The goal is the same. Win the Ivy League and advance to the NCAA tournament. But each year the cast changes and the 2004-05 edition of the Penn basketball team is a young, talented core of student-athletes who want to reposition Penn basketball atop the Ivy League - a place Head Coach Fran Dunphy knows well as the Red and Blue have won eight conference titles in the last 12 years.
The Quakers will rely on the leadership of their seven seniors to carry them through the 2004-05 campaign. The senior cohorts are no strangers to Ivy League supremacy as they have won the title two out of their three years in Philadelphia. Two-time All-Ivy selection Tim Begley will spearhead this talented squad when they hit the hardwood on Nov. 16 against Quinnipiac in the Preseason NIT.
With the loss of three starters to graduation, the Quakers will have to do some shuffling in the line-up to find the right cast to lead them back to the title. Penn’s seven seniors (five graduating), one junior, five sophomores and four freshmen will all vie for a spot in the line-up.
Penn will be without two of the top-three scorers from last season with the loss of Jeff Schiffner and Adam Chubb to graduation. Both players averaged double-digits last season and were tremendous leaders on the hardwood for the Quakers. The success of the Red and Blue this season depends on how the Quakers will step up, make big plays and take ownership of the court.
The Front Court
“We have a lot of depth up front this season,” Dunphy said. “Between Jan (Fikiel), Mark Zoller, Steve Danley, Conor (Tolan), Ryan (Pettinella) and Nameir (Majette), we have a solid group to work with.”
Senior Fikiel and sophomore Zoller saw significant time in the starting line-up last season and could return to the starting five in 2004-05. The rookie averaged 8.7 points per game while Fikiel averaged just under 3.0 ppg. Zoller was also one of the top-15 rebounders in the League, pulling down 4.7 boards a game.
“Zoller is as competitive as any guy we have on the team,” Dunphy said. “He is a perimeter threat on offense and with better defensive skills and solid rebounding, he should develop into a strong player.”
“Jan is the most skilled forward we have. He’s a good shooter and a good passer and with an increased competitive edge and solid rebounding, will be a force in the starting line-up.
Danley came off the bench in every game last season to average 2.6 ppg and 2.6 rpg and could also be one of the starting five come November.
“Danley has the potential to be a great leader,” Dunphy said. “He improved a great deal over the course of last season. He could be very effective down low and has the ability to be a real threat on the perimeter also with his jump shot. ”
Another baller who could see himself in the line-up is Pettinella. “Ryan’s playing time should increase this season and he might even be one of our starters. He is a good rebounder and a very active player inside,” Dunphy commented.
Both Tolan and Majette will look to see more time on the court in 2004-05. After three years under Dunphy’s tutelage, these upperclassmen know what they need to do to help the Red and Blue win another Ivy League crown.
“Begley is our staple in the back court, but Ibrahim Jaaber and Eric Osmundson really need to step up this season,” Dunphy added.
Begley, who finished the 2003-04 season averaging 13.1 points per game and was first in the Ivy League in three-point shooting percentage (45.6) and three-point field goals made per game (3.07), has a chance to break Penn’s all-time three-point record. Begley finished his junior campaign sixth on Penn's three-pointers made in a career list with 177 and is third all-time in three-point field goals made in a season with 83. Begley also finished the season ninth in NCAA Division I in three-point field goal percentage and 23rd in trifectas made per game.
"Tim's heart and dedication to the game and this program is an inspiration for all of us," Dunphy said. "He is one of the best all-around players we have and we look forward to seeing him mature even more during his final season at Penn."
Jaaber and Osmundson have some big shoes to fill in the backcourt. Jaaber came off the bench in 25 contests last season and scored 6.5 points per game while collecting 2.4 rebounds per game.
Jaaber provides speed and has the ability to snatch the ball away from opponents. “Jaaber had a good year on offense last season and will be looked upon to score points this year and become a play maker.”
“Osmundson could be the key to the whole season,” Dunphy said. “He has the skill and the ability, but needs to see the game at a different speed. If he has a good season, it will should be a major factor on the team’s success.”
Seniors Patrick Lang and Eric Heil and junior Friedrich Ebede will look for more time to show off their stuff this season. If these student-athletes can translate their intensity and basketball know-how to every-day practice they will push their way into the line-up.
The Big D
Penn held its opponents to just 63.6 points per game last season, which ranked second in the Ancient Eight. In contests against Bucknell, La Salle, Manhattan and Indiana State, the Quakers held the opposition to under 50 points, including allowing La Salle only 17 points in the second half.
The trio of Begley, Zoller and Jaaber combined for 86 steals, whicih included Jaaber’s 32 take aways off the bench.
But in order for the Red and Blue to succeed on the hardwood, they will have to step up on defense and create more scoring opportunities.
“We will play more zone defense this season and possibly some two-three to try and improve on our defensive game,” Dunphy said.
Making an Impact
Four newcomers will don the Red and Blue for the Quakers this season. Joining the line-up will be Joe Gill (Fort Washington, Pa.), Brian Grandieri (Media, Pa.), Michael Kach (Carmel, N.Y.) and David Whitehurst (Tinton Falls, N.J.).
“It’s not easy to predict how these freshmen will fit in this season, but each will be given the opportunity to make an impact,” Dunphy said. “We will have to see how they make the transition to the college game.”
“I think Kach with his experience in prep school could help on a more immediate basis, Dunphy added. “David is a very athletic person, and with some work on his ball skills, could turn into a solid player for our team. Brian and Joe both have excellent ball handling skills and could find their way into the line-up with some strength training during the season.”
The Red and Blue will open the 2004-05 in the Preseason NIT for the third time in 10 years. Penn hosts Quinnpiac at The Palestra on Nov. 16 to kick off the tournament.
“Obviously it is a privilege to be opening the new year at the Preseason NIT, especially with a game in The Palestra,” Dunphy said. “It’s a great way to kick things off and to see where your program is headed early in the playing season.”
Written by Heather Palmer, associate director of athletic communications