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Steve Donahue and the Quakers look to draw on last year’s success | Penn season preview

The Quakers have an experienced group returning from last year's NCAA Tournament team, but they're picked to finish behind Harvard in the Ivy League.

Ryan Betley returns for the Quakers as the leading scorer.
Ryan Betley returns for the Quakers as the leading scorer.Read moreAMY KONTRAS / For the Inquirer

While players and coaches often preach to focus on the present, looking back isn't such a bad thing for the Penn basketball program.

Last season the Quakers ended an 11-year NCAA Tournament drought by beating Harvard 68-65 in a nail-biting Ivy League championship game.

The Quakers were leading top-seeded Kansas by 10 points in their first-round game before falling to the Jayhawks,76-60, in Wichita, Kan.

Penn was only picked to finish fourth in last year's Ivy League race, but the expectations have risen after last season. This year, the Quakers are picked to finish second behind Harvard, who they tied for the regular-season title last season.

Yet, in preparing for this season, coach Steve Donahue and the players acknowledge they could all feed off last year's success.

"We sure can," Donahue said. "You put all of those things together last year, you hope that now you continue to grow your program based on those standards."

It also helps to have an experienced returning unit. Penn returns its top two leading scorers: junior guard Ryan Betley (14.3 ppg) and junior forward A.J. Brodeur (13.1 ppg), a first-team all-Ivy League selection. The Quakers begin the season on Tuesday at George Mason. They open at the Palestra on Nov. 9, when Rice comes to town.

What Brodeur learned from last year is that he simply wants more.

"It was an unbelievable ride last year," Brodeur said. "Now we are not just satisfied with winning the Ivy League tournament, not satisfied with just getting to the first round, we want to get beyond that."

>> READ MORE: Brodeur wants to keep adding to Penn's basketball legacy

Of course, just getting there won't be easy, especially since Harvard has a more experienced returning team than Penn.

Still, Penn has one thing that Harvard doesn't from a year ago: playing in the NCAAs.

"We have so many guys who have been there and done that and using that experience, we know what to expect," Betley said. "We now know how to win, we had a lot of wins last year and I think that is very important."

The Quakers had 24 wins (in 33 games) to be precise.

Penn's other returning starters are senior forward Max Rothschild (7.5 ppg), a deft passer from the high post, and senior guard Antonio Woods (7.7 ppg), a defensive stopper.

A key will be replacing point guard Darnell Foreman. Penn will likely use two local products: senior Jake Silpe of Cherry Hill East and junior Devon Goodman of Germantown Academy. Silpe is the better shooter, while Goodman has the edge on defense and getting to the rim.

"They are different but both have been around for a while," Donahue said of Silpe and Goodman. "They guard, they share the ball and now, with extended minutes, hopefully they will continue to improve."

The Quakers got a bad break when highly regarded sophomore point guard Jelani Williams suffered a second straight season-ending knee injury.

Williams had looked strong during Penn's spring trip to Italy, but he injured his knee during the summer.

The Quakers welcome four freshmen, two of whom are expected to begin the season in the rotation: 6-foot-10 forward-center Michael Wang and 6-4 combo guard Bryce Washington.

"Michael may be our best passer, he can really shoot it and we can play him at the 4-5, the three," Donahue said, referring to both forward positions and center. "He is just a really good all-around player."

Washington has also made a good early impression.

"He is a combo guard, very athletic, a very good standstill shooter and somebody we think will get a lot of minutes early."

There will be others vying for minutes on a team that sports depth and, most of all, confidence from last year's NCAA run.

Previewing the Penn Quakers

Last year: 24-9, 12-2 Ivy League (tied for the regular-season title, won the conference tournament, lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Kansas).

Coach: Steve Donahue (fourth season, 48-41; overall, 248-255).

Key returnees: A.J. Brodeur, 6-8, Jr. (13.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg); Ryan Betley, 6-5, Jr. (14.3 ppg 39.1 percent on three-pointers); Max Rothschild, 6-8, Sr. (7.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg); Antonio Woods, 6-1, Sr. (7.7 ppg).

Who's gone: PG Darnell Foreman (10.7 ppg, 3.5 apg); G Caleb Wood (10.2 ppg).

Who's new: Michael Wang, 6-10, Fr.; Bryce Washington, 6-4, Fr.; Ryan Griffin, 6-5, Fr.; Alex Imegwu, 6-6, Fr.

What to look for: More of the same from last year. The Quakers were picked second in the Ivy League preseason poll and they should again be a serious contender. Brodeur is a force inside and has been working on his perimeter game. Also, Betley gained 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason, so both should be improved. The team should follow suit, although Harvard remains a major obstacle.

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