Category Archives: Alumni Interviews

Penn grad looking for next MLS opportunity

Danny Cepero C’08 enjoyed one of the greatest debuts in the history of Major League Soccer when he scored a goal – as a goalie. He went on to lead the New York Red Bulls to the league championship game as a rookie in 2008, all while finding time to finish his coursework at Penn so he could graduate from the school where he starred on the soccer field for four years.

The Penn grad, profiled recently in the Gazette, had it all going for him it seemed. But a little more than a week ago, the Red Bulls released Cepero – a victim of new management looking to clean house after a disappointing 2009 season.

I recently got in touch with Cepero, who was gracious enough to write me back a long, poignant e-mail, which I will share almost entirely unedited.

Here, in his own words, is Cepero’s reaction to being released, his thoughts on the ongoing negotiations between the league and the players’ union, the support he’s received from friends, family and other people in the Penn community, his disappointment in missing out on the Red Bulls’ new stadium, and, most of all, his hopes for the future:

I was a bit surprised at being released by New York. No one really wants to think they’re replaceable but it is an unfortunate reality of playing a professional sport. That being said, I knew that going into this preseason, there would be a good deal of change. Last year, one of the club’s worst, we finished dead last in the standings. So this year, with a new coach and general manager, a number of the players foresaw new players coming in and others going out. Unfortunately, I was in neither the coach’s nor the general manager’s plans for the future and was thus one of the players who found himself on his way out.

This past week has been one of mixed emotions. Initially, it was disappointing to hear that you are no longer in a team’s plans for the future. I thought about my parents, my family, former coaches, and close friends – and about how I was to inform them I had been released. It felt like I would be letting all these people – these people who had helped me to become a professional soccer player – down. I found myself wondering what more I could have done to secure a roster spot and if I still had a future in the sport. I was also sad to leave my teammates, many of whom I still consider great friends.  

But as the days went on, I realized that perhaps this was a blessing in disguise. It was an opportunity to move to another team, to start over, and to hopefully restart my career. So right now, I have been in contact with a few teams in both MLS and the lower divisions of USL (United Soccer Leagues) and that have expressed interest in my abilities.

Unfortunately, under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement that MLS shares with the MLS Players Union, no contracts are guaranteed. As such, a team can release a player without having to fulfill the financial aspect of that player’s contract. The issue of guaranteed contracts is actually a controversial point of debate between the league and the players union. The previous CBA expired a few weeks ago and the two bodies have been meeting to discuss this and all other issues in order to reach an agreement before the season starts. It just so happened that I was released before an agreement could be reached and thus find myself not only out of contract but also without a paycheck. For the sake of the rest of the players in MLS, I hope a suitable agreement is reached soon.       

I do regret not being able to play in the new stadium.  I have visited it many times in the last few weeks and it looks incredible. It will only serve to improve the soccer viewing experience in the region and hopefully attract more attention to soccer not only in the region but the country as a whole.

People around me have been nothing but supportive. I suppose I wouldn’t keep them around me if they weren’t supportive. My parents and my friends have been tremendously helpful in terms of discussing my future plans. My former teammates have continually expressed their support and their confidence in my abilities as a goalkeeper, and my former goalkeeper coach has been helpful in contacting teams around the league in hopes of me finding a new club.

I obviously hope that everything works out in terms of soccer and my continuing to play. However, the reality of the situation is such that I need to prepare for that hope not coming to fruition.  At the end of the day it is comforting to know that my degree from Penn may still carry some weight in the business world – or so I hope it does. Time will tell I guess. It’s just the waiting that’s the tough part. 

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From The Radio Booth to the Bench

Tonight during the Penn-La Salle game, if you glance over to the Quaker sidelines, you may very well see new assistant coach Vince Curran W’92, SEAS’92 using some not-so-nice words.

He’s allowed to now that there isn’t a microphone in front of him.

“I’m certainly a little freer with my dialogue when dealing with the fellas in a team situation,” the affable Curran told Penn Gazette Sports before a recent practice at the Palestra. “I’m still in the same situation when I’m saying what I see, but I can be a little more colorful on the sidelines.”

