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Men's basketball looks as strong as last year's
Ivy champs. By Noel Hynd
"We love playing
the toughest teams," senior point guard Michael Jordan said recently.
"We live for this. We like to prove to the nationally ranked teams
that we can play with them."
Jordan and the rest of the
impressive Penn mens basketball squad that Coach Fran Dunphy has
assembled will get their wish earlyand oftenthis season.
Penn won the Ivy title last
year, with a record of 13-1 in league play (21-6 overall), and once again
will be the team the other Ivy schoolsnotably Dartmouth, which returns
four starters, and our traditional hoop playmates from Tigertownwill
be gunning for. But the Quakers will not have a moment to consider any
of last years laurels, much less rest upon them. The season opener
is against Kentucky on Nov. 17, a game that should be broadcast somewhere
on your cable TV system. Then theres Penn State, California (at
the Golden Bear Classic at Berkeley, Dec. 28-29) and Kansas, not to mention
old Big 5 foes Temple, Villanova and St. Joes.
"Is Penn coach Fran
Dunphy a bit of a sadist?" asked a writer recently in one of the
national college-basketball yearbooks. The answer is nobut the coach
does know how to get his team ready for post-season with an early tough-as-nails,
Reaching the post-season
is a distinct possibility again this year. (Much as Id like to say
probability, I learned long ago to limit my use of the word to
statistics classes and keep it out of sports columns.) Among the 21 wins
achieved by last years Quaker squad was one that snuffed a 17-game
losing streak to Temple; they also were impressive in narrow losses to
Kansas and to Florida in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Andjust
for funI might as well remind everyone that the 25-point Penn victory
at Princeton last year was Princetons worst home loss ever at Jadwin.
(We wont discuss last years game against Princeton at the
In any case, this years
team can be just as successful as last years Ivy champs, if not
more. But the cast has changed a bit.
The foundation for this years
team are the three starters from last year who will return:
In the backcourt, Michael
Jordan led the Quakers last year in every important statistical category:
points, assists, steals and minutes played. For the second year in a row,
he was first-team All-Ivy and Big 5 selection. Then there are the intangibles:
When the team needs a special something from Mr. Jordan, the team gets
it. Typical: In the win against Temple last year, Jordan played the entire
45 minutes of the overtime game and was 4-4 from three-point territory.
Senior Matt Langel returns
to fill the other starting position in what looks to be (again) the best
backcourt in the Ivy League, and one of the best in the country. Langel
started all 27 games for Penn last year, shooting 44 percent from the
field and 42.9 percent from three-point range. Last year, Langel also
demonstrated a flair for making the late crucial shot to put a win awaynotably
against Harvard, La Salle and St. Joes.
Up front at the center position,
one prays for the continuing good health of senior center Geoff Owens.
Having the 6-foot-11-inch
Owens in the line-up is much like stationing an aircraft carrier in front
of the net Penn is defending: Opponents just cant get in to get
a good shot that often. Last year, Owens set a new Penn record with 58
blocked shots. His total as a freshman three years ago (40) is still the
fourth best seasons mark. Geoffs nickname is "Big."
Get the idea?
Two years ago, Owens sat
out the season due to a health problem. Last season, he fractured his
jaw in the Dartmouth game diving for a loose ball. Following surgery,
he did not miss a game (or a practice); in fact, one week after surgery
he scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds against Princeton in the
title-clinching final game of the season. Without Owens in the line-up
two seasons ago, opponents shot nearly 46 percent from the field against
the Quakers. Last year, with Owens back, opponents shot 40.7 percent.
Unlike last year, when Owens
needs a breather this season, Coach Dunphy has another large individual
to plant at the center position: Oggie Kapetanovic, a 6-foot-10-inch,
225-pound junior who transferred from Brown and sat out last year. He
also might be part of the answer to Dunphys biggest question: Who
replaces Paul Romanczuk W99 and Jed Ryan, the starting forwards
from last year?
Kapetanovic put up very respectable
numbers as a freshman and sophomore at Brown. So, in addition to spelling
Owens at center, he will compete with 6-foot-8-inch freshman Ugonna Onyekwe
for the power forward position. Onyekwe, from London, England, via Mercersberg
Academy in Pennsylvania, was sought by several top-25 programs in the
But there are several other
contenders who could start and will definitely see significant playing
time. Junior Josh Sanger played in all 27 of Penns games last year,
started twice, and consistently demonstrated tough physical play when
he was on the court. Jon Tross, a junior, played in 11 games last year
and showed a knack for running the floor and getting off a good shot.
Senior Frank Brown reemerged last season after missing almost all of the
two previous years plagued by a knee injury. Last year he played in 23
games, the most since playing in 27 as a freshman. His three-point shot
percentage46.2was the best on the squad, and (keep your fingers
crossed about that knee) he figures to have a lot of playing time this
year. Yet another possibility is sophomore Dan Solomito, who played very
few minutes last year, but impressed with several of them.
While Ugonna Onyekwe is the
only freshman with a chance at starting this year, Penn has five other
incoming recruits who not only figure to see time on the court, but whose
names will sound more familiar in the next few years. This is, in fact,
Penns most impressive group of incoming freshman in recent memory.
Harold Bailey is an off-guard
with an excellent outside shot. Dave Klatzky, a point guard, has a reputation
as a fine outside sniper. Andrew Coates and Koko Archibong had stellar
high-school careers in the forward position, while Duane King can play
both forward and guard with considerable athleticism. In sports, potential
means "havent done it yet," but theres quality hoop
material here. Some games may be more interesting in the way they give
us a preview of the future than in the actual final scores.
The bottom line: Look for
another fine Penn team and dont pay too much attention to the early
Noel Hynd C70 writes on sports for the Gazette.
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