By AARON BRACY
“Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” – Vince Lombardi
Before he even sat down at the microphone, I knew what Penn coach Jerome Allen was going to say after Saturday’s 78-73 season-opening loss to Temple in a Big 5 thriller at the Palestra. I’ve heard it over and over again after every Penn defeat, whether it’s against Monmouth or Duke.
In defeat, Allen won’t praise his team for the good parts of their play nor will he laud a player who has an outstanding game, like Tony Hicks did with 28 points against the Owls.
Like Lombardi, It’s all about winning for Allen.
Penn showed definite resolve by bouncing back from a 15-point deficit with just under 13 minutes left to take a late one-point lead before falling at the end. So, I asked Allen afterward what he took from the resilience Penn displayed.
“Really nothing,” Allen said plainly. “We don’t pride ourselves in putting up a good fight. It’s kind of a loser’s mentality. The game is going to come down to a direct function if we impose our will or not. It’s always about us. Why we don’t play that way from the opening tip? I guess that’s on me. We have to get better.”
Asked specifically about Hicks’ stellar game, Allen didn’t want to hear about an individual player’s offensive contribution.
“He made some shots down the stretch,” Allen said. “It’s my job to not necessarily praise him. I know he’s capable of making shots and attacking the basket. It’s my responsibility to not get caught up in the numbers. There’s only one number that matters. We’re 0-1.”
Some may take umbrage to Allen’s postgame approach, but I love it and believe it’s part of what made him one of Penn’s all-time greats as a player and why he’ll be an equally good coach. Just look at how he has transformed Penn in four short years to an Ivy afterthought to its usual place as an Ivy contender with a talented roster that will give league foes and nonconference scholarship programs headaches this season.
Allen doesn’t accept losing, demands his players to be perfect and refuses to believe the Quakers can’t compete with anybody in the country – even if conceptual wisdom tells you the talent discrepancy would seem to make that impossible. That mentality, while maybe irritating to some, spreads through the program. Suddenly, players are challenging themselves to get better and refusing to acknowledge defeat even when it’s staring them in the face like midway through the second half Saturday.
It’s why Quakers guard Miles Jackson-Cartwright could be heard screaming, “We ain’t going nowhere!” when Penn was mounting its comeback.
That’s an embodiment of the coach.
“I don’t think anybody was tougher than Jerome as a competitor,” said Temple’s Fran Dunphy, who coached Allen at Penn.
Allen probably won’t win any personality awards for his postgame press conferences. But, then, awards aren’t what he is seeking.
It’s all about wins. Just wins.
Aaron Bracy’s Weekly City 6 rankings for Nov. 11 (record in parentheses):
1. Villanova (1-0): The Wildcats take the top rung by holding serve in Friday’s opener versus Lafayette. Villanova hammered the Leopards on the glass after halftime, 25-4, but couldn’t find the range from the arc (5-for-30, 16.7 percent) all game. A healthy Ryan Arcidiacono (bruised ribs) won’t go 0-for-6 from distance, as he did Friday.
2. La Salle (0-1): The Explorers drop a spot after a deflating but not disastrous season-opening, double-overtime loss against MAAC favorite Manhattan on Saturday at a sold-out Gola. La Salle got beat on the boards 51-33, including 24-14 on the offensive glass. This defeat could serve as a positive for the Explorers to get that chip back on their shoulders.
3. St. Joe’s (1-0): Saturday’s win at Vermont was a tale of two halves for the Hawks, who practically couldn’t miss in the first 20 minutes (17-for-26, 65 percent) and couldn’t find the range after the break (7-for-26, 29.9 percent). St. Joe’s got strong games from Ronald Roberts and Langston Galloway (21 points apiece), as well as a nice debut from rookie DeAndre Bembry (11 points, 6 rebounds).
4. Temple (1-0): There was much to like in the Owls’ 78-73 victory over Penn at the Palestra Saturday night. Foremost, perhaps, was the 19-point, 9-rebound outburst by Dalton Pepper – a reminder of the talent he possesses. Temple is going to give teams fits with its athleticism. Owls could be dangerous if shots start to fall regularly.
5. Drexel (0-1): There were lots of positives to take from the Dragons’ 72-67 loss at No. 22 UCLA. What stood out to me was Frantz Massenat looking like Frantz Massenat again: 20 points, 5 assists, 3 steals. Massenat shot 8-for-16 from the field, including 3-for-7 from deep. That’s a great sign for Drexel fans.
6. Penn (0-1): It took him a while but coach Jerome Allen has assembled a roster that now has the talent not only to win the Ivy League but to be competitive in the Big 5. The Quakers displayed wonderful tenacity against Temple and showed inside-outside strength with Tony Hicks (28 points) and Darien Nelson-Henry (19 points, 10 rebounds). Two good signs, for sure.
-Aaron Bracy is the Philahoops.com founder and columnist. His City 6 rankings column appears on Mondays. Share your thoughts with Aaron at [email protected], @Aaron_Bracy on Twitter and/or in the comments section below.
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