The question was bugging Andy Baratta from the day Jerome Allen arrived at Penn in 1991.
What was Allen doing in a Penn uniform?
How did Penn coach Fran Dunphy convince one of the highest-rated, most-sought-after recruits in the country to play for Penn?
Allen could have gone anywhere, could have been a star anywhere in the country.
"I had to ask him," said Baratta, Allen's teammate at Penn from 1991 to '94.
"And he told me that Fran Dunphy was the only coach who recruited him who didn't promise that he'd be a starter, who didn't guarantee him that he'd be a star," Baratta said. "And I think that really sums up Jerome. He likes being challenged. He always wants to get better. And he's always looking for a challenge."
Allen, a Philadelphia native and star at Episcopal Academy, responded to Dunphy's challenge by leading Penn to three consecutive Ivy League titles from 1993 to '95. The Quakers did not lose a single Ivy League game in that span. And Allen went on to set the Penn career records for assists (504) and steals (166) while racking up 1,518 points and being named the Ivy League player of the year as a sophomore in 1992 and a junior in 1993.
Dunphy may not have guaranteed it in the beginning, but Allen became one of the biggest stars and most recognizable names ever to come out of Penn.
He is the most-decorated player from one of the most-storied stretches in the history of Penn basketball.
Now Penn is posing a different challenge to Allen. And after the school named him the Quakers' interim head coach yesterday after firing Glen Miller, the entire Penn community is buzzing with anticipation over how Allen will respond this time.
"Around Penn everybody, remembers him for what a great player he was," said Vince Curran, currently a radio analyst for Penn and a former teammate of Allen's. "He took us to a level where we hadn't been for a long time. And he's still so well-respected and well-liked and loved that it doesn't feel like he's now coming home, because he never left. He's always been part of the Penn community."
Allen was drafted in the second round of the 1995 NBA draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves. His career in the NBA lasted only two seasons, where he bounced around from the Timberwolves to the Indiana Pacers to the Denver Nuggets.
After the NBA, Allen went on to a career in Europe before retiring in 2009 and joining the coaching staff at Penn as an assistant in August. He takes over a team off to an 0-7 start. But people who know him will tell you that Allen is more than prepared to turn the tide at Penn.
"Definitely, Jerome's always been a student of the game and that separated him from a lot of other players" said Eric Moore, who played with Allen at Penn and Episcopal Academy, where Allen led the Churchmen to four consecutive InterAc titles. "But it's about more than just X's and O's with Jerome. It's about work ethic and attitude."
"My first memory of him is just winning. We just won so much. Coach Doc was very tough, but we learned and we worked extremely hard," Moore said of his days with Allen under coach Dan Dougherty at Episcopal. "The one thing I remember other than winning was he was very team-oriented . . . always been about making others better."