Of course, Curran didn’t typically hold back when he was calling games on the radio alongside polished play-by-play man Brian Seltzer C’07 – his job up until late December when interim head coach Jerome Allen named him the new volunteer assistant coach.

Take, for instance, Curran’s call when Kevin Egee buried a buzzer-beater to beat Columbia last season as a tempest of emotions poured into his microphone.

Vince Curran, right, alongside then-radio partner Brian Seltzer

 

“There’s a line that you can go over or you can pull back,” said Seltzer, who remains close friends with Curran. “He would always waver along that line. From my point, I had to be prepared to respond it.”

But Seltzer knows – as does everyone who’s ever listened to a Penn game over the past four years – the line Curran walked stemmed mostly from the passion he has for the university. Quite simply, he’s wanted Penn to win every game since first stepping on campus as a highly touted recruit out of St. Joe’s Prep in 1987.

That’s also why he didn’t hesitate when Allen asked him to come on board as an assistant in late December – even though he has his hand in a few different businesses, his wife is five months pregnant and he never before imagined himself as a coach.

Allen, Curran says, came to his house with the request a day after taking over as head coach. “He said, ‘Look, I need someone with me on this trip that I’ve been through things with before. I need someone that will have my back and watch out for me,’” Curran recalled.

Curran said yes not only because of his love for Penn basketball but also for his deep appreciation for Allen – who he firmly believes will get the head coaching job on a permanent basis.

The new head coach was very grateful.

“I’m forever in his debt,” Allen said. “I can probably never repay him for his commitment.”

Since taking the job, Curran has tried to instill toughness in Penn’s inside players by, well, being tough himself. The experience has been rewarding, but he’s still seeking out feedback. After screaming at a few guys at a recent practice, Curran called his old coach, Fran Dunphy, wondering if he was perhaps too hard on them. Without missing a beat, Dunphy responded, “But I bet it made you feel better, right?”

Screaming fits aside, Dunphy is certainly a good coaching mentor to have. Though he never won an Ivy title in his five years as a player at Penn (a record, Curran says, he not so proudly holds), Curran was there to see the early stages of the transformation after Dunphy took over as head coach in 1989. Allen, Dunphy’s first prized recruit, was a freshman when Curran was a fifth-year senior.

Allen changed the program then, and Curran believes history will repeat itself.

“My mother said to me that my life changed forever when Fran Dunphy came to Penn, and she’s absolutely right,” Curran said. “And these kids may not know it yet, but their lives changed forever when Jerome Allen came back to Penn.”

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Catching Up With … Matt Langel

   Matt Langel, second from left, beside his mentor, Fran Dunphy

As part of my continued efforts to reach out to Penn alumni, I interviewed Temple assistant coach and former Penn basketball star Matt Langel this week. From 1996-2000, the sharpshooting guard scored 1,191 career points while helping the Quakers capture back-to-back Ivy League championships in 1999 and 2000. And as a coach at both Penn and Temple under Fran Dunphy, Langel has already been to four more NCAA tournaments.

On Wednesday, Langel will come back to the Palestra when Temple faces Penn. And while his return to the gym he calls “his second home” might not be as glamorous as some of the other storylines surrounding the Big 5 clash (Jerome Allen’s first game as head coach at the Palestra, Jerome Allen facing off against his old coach, etc.), it’s still significant.

Here’s the interview:

 

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: How exciting has this season been with Temple in the Top 25?

MATT LANGEL: I think as you look at winning games – and close games – it makes you feel good. In our business, when you win games you feel a lot better than you do when you lose games. I know its kind of clichéd, but that’s the reality of it.

PGS: Beating Villanova was probably pretty fun, right?

ML: Yeah, that was one of those games where they have an exceptional team coming off an exceptional year when they got a lot of national attention. They were missing a couple of key players that they probably will add by the end of the year but it was still a great year for our team, for our kids and for our school. It was exciting to be a part of it.

PGS: What have been some of the reasons the team has been so successful this season?

