The last Penn home men’s basketball game had just ended, in historic fashion for Quakers star AJ Brodeur, the school’s new all-time leading scorer. We didn’t know then, on March 7, a Saturday night at the Palestra, that Brodeur’s college career was over, or that there wouldn’t be another college hoop game this season for any Big 5 team.
This was Senior Night, Brodeur’s Palestra career at least over, which was on Quakers coach Steve Donahue’s mind. When Brodeur walked out of the locker room and gave his mom a hug, a Penn staffer came up to them, said Brodeur needed to go to the press conference.
- Penn beats Columbia to squeeze into Ivy playoffs as A.J. Brodeur breaks school scoring record
- Muffet McGraw retires as a Notre Dame coaching legend, finding a voice that reaches beyond basketball | Mike Jensen
- How a visit to a Villanova women’s practice changed everything for Swarthmore’s hoops coach | Mike Jensen
“And Coach wants you to bring your mom.”
“Whaaat?" Jerri Brodeur remembers thinking. “Please don’t ask me any questions.”
Under the North stands, player and mom sat in front of the microphones with Donahue, who began: “I thought it was important that you met the reason why AJ is the way he is.”
What Donahue meant was, first all-time at Penn not just in points, but in blocked shots (a record also broken that night), field goals made, games played, games started. Brodeur never missed a game in four years at Penn. He started all 119 of them.
“I think Jerri’s made every game?” Donahue said.
She confirmed it.
“That’s way more remarkable than starting every game,’’ Donahue said.
That night, Penn clinched a spot in an Ivy League tournament that was never played. The significance of that, and the fact Brodeur broke Ernie Beck’s 67-year-old Penn career scoring record, with Beck in attendance, meant questions for Mom were relatively few. (Did she know her son was capable of being one of the greatest Penn players to ever play? “Well, of course,’’ Mom said that night. “I’m his mother.”)
Never missed a game? Not in high school or college. Home, road. Drive, flight. Rain, snow. AJ can remember the last time he played a basketball game that his mother didn’t watch. An AAU game in Atlantic City. He thinks it was the summer after ninth grade.
“My father was in the hospital,’’ Jerri Brodeur confirmed. “I missed the first day. He had to ride down with somebody else. Once I knew my father was in the clear, I drove down there.”
Brodeur is from Northborough, Mass. About 45 minutes outside Boston if traffic is kind. The hard part for Penn games, AJ said over the phone this past week, was that the Ivy season is his mother’s busiest work season. She’s a certified public accountant, so the early months of the year are tax season.
“I think for her, that was the biggest sacrifice,’’ her son said. “It all came down to time.”
Usually, Jerri Brodeur said, she would travel on Fridays, getting to the Friday-Saturday Ivy games, then get home as early as she could Sunday, working that day and then 10-12 hour days the rest of the week.
“It was challenging to say the least,’’ Jerri Brodeur said over the phone last week. “But it was worth every second.”
Jerri had played college basketball herself at North Adams State (Mass.). She’s separated from AJ’s dad, who AJ also remains close to. It was Mom who first put a ball in her son’s hands.
“Little Tikes basket in the basement, we had all that,’’ Jerri Brodeur said, for AJ and his brother, Jackson, two years older.
“She always used to teach the fundamentals back in elementary school,’’ AJ said. “I wanted to shoot. She taught me the fundamentals. How to shoot a layup, off one foot, which foot. On a seven-foot hoop behind the school. She was there with me. That memory sticks out to me.”
“That must have been when he was in kindergarten,’’ Jerri Brodeur said. “His brother was already playing.”
There was a league on the shorter hoops. Could AJ play? Too young, she was told. Maybe she fudged his grade by a year, so he was only younger by a year instead of two. “He was the tallest one,’’ she said.
Maybe she fudged his grade again a couple of years later when it was time to move up a level. Still the youngest, still the tallest.
She wasn’t his coach, but he’d hear her in the stands. Never questioning the coach or a teammate. Referees? They were fair game. That carried to the Palestra.
“I’m a crowd referee,’’ Jerri Brodeur said. “Never miss a call.”
She almost missed a Penn game, just one time. Snow in Boston. Her flight delayed. She ran through the terminal at Logan Airport to catch another flight. Then, her sister, monitoring the flights online for her, said the original flight was boarding. She ran back, begged to be let on, told them about her son’s basketball game in Philly.
“I think I ran across the whole terminal at least twice,’’ she said.
“It honestly does mean the world to me,’’ her son said. “Not everybody is as lucky as I am, to have somebody who is able to be as present. … Some people may not want their parents watching every move they make on a basketball court. But I always saw that as a positive.”
His next move is up in the air, like for everybody, but when he plays his next basketball game, his mother plans to be there, wherever it is. Penn held its annual banquet virtually and when the school’s all-time leading scorer spoke, he finished up with his family, his father and brother and finally his mother.