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Penn’s Lucas Monroe is a basketball star and a ‘big basketball nerd’

Penn's captain is "always thinking," especially about basketball, whether he's on the court or debating Kobe vs. Wilt.

Penn basketball captain Lucas Monroe has his facts lined up for any Wilt vs. Kobe debate.
Penn basketball captain Lucas Monroe has his facts lined up for any Wilt vs. Kobe debate.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Penn basketball player Lucas Monroe spent time this summer as an intern with Philadelphia Youth Basketball, the outfit working to build a big hoops facility on Wissahickon Avenue. Within the place, they’re talking about creating a Philadelphia basketball hall of fame.

“It has to be named for Wilt Chamberlain,” said a PYB visitor this summer. “There is no other Philadelphia basketball player of his stature.”

PYB president Kenny Holdsman related this, noting it because Monroe happened to be in the same room, not really part of the conversation … at first.

“Lucas is listening,” Holdsman said. “I can see him getting restless.”

Monroe was polite: “Can I express a different point of view?”

The visitor, an older man, asked: “Who are you, young man?”

Monroe introduced himself. His view involved Kobe Bryant, about the level of competition, offering facts “impromptu, for about five minutes,” Holdsman said, “delivered with humor, respect, and passion.”

This came up because a lot of people around Philadelphia basketball heard this summer from Monroe, one of the people leading the hall of fame effort.

“I’m a big basketball nerd,” said Monroe, a 6-foot-6 junior guard. “A huge basketball junkie. When I was younger, I read any basketball biography or autobiography I could get my hands on.”

Documentaries, of course.

“I have Hardwood Classics,” Monroe said. “It’s set to record every single game on my TV at home. I sit down and watch all these games.”

Not just Kobe, of course. When Monroe was younger, he’d dribble a ball to school in Abington — right-handed in the morning, left-handed home — because he read how Pistol Pete Maravich always did that.

Reggie Miller scoring “like eight points in six [nine] seconds” in Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Eastern Conference semifinals — “I’ve watched that game a thousand times, even though I know it doesn’t happen until the last 10 seconds of the game. It doesn’t have the same impact if I watch a YouTube highlight of the last few seconds.”

Kobe’s 81-point game? “A thousand times. … I watched the ‘01 Sixers, one of my favorite teams. I watched a lot of their games.”

Wait a second, Monroe was 2 years old in 2001. Yep, legit basketball nerd.

“When Mike Bantom spoke at our summer event, and he’s talking about the ‘72 Olympics — Lucas can give you eight players who were in that game,” Holdsman said.

“Very thoughtful in every process,” Quakers assistant coach Trey Montgomery said of Monroe. “He’s very analytical in the way he thinks — sometimes a little too much. But as thoughtful a kid as you could ever meet.”

During workouts, Montgomery said, Monroe is the guy who is not only trying to figure out the ways he can contribute, but the volume at which he can do it. How many shots? How many makes? What angle?

“His process — he’s always thinking,” Montgomery said.

Monroe is a Penn captain even though he’s only played one season of actual college basketball, averaging 3.4 points and 3.2 rebounds in 27 games as a freshman in 2019-20. At Abington, he was a three-year captain.

“His leadership is through the roof,” Montgomery said. “Very vocal. Very timely in what he says. It’s not fluff. It’s very direct.”

When social justice became a subject of intense conversation in the locker room, Monroe was one of the leaders of discussion. He also was honest about a couple of incidents in his life when he felt like he was singled out for his race.

“To be able to disclose that, to have the vulnerability to just do it — he’s willing to put it all on the line,” Montgomery said. “ ‘This is what I see, how I feel. How do you feel? Let’s talk about it. Let’s get this going.’ ”

Montgomery mentioned Jelani Williams, the other Quakers captain.

“They’re all about it,’’ Montgomery said.

Quakers coach Steve Donahue said he’s been at it for so long, it surprises him when he comes across someone who is different.

“He’s got a historical perspective about everything,” Donahue said. “The past matters to him. That’s just a piece of his personality. He cares so much about other things as well.

“He knows how to serve others. That’s kind of what he wants. He wants everyone to have a better experience, whether older or younger guys. And he’s really hard on himself.”

Montgomery is used to texts from Monroe asking if they can do something more.

“Sometimes, yeah,” Montgomery said. “But a lot of times, ‘No, I saw you when I got on here. Let’s save your legs.’ He’s a complete grinder.”

That part of things, he, like so many of his generation, tries to steal from Kobe.

Just one thing …

Kobe over Wilt, really?

“It’s not an easy choice,” Monroe said. “You have to respect Wilt. He has numbers that are never going to be topped. He averaged over 50 points one year … 50.4 [in 1961-62].”

Yep, that’s the number. Monroe made clear that he knows that if you dropped 1962 Chamberlain in a time machine, he’d be able to play today. He mentioned Elgin Baylor as another player whose skills translate to any era. And Bill Russell certainly was a worthy adversary for any big man, any era.

But he points out that Celtics great Bob Cousy was considered a wizard at point guard, and was for his day, but “he would never put the ball in his left hand. And he’d dribble with his head down.” Point being: Greatest of your era doesn’t make you greatest of all time.

If he had a choice between watching Kobe or Wilt highlights, he’s taking Kobe, but acknowledges he’d like to see more Wilt clips.

“Me choosing Kobe takes nothing away from Wilt,” Monroe said. “It’s like taking Jordan over LeBron.”

You talk to this man for just a short time, you wonder if you’re talking to the 2045 Penn head coach.

“Or Penn president,” Holdsman said.