersey that has a large striped cat as its mascot -- captured national attention and won almost every game in sight, the Quakers lost a painful eight of their first 12 contests, including an agonizing one-point overtime squeaker against Yale in New Haven. The latter put the Quakers behind the eight ball from the very start.
   And yet they hung in. They finished a respectable second and nearly blemished Princeton's stellar record on the final day of the Ivy season, before losing another overtime heartbreaker at Jadwin.
   Okay. That was then. This is now.
   Pick up any of the national magazines that write about college hoops and you will read how the striped-cat team is expected to win the Ivies again this year. Look at the situation a little more closely, factor in how Quakers-Tigers is almost always a dogfight -- if you don't mind the strained metaphor -- and, well, let's face it: Anything can happen when the season is played. And anything probably will.
   Penn has Geoff Owens back for his senior year and -- at this writing -- classmate Frank Brown seems healthy, too. Owens will combine with seniors Jed Ryan and Paul Romanczuk to form what should be the best front court in the Ivies. Owens' return -- at 6 ft, 11 in. -- gives coach Fran Dunphy the size at center that was sorely missing last year, despite outstanding efforts by Ryan and Romanczuk, both 6 ft, 7 in. tall, to cover defensively for Owens's absence. Senior forward George Mboya unexpectedly announced that he would not be playing basketball this year, but instead concentrate on his studies.
   No contemporary basketball article is complete without the name Michael Jordan, and this is, after all, a basketball article. We speak here of Penn's Michael Jordan, however, the immensely talented junior guard who will be the Quakers' floor general again this year. Last year, Jordan did not seem to know what the term sophomore slump meant as he led the team in scoring (15.3 ppg), assists (131 -- fifth best in Penn history), steals (45), and minutes played per game (36). He was All Ivy First Team and All Big Five.
   With the return of a healthy center, Jordan does not figure -- or need -- to lead the team in so many stats this season. But he keeps improving, and Penn hoop fans can probably count on Jordan to move his game up another notch this year.
   Jordan's backcourt partner, Matt Langel, another junior, also improved over an impressive freshman year. He was sixth in the country in three-point shooting (45-90) and piled up 65 assists. Langel had a breakout game against our Harvard friends at Cambridge, scoring 32 points. The guard position will also be rounded out by sophomore Lamar Plummer, who was also a Jordan teammate previously at Abington Friends School.
   It is noteworthy too that Penn lost only one starter from last year to graduation: Garett Kreitz, C'98. The New Jersey team lost two and would appear to be a little more down to earth this year. And as usual, Penn and Princeton figure to finish one-two in the league for the umpteenth time.
   Over all? Penn's prospects for its first Ivy basketball title since 1995-96 are better than they've been since, well, 1995-96. So let the games begin.
PENN WOMEN'S BASKETBALL has never received anything close to the attention that men's basketball has received. But last year's record of 13-13 (8-6, 4th in the Ivies) was the best record for the women's program since the 1990-91 season. That record might improve again this year.
   No hoop squad, men's or women's, goes anywhere of note without a talented player at the center position. Penn has just that player in 6 ft, 2 in. sophomore center/forward Diana Caramanico, last year's Ivy, ECAC, and Big Five Rookie of the Year.
   "Diana is an all-around player and is ready to take a major leadership role with our team, the league, and the nation," coach Julie Soriero commented recently. A glance at the statistics from last year underscore what the 10th- year Penn coach is talking about. As a freshman last year, Caramanico was among the top 30 scorers in Division 1 women's basketball and was the only freshman among the rebounding leaders.
   Another important element in the success of this year's team will be the backcourt duo of sophomore Erin Ladley and junior transfer (from Boston College) Mandy West. "Erin has excellent guard skills and can shoot from anywhere on the perimeter," Coach Soriero says. "Mandy is a phenomenal shooter who has also been working on her drive to the basket. She'll be a challenge to defend, as well as a challenging defender."
   West just sat out the required transfer year, but has already been chosen as a co-captain this year. The other co-captain is the lone senior on the team, Sue Van Stone, a guard from Flourtown, Pa., and a three-year letter winner. Van Stone has played every game for the last two years and is exactly the type of student-athlete whose statistics don't tell the full story in terms of offensive and defensive contributions.
   "We're going to learn from game to game and get better from game to game," coach Soriero promises. The season starts mid-November and the Ivy season starts at home on January 4th against -- who else? -- Princeton.
Penn Extra Points: Former Penn quarterback and shortstop Mark DeRosa, W'96, was called up to the Atlanta Braves in September. He had one hit in three at-bats. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Phillies' Doug Glanville, EAS'93, was one of the National League's most durable players, hitting .279 with more than 650 at-bats.

Noel Hynd, C'70, writes on sports for the Gazette.

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