I still remember back in November of 2002 when I asked every basketball coach in the city who the favorite was to win the Big 5. I was a reporter for the Daily Pennsylvanian then, and I wasn’t sure how they would respond. But all of the coaches practically laughed at my face because the answer was so obvious.
It was Penn. Of course it was Penn.
(Imagine that being the case today.)
Returning everyone from a 2001-02 team that went 4-0 in the Big 5 and battled back from three early league losses to win the Ivy title, expectations were certainly soaring for the Quakers heading into the 2002-03 campaign. And the excitement on campus was palpable, with some people predicting that the team could be the best one since the Jerome Allen-Matt Maloney days in the early 1990s – or maybe even before then.
Today, the players on Fran Dunphy’s 2002-03 squad – a group led by point guard Andy Toole C’03, forwards Ugonna Onyekwe W’03 and Koko Archibong C’03, sharpshooters Tim Begley W’05 and Jeff Schiffner C’04, and sixth man Dave Klatsky W’03 – will probably tell you they underachieved because they didn’t win a game in the NCAA tournament.
But that’s not entirely fair.
The team still boasted a sterling 22-6 overall record, dismantled USC by 38 points by shooting a school-record 72 percent from the field, and raced through the Ivy League unbeaten to earn a second straight 11 seed in the NCAA tournament.
How hard is it go 14-0 in the Ivy League? The 2002-03 squad is the last team at Penn to do it and only the seventh in program history to accomplish the feat (with the others being the 1969-70, 1970-71, 1992-93, 1993-94, 1994-95 and 1999-2000 teams).
In honor of the 10-year anniversary of the 2002-03 Ivy champs, I decided to take a look back at one of that season’s most memorable wins – a 73-66 win over Brown on this date in 2003. And I decided to do so with the help of Klatsky, who buried probably the biggest three-pointer of his career with 40 seconds left to turn a two-point lead into a five-point lead and sent the Palestra crowd into frenzy.
Now let’s turn it over to Klatksy – an assistant coach at Colgate – who was kind enough to offer his thoughts of that game, the unlikely rivalry with Brown and the season in general…
On what he was thinking before making the shot:
“Koko, what are you doing – why are you passing me the ball with three seconds on the shot clock? Oh, you’re passing it to me? OK, I’ll shoot it – thank god Forte is letting me shoot it.”
On his reaction after making the shot:
“I had just hit one of two threes so that third one really was make or break. If I make it, I finish the last couple minutes hitting two huge threes. But if I miss it, then I took two huge threes and missed both of them. I loved taking huge shots but I sure am glad I hit two of three and didn’t miss two of three.”
On the rivalry with Brown:
“We knew the Ivies were going to be really strong that year. Yale was still a great team but they lost some close ones early, Princeton was very solid that year and we knew Brown had a chance to be good in the preseason because they returned the nucleus of their team. By the time the first meeting rolled around we knew they were a legitimate threat. They had really good players and had a lot of experience. Both of the Brown games that year were unforgettable. I’ll never forget going to play at their place later that year which was basically for the championship (since it would put us two games up) and having their fans line the sidewalks when our bus arrived. If that wasn’t enough, they had Chris Berman announce the starting lineups. You couldn’t ask for a more electric atmosphere for a college basketball game.”
[Editor’s note: Then-Brown coach Glen Miller added flames to the rivalry when, shortly after Klatsky’s shot and Penn’s win at the Palestra, he told reporters that his team “got jammed up our asses by three officials” and that they “outplayed [Penn] the whole freakin’ game.” Those unsportsmanlike comments made his hiring at Penn three years later troublesome to some fans and alumni.]
On going 14-0 in the league:
“We had a lot of expectations coming in to the year and that caught up with us early as we dropped two of three to start the season and then got smoked at Colorado. I don’t think anyone truthfully expected a 14-0 Ivy season with as good as the Ivies were that season. It helped that we were a veteran team and knew how to win games. Unless you’ve played in the Ivies, it’s hard to explain how tough it is to play and win on the road in those back-to-back games.”
On some of his best memories of the season:
- Going to California and having Koko’s family take care of us all and then having what seemed like everyone he ever talked to come support us at the Forum for what is arguably the best Penn game in history when we shot 80 percent in the first half and beat USC by 40.
- Playing that season with NB on our shorts in tribute to Tim Begley’s father Neil who passed away before the season.
- Playing a tough Oklahoma State team in the first round of the tourney and loving the matchup when it showed up on TV and hating it when we realized how good their guards were – i.e. Tony Allen.
- Being disappointed that we didn’t make noise in the NCAA tourney because I had such confidence in our team and truly believed we had the capabilities to make a run. In that respect, as well as we did, it still seems like we underachieved.
- In the last game of the season, we already clinched the Ivies but we still had our game at Princeton left. It’s Penn-Princeton, so records don’t really matter. As we got to Jadwin, Andy Toole realized he didn’t pack his shoes. As Toole warmed up in running shoes, our managers were on the horn trying to get a hold of a friend who was coming to the game. Luckily for us, our friend Matt Mezvinsky was able to bring the shoes to Andy ten minutes before game time. I’m pretty sure Coach Dunph never knew about this.”
Many thanks to Klatsky for sharing such great memories from such a special season – and a special shot.