Penn guard Jelani Williams has torn the ACL in his right knee for a second time, and is all but certain to miss the entire 2019-20 season.
“He hurt it working out over the summer in our gym about three weeks ago,” Quakers coach Steve Donahue told The Inquirer on Thursday when the news was announced. “He was just doing individual workouts he was cleared to do.”
It’s the third ACL tear of Williams’ basketball career. The Washington, D.C., native tore the ligament in his left knee in high school at Sidwell Friends, which forced him out of his freshman year at Penn, then tore the right ACL before last season started.
“Since he got here, Jelani’s been someone that we’ve really believed in,” Donahue said. “The only time he’s really played for us was in our trip to Italy [in May 2018], and he still wasn’t 100 percent of what I thought he could be, but he was terrific. He and I still believe that it’s going to happen.”
In theory, a speedy recovery could put Williams on track to be healthy near the latter stages of the season. Donahue isn’t going to risk it.
“I don’t think there’s any way he plays this year,” he said. “His doctor believes it’ll be one year before he’s completely ready to play college basketball again.”
Williams, who will be a junior this fall, has already received a fifth year of eligibility from the NCAA.
The injury will have a big impact on Penn’s point guard depth chart. Williams was in line to be the starter this season after the graduations of Antonio Woods and Jake Silpe. Donahue said the job may now go to incoming freshman Jordan Dingle, a northern New Jersey native from Blair Academy.
“Jordan Dingle [goes] up to the front of the line for now," Donahue said. “I think he’s a bona fide [point guard]. Obviously, Dev Goodman is someone who can be a point, but he’s probably more of a hybrid.”
It will be a lot to ask of a freshman, but Donahue believes Dingle can handle it.
“I have great confidence in the kid,” Donahue said. “I also think we’ve got a lot of experience around him, and we don’t rely on a typical system where the point guard runs the show and gets 200 assists. Our leading assist guy last year was [big man] AJ Brodeur. ... Everybody passes. dribbles and shoots, and I think Jordan can really do a good job in that system.”
There is good news elsewhere on the roster: Shooting guard Ryan Betley is fully healthy after rupturing the patellar tendon in his right knee five minutes into last season’s opening game. The Downingtown native was Penn’s top scorer in the 2017-18 campaign, and was sorely missed on the court and in the locker room.
“He looks great,” Donahue said.
Betley is eligible for a fifth season, but only as a graduate transfer.
Penn opens its season on Nov. 5 at Alabama.
Early tests for Big 5 teams
ESPN unveiled the schedules on Thursday for the many early-season college basketball tournaments that the network will televise from Thanksgiving through Christmas.
-- Villanova will be at the Myrtle Beach Invitational in Conway, S.C., and will open against Middle Tennessee State on Nov. 21. The Wildcats will play Mississippi State or Tulane the next day, and a final game on Nov. 24. The other teams in the field are Ohio, Baylor, Utah, and host Coastal Carolina.
-- Temple will be at the Orlando Invitational, played at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex next to Disney World, and will open against Maryland on Nov. 28. The Owls will play either Texas A&M or Harvard the next day, and a final game on Dec. 21. The other teams in the field are Southern California, Fairfield, Davidson, and Marquette.
-- St. Joseph’s will be at the Charleston Classic in South Carolina and will open against Florida on Nov. 21. The Hawks will play Miami or Missouri State the next day, and a final game on Nov. 24. The other teams in the field are Connecticut, Xavier, Buffalo, and Towson.
-- Penn will be at the Wooden Legacy tournament, played in Anaheim, Calif., and will open against Central Florida on Nov. 28. The Quakers will play either Pepperdine or Arizona the next day, and a final game on Dec. 1. The other teams in the field are Providence, Long Beach State, Wake Forest, and the College of Charleston.