Penn coach Steve Donahue was preparing AJ Brodeur’s successors well before the record-setting big man’s Quakers career ended in March.
It will be a while before we find out whether Max Lorca-Lloyd will be ready to step up as a sophomore, whether Jarrod Simmons will play more, and whether Michael Wang will play at all.
But what we know for now is that the Quakers will be stacked with quality guards. Jordan Dingle, Max Martz and Lucas Monroe all made impacts as freshmen, and they’ll be joined by Jonah Charles after he missed last season with broken bones in each foot. Bryce Washington will have recovered from a wrist injury that sidelined him from January on, and Jelani Williams might finally play after missing three straight seasons with torn ACLs.
“I think we have more [guard] depth than we’ve ever had,” in his tenure, Donahue said. “I’m rooting like hell for Jelani Williams, coming back from three [torn] ACLs. Every time he’s come back he’s looked really good, his body’s great, he’s worked really hard, and we’re hoping we get a couple of years out of him.”
That would include a redshirt year, Donahue said. Williams is eligible for it under Ivy League rules because he withdrew from the school for a stretch during his rehab last season.
All of that assumes there will be college basketball in the first place this winter. Donahue is optimistic, based on what he has heard. But the dynamic is ever-changing, and Donahue is paying close attention. It matters, for example, that he expects Penn to be able to bus to almost every nonconference game this season — including the Myrtle Beach Invitational in November, whose stacked field includes Dayton, Missouri, Utah State, Nebraska, Pitt, Loyola-Chicago and Charlotte.
“I’m hoping [there’s] a window that allows us to make those trips,” Donahue said. “I just think if we can limit our exposure to other people, our campus — I think they’ll feel much safer, us coming back, probably testing us after every trip. But in general, feeling safer that we’re not going through airports.”
(At least Penn’s successful trip to Anaheim last year flushed out the memories of getting stuck in the Virgin Islands in 2018.)
Until then, Donahue has had much bigger things than basketball on his mind.
Both institutionally and as individuals, the Quakers have given public support to the Black Lives Matter campaign and the protests across Philadelphia against institutional racism and police brutality.
Donahue has been right there, using his Twitter feed to spotlight his players’ statements and offering words of his own.
“I’m always proud of our guys, and I’m incredibly grateful for all of them in terms of this crisis and the ability for them to take it all in, teach everyone a lesson about it, and then protest in the right way and speak about things that are incredibly important,” he said. “The country has gone on a bad path and it’s got to change, and I have players that value that greatly, and I love that I’m able to support them in any way I can.”
Donahue has spent these last few weeks studying, listening, and looking at the past with a new perspective.
“I’m learning so much more about my life than I even thought I knew all the years I’ve coached people of color,” he said. “Our country, I’m hoping and praying that this is a tipping point — that we all learn that this has to stop, all the injustice that’s been done. And I guess because I’m home and just reading and watching and learning more, and maybe going back over our history of our country, [I’m] learning probably not exactly what we thought was going on for the last 100 years, even the last 50 years since the Civil Rights Act.”