ML: I think our defense is something we’re hanging our hats on. Coach (Dunphy) has really done a great job developing our man-to-man defense and our kids have bought into it and our helping each other. Lavoy Allen and Ryan Brooks are terrific one-on-one defenders. And the other guys have really stepped up their individual defensive games. And on the other end of the floor, I think we’re sharing the ball and we’ve had really timely contributions – whether from starter or a guy who normally doesn’t get a lot of chances.

PGS: What were some of the challenges when Fran Dunphy, you and the rest of the Penn staff (Dave Duke and Shawn Trice) came over from Temple? Was it hard at first recruiting a different breed of player?

ML: You know, we get that question a lot. When it comes to recruiting, the most difficult part is the pool of players you recruit from is a lot bigger. In the Ivy League, there are only a specific number of kids that are admissible. Then you have to evaluate whether their basketball talents fit what you’re trying to do. At Temple, the pool of student-athletes that you’re recruiting from is a lot broader of a spectrum. There are more difficult decisions to be made but it’s not really a different kind of student-athlete. Our student-athletes may not fall into the same academic category than at Penn, but we are still trying to recruit the best young man who comes from a strong family and is going to be a good teammate.

PGS: Was there ever an interesting dynamic when four Penn coaches came over to Temple? Were you guys accepted right away?

ML: The Temple community has just been terrific. They welcomed us with open arms. They’ve given us all the support that we could possibly ask for and we feel very much at home in North Philadelphia. They’re great people who have presented a lot of opportunities to us when they didn’t have to. It’s been a great time so far at Temple.

PGS: I read you had a big role in recruiting Juan Fernandez. What was that like?

ML: Yeah, I went to Argentina three times. The first trip was the most difficult. It was a little bit of a change of plans. I was supposed to see him in his hometown but he got called by his national team, so I had to drive for about 10 hours longer than I thought I was going to have to. But, you know, that’s part of this business. It’s been well worth it. He’s been a good player for us so far and is a terrific young man.

PGS: Are you grateful to Fran Dunphy for taking you with him?

Dunphy with Langel in the rear

ML: I am, absolutely – not only for showing loyalty to take me to Temple with him but for really being such a mentor to me. In all honesty, I wouldn’t have chosen this profession when I was done playing overseas if it wasn’t for my experience playing for Coach and knowing the impact he had on my life. The idea that maybe I could have that same impact on other young guys’ lives, as well as their basketball careers, influenced me to pursue this as a profession.

PGS: So you’ll be going back to the Palestra on Wednesday – what’s that like for you personally being on the opposite bench there?

ML: Each time you do it it’s a little bit easier. But the Palestra obviously is a special place. I spent a lot of time there playing games or practicing and for the couple years I was there as a coach. It’s almost like a second home when you spend so much time at a place. So it’s always a little strange when you come in as a visitor. But once the ball goes up in the air, it’s a game and you’re focused to doing everything you can to win.

PGS: Have you kept a close on eye on what’s been going at Penn?

ML: You know, it’s been a little bit of a crazy year there obviously. Jerome Allen was someone I looked up to as player. He came before me and his success was part of the reason I went there. It’s been a difficult year for them, but we’re obviously all pulling for him to have great success and do the best job that we know he can do.

PGS: Were you surprised to see a coach fired midseason? It’s a pretty rare thing in the NCAA and especially in the Ivy League.

ML: It’s not something I really pay attention to. But as you look at, it seems to be a little bit of a new trend in college athletics. But I’m young to this business, so it’s not something I spend a lot of time thinking about.

PGS: If offered the head coaching job at Penn, do you think you’d accept?

ML: That’s not really something I like to talk about. They’ve got a head coach right now and he’s someone I’m close to and I hope he can do a great job there.

PGS: More hypothetically speaking, would you like to coach there some day?

ML: Penn’s a great place that has great history and tradition. Obviously it’s something that’s close to me. I love the university and I think it’s a great job for any head coach.

Langel was a lights-out shooter in his day.

PGS: What are some of your favorite memories from your playing days?

ML: Beyond the games and the wins and the championships and the NCAA tournaments, I take away a lot more from the relationships I built, the teammates that I had, the coaches I had and the lessons I learned – about reliability and about being there for the guy that’s next to you. Those experiences I remember much more than a specific win.

PGS: What kind of relationship did you have with Michael Jordan as a backcourt-mate and a classmate?

ML: He was a great guy to play with. He was one of the most competitive people I’ve ever been around in my life and he’s still using that to be a successful player in Europe. But more than that, he continues to be one of my best friends. I talk to him all the time wherever he is in the world, whether he’s home in Philadelphia or across the sea. It’s those bonds that you make in college that are the most significant.

PGS: Does he want to get into coaching after he gets done playing?

ML: I don’t know exactly what he wants to do. I think it’s something he talks about, whether it’s in high school or college. And I think he’ll be terrific at it. He’s competitive, he works really hard and he gets along well with people.

PGS: I hate to bring this up, but do you still have nightmares about Black Tuesday?

ML: You know, I don’t. It was a difficult thing to go through. But I think single games for fans are a lot of times remembered a lot more than players. As players and as coaches, it’s really about trying to win championships. So while single games are important and those rivalries are significant, we were able to rally around that game. We had significant senior leadership in Jed Ryan and Paul Romanczuk and we won the rest of our games and beat Princeton and went to the NCAA tournament as Ivy League champions. So having to go through that was actually a great lesson. Our season worked out that much better having gone through it. So it’s not something I feel bad about or have nightmares about.

PGS: How special is playing in NCAA tournament as a player and how does it compare as a coach?

ML: As a player at Penn, it was significant to get there and have a chance to compete against other teams that had great success throughout the season. As a coach, that’s one of your goals each and every year for your team. As a player, you have a lot fewer chances. I’ve been fortunate to go to the NCAA tournament four of the five years I’ve been a coach. You look at it a little bit differently as a coach. You try to do everything you possibly can to put your team in a position to achieve that at the end of the year and to win that game once you get there.

PGS: And I’m sure you’re eager to win a tournament game?

ML: Yeah absolutely, because I haven’t been able to do yet either as a player or a coach.

PGS: Is this the year?

ML: I don’t know. With Coach Dunphy, it’s really one step at a time. We don’t look too far ahead. We have Penn on Wednesday and UMass back in the league on Saturday.

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A Giant Among Men

With the men’s basketball team having matched its worst start ever at 0-8 and another player getting injured (Mike Howlett hurt his foot during practice and missed Monday’s 79-50 loss to Davidson), I thought it was time to switch gears and write about some happier Quaker news.

Today, former Penn quarterback Mark DeRosa wills sign a two-year, $12 million contract with the San Francisco Giants. 

 

Bound for San Francisco

 

Over the past few years, DeRosa has really become a valuable commodity because of his versatility; he can play nearly every position on the field and he packs a powerful punch with his bat. Looks like the two-sport college star made the right decision when he decided to leave Penn after his junior year in 1996 to turn pro.

To break down the contract and what the Giants should except from DeRosa, I enlisted the help of another Penn alum, Jesse Spector, who pens a very good by-the-numbers baseball blog for the New York Daily News. Spector, who’s also an old colleague of mine at the Daily Pennsylvanian, just wrote a piece on DeRosa, extolling his virtues and calling the signing a very good move for the Giants (though he wishes the Yankees would have done it).

Here is the interview:

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: So how does a 35-year-old former Penn quarterback utility man sign for $12 million?

JESSE SPECTOR: DeRosa turns 35 in February, but he’s not that old in baseball years because he was really a late bloomer, not playing 100 games for the first time until 2003, when he was 28 — and he didn’t have his first season with 500 at-bats, generally the mark of a regular, until 2006 with the Texas Rangers. Throw in the fact that he’s in fantastic shape, despite a wrist injury that required surgery after this past season, and age isn’t really a factor. It’s also not quite fair to describe DeRosa as a utilityman — that’s a term that really has a connotation of being a substitute. DeRosa is a guy who is talented enough to play multiple positions, and I expect that the Giants won’t move him around that much. Depending on what else they do this winter, he’ll either be the regular third baseman or an outfielder.

PGS: Was it mostly his versatility that made him such a coveted free agent?

JS: I think that was a big deal for a lot of his suitors, and DeRosa probably would have put his versatility on display had he signed with a team with fewer holes in its lineup, like the Yankees. But in San Francisco, where there are a lot of holes to fill on a team that really struggled to score runs for an elite pitching staff in 2009, DeRosa’s biggest asset is the bat that hit 23 homers this year.

PGS: What should the Giants expect from him day in and day out?

JS: The Giants will be happy to have a power upgrade in the middle of their order, and I know that DeRosa will expect to have a higher batting average than the .250 he hit this year. For his career, he’s a .275 hitter, and the wrist had a lot to do with the drop-off this year, especially later in the season when he was with the Cardinals. DeRosa also has playoff experience, something that is very uncommon in the San Francisco clubhouse, so they’ll expect him to be a leader, a job that he’s very capable of, especially with his background as a quarterback. He’s steady, but not spectacular, in the field — at pretty much all of his positions — and he’ll really help against lefthanded pitching, which gave the Giants fits this year.

PGS: This will be his sixth team? Why has he become sort of a journeyman?

JS: He came up in Atlanta, and the Braves didn’t really ever give him a shot at an everyday job, so he left for Texas as a free agent at the end of his term there. The Rangers then had a bunch of young infielders when DeRosa’s contract there expired, so it was on to the Cubs. From there, I think most people would agree that the Cubs, quite simply, screwed up by trading him to the Indians last winter. And Cleveland was out of the pennant race early, so the Indians sent him to the Cardinals to get some prospects. Now, DeRosa was a free agent again, so it was up to him to find the best deal. St. Louis has been handcuffed all winter by the Matt Holliday negotiations, so I don’t think they ever really seriously talked to DeRosa about returning. That’s how you end up on a sixth team, and a fourth in three years. Johnny Damon’s about to be on his fifth team, and nobody calls him a journeyman. I think DeRosa is just a free agent who has switched teams a few times.

PGS: So you’ve said he’s a really good guy — is that the Penn in him?

JS: I’ve interviewed him a couple of times, and we’ve always chatted at least briefly about Penn … I don’t think that’s why he’s been good to me, because other journalists I’ve talked to have also had good experiences with DeRosa. I think that the fact that DeRosa is a smart guy would be a big part of his interview appeal — his ability, and his willingness, to answer questions about pretty much anything, and answer them well, go a long way in that regard. Chris Young, the Padres’ pitcher from Princeton, is the same way, much as it pains me to say it.

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Catching up With…

One of the regular features I have planned for this blog are interviews with different types of alumni. With so much going on with the men’s basketball team, I thought it was best to kick off this segment by talking to Philadelphia Daily News columnist Howard Gensler, one of the biggest Penn basketball fans around.

By his estimation, Gensler has been to over 500 Penn games in 28 different states, traveling as far as Texas by car to see the Quakers play. And he knows his stuff. When I read his comments on the message boards, I often find myself nodding in agreement.

So after head coach Glen Miller was fired earlier this week and replaced with Jerome Allen, I sought out Gensler to be the voice of reason through the cacophony of commentary and opinions from so-called “experts.” I’d pay attention to him:

PENN GAZETTE SPORTS: So, like Jerome Allen, I bet your phone has been ringing off the hook the past few days?

HOWARD GENSLER: Yeah, it’s certainly a hot topic amongst Penn basketball fans.

PGS: As one of the biggest Penn basketball fans, what are your thoughts about the last few days?

HG: I think it was a bold move. I think it was a move that needed to happen. And I think it’s a move that will rally Penn supporters behind Jerome.

PGS: Based on the people you’ve talked to, what are most other Penn fans saying?

HG: I think people are really excited to change the storyline. It’s always risky promoting an assistant coach to head coach, no matter who the assistant coach is. There are some who work out brilliantly well and some who don’t. You never really know who are going to be the good ones and who are going to be the bad ones. The two most logical coaching hires in the Ivy League over the last 30 years were probably Craig Littlepage at Penn and Joe Scott at Princeton. Joe Scott at Princeton was a disaster. Craig Littlepage was not a disaster but he wasn’t a huge success. And those hires made total sense.  … It’s weird sometimes. You can’t always predict these things. Jerome Allen could turn out to be a tremendous head basketball coach, and there is the slim possibility that he won’t. But everyone likes the guy, he’s got a tremendous story to tell and we’re all pulling for him.

PGS: Did you have a sense this was coming?

HG: That’s a tough question. I thought there was a possibility Coach Miller would be let go. I was pretty surprised by the news it was Coach Allen.

PGS: You thought it would be John Gallagher?

HG: Well, I thought if Steve Bilsky let Coach Miller go in the middle of season, Coach Gallagher was the safer hire. This is a bold move. But it could pay tremendous dividends.

PGS: A lot of people in the national media seem to be almost chastising Penn for firing a coach midseason. Do you think the move was rash or necessary?

HG: Oh, those guys can go pound sand. There are many people who believe this should have happened at end of last year. If it had happened at the end of last year, there would have been many more options. Steve Bilsky gave Coach Miller a chance after last season’s team was decimated by injuries. Even though there are injury problems this year also, there were other problems that Bilsky alluded to that were not being corrected. It’s not just the wins and losses. I am as confident as could be that if the team was 0-7 but the other circumstances were different, Coach Miller would still be the Penn coach. I mean, Coach Dunphy started a season 0-8 and there was no real move to get rid of him. It was a lot of the other stuff. Therefore, when these national guys who couldn’t care less about Penn 99 percent of the time start opining on what Penn should have done when they don’t know anything about the situation, it’s just lame. They’re just filling up space.

PGS: What were the problem besides the wins and losses?

HG: Being a head basketball coach in college, you have to appease a lot of constituencies. You’ve got players, you’ve got parents, you’ve got alumni, you’ve got basic fans, you’ve got the media, and you’ve got the serious donors. And I don’t think Coach Miller’s strongest suit was appealing to those constituencies.

PGS: What was your relationship with Glen Miller personally? Did he ever endear himself to any of the most passionate fans?

HG: I thought when you caught Coach Miller one-on-one out of season, he could talk basketball with the best of them and he was a pretty ingratiating guy. But there’s a lot more to it than that. And I think there was a lot of pressure on him here following Coach Dunphy, who was wildly successful and incredibly popular. I don’t think he was a particularly good fit and I don’t think he made the effort to make himself a good fit. I think people were certainly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

PGS: Was there a point when you lost faith in his leadership?

HG: When you travel to a lot of games, you frequently sit with parents and you sort of get to know them over the years. Some are very chatty and some aren’t. I think that there were a number of signs fairly early that this was going to be a little rocky. And certainly over the past year-and-a-half those signs became much more apparent

PGS: In general, the parents didn’t seem to like him? Was there a certain reason for that?

HG: I think kids playing college sports have changed a lot over the past 20 years, from the time that Coach Miller started in business. We live in a 24-hour news cycle with anonymous Internet posts going on constantly. And the players today have cell phones and e-mail and they’re constantly in touch with their parents and everyone else on Facebook pages. I’m not making a value judgment here; I’m just saying it’s changed. … And I just don’t think Coach Miller dealt with that well.

PGS: Is there a part of you that thinks that things could have been different if more guys were able stay healthy?

HG: I think injuries were huge. He definitely had a lot of bad luck, there’s no question about that. But you’ve got to deal with those situations. There was a year, I think it was ’96, when Penn had basically one point guard on the team and he got hurt early in the season. So the team had to manufacture a point guard and they took Ira Bowman, who was their best all-around player, and they had to make him the point guard because they didn’t have a choice. And that team ended up co-sharing the championship. Sometimes things don’t work out that well, and you’ve got to deal. Certainly the loss of (Tyler) Bernardini is a huge loss. To me, the bigger problem was that there was nobody in the freshman class this year that the coach had confidence in to play when he needed to play them.

PGS: Is this the emptiest you’ve ever seen the Palestra? Did you ever think it would get to this point?

HG: I’ve never really thought about it like that. But I thought the Albany game was about as empty as I can recall.

PGS: Do you think the students will come back the same way they one did?

HG: If you go a few years without winning, the students aren’t accustomed to coming and they sort of stop learning how to be fans. If the team wins and the team is exciting and the team’s good, students will come. They may not come to the level the St. Joe’s fans come, but they’ll come and alumni will come because it’s exciting. It’s a cold Friday night in February – there just aren’t that many things to do that are affordable and exciting. A Penn game at the Palestra, if the team’s good and maybe the other team they’re playing is good, is fun.

PGS: How much did you like Jerome Allen as a player?

HG: I don’t really look at it that way. Even though some people make fun of me, I don’t really romanticize players that way. Jerome was a tremendous player at Penn and the team was fun to watch. He gave us a lot of thrills over four years. I remember him hitting back-to-back 3s against Alabama in an NCAA tournament game that I think sent the game to overtime. It was incredibly exciting.

PGS: What do you think it will take for him to keep the job on a full-time basis?

HG: For me personally, I think the key things Jerome needs to do is change the mood, get the team to play harder and play defense and try to salvage the recruiting class. If he accomplishes those things, that would be a lot. I don’t know how many games they can win. Can they challenge Cornell or Harvard? I don’t know, I’d like to think they can. But right now, they’re 0-7. It’s hard to say they’ll be that good.

PGS: Are you confident this program can turn things around as early as next season?

HG: Yes. I think they’ll turn things around this season but it may not reflect until next season. You know, like when Jerome was a freshman, the team started to turn around. They didn’t win until the following year but they were certainly getting better that year. There are some pieces missing from this team that may be on the roster and Coach Allen might find them or they may not be on the roster and we’ll have to wait a year for them to come in. …  I think they’ve played hard at times, I don’t think they’ve played passionately. Jerome’s teams played hard and passionately. They weren’t always the most talented team, but when you played against Penn in those days, you weren’t thinking some wussy Ivy League team. They battled you until the bitter end.

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Changes in the air

Welcome, everyone, to the Pennsylvania Gazette’s new sports blog. We swear it wasn’t our intention to create this blog the same week Penn fired its basketball coach. It’s purely a coincidence, but it does leave a lot to discuss…

First, let me just say that writing about Penn sports is a wonderful homecoming for me. From 1999-2003, I covered a variety of sports for the Daily Pennsylvanian, following some truly awesome basketball teams into the NCAA tournament in ’02 and ’03. These days, I cover college sports for the Daily Local News in West Chester, Pa., and also freelance for the Gazette, CSNPhilly.com, Rushthecourt.net and other magazines and Web sites. But when it comes to sports, my biggest passion has always been with the Quakers, and I feel very fortunate to be the author of this blog.

Which brings us to the recent news. When I went to my first game at the Palestra this season (last week’s 20-point loss to Albany), it was hard not to notice how sad and depressed everyone was. It seemed nothing like the gym when I was in school. There were hardly any students in attendance, and the diehard alumni could only laugh to suppress their boos. Even though some people outside the situation have expressed their disappointment that an Ivy League school would do something as drastic as fire its coach midseason, I agree with most fans that a change had to be made. A quiet Palestra just isn’t right.

My goal in writing this blog, however, is not to simply spout out my opinions. As an online presence for the university’s alumni magazine, I plan to interview Penn alums everywhere — from ex-players to current coaches to writers and to fans. It’s my hope that this blog will become a voice and a forum for Penn alumni.

It’s also not my intention to compete with the sportswriters at the Daily Pennsylvanian (who I’ve always respected), the omnipresent Jonathan Tannenwald at Philly.com or any of the other media outlets that report on Penn sports. I only hope I can provide different angles and unique perspectives, and make this blog a new and fun place to get your fill of Penn sports.

That’s it for now. More to come soon on the firing of Glen Miller, the hiring of Jerome Allen and a new era in Penn basketball…

–Dave Zeitlin

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