Penn no longer mighty in Ivy League

Jerome Allen has already altered some dour attitudes at

Penn.

Turning the Quakers into winners could take much longer.

The Quakers interim coach writes an inspirational quote of the

day on the practice sheet. He dives on the Palestra court at

practice to show how he wants his team to fight for a loose ball.

And when the Quakers boarded a plane for North Carolina, they

ditched the sweats for suits and ties.

Allen offers no more excuses why Pennsylvania has gone from Ivy

League dominance to doormat.

“I wouldn’t say the program’s off track,” Allen said. “I’d

just say the past couple of seasons we haven’t reflected the

results our school is used to seeing.”

It’s up to the 36-year-old Allen to make more than cosmetic

changes with the Quakers. The two-time Ivy League player of the

year is in charge of leading the team he led to a rare NCAA

tournament victory back to respectability.

Once a regular in the tournament, Penn’s freefall has been about

as stunning as the Ivy League school admitting high school

dropouts.

The Quakers lost their first seven games and fired their coach,

Glen Miller. They named a broadcaster an assistant coach, and

promoted an assistant coach in his first year with the program to

interim head coach.

Only a smattering of fans watch at the Palestra. Heck, even the

governor has stopped attending games.

“There’s a lot of ways to point the finger,” said sophomore

guard Zack Rosen. “Things happen. It’s obviously not the start

that we expected. You just keep going.”

Oh, and it will probably get worse for the Quakers before they

open conference play. They play at Davidson on Monday and at No. 7

Duke on Dec. 31. That’s a burdensome 1-2 road trip for any team,

much less a foundering 0-7 team.

“This is what you signed up to do. These are the opportunities

we ask for,” Rosen said Sunday. “It’s not, ‘Oh, we’ve got to play

them.’ We want to play.”

The Quakers have been in decline since Fran Dunphy left in 2006

for fellow Big 5 team Temple. Miller, hired away from Ivy League

team Brown, led the Quakers to the tournament with Dunphy’s

holdovers in his first season.

Miller’s record dipped to 13-18 and then 10-18 last season amid

grumbling that he wasn’t outgoing enough or savvy enough to please

the alumni. Injuries, notably to returning leading scorer Tyler

Bernardini, hurt Penn’s effort.

Players noticed a change in Miller, who did not return a call

for comment, as the losses piled up.

“There was a disconnect,” Rosen said. “I’m not sure

why.”

Exit Miller, enter Allen.

After the Quakers lost to Monmouth on Dec. 12, athletic director

Steve Bilsky told the players that Miller was fired. Miller, in his

first season as an assistant, is a Big 5 Hall of Famer who scored

1,518 career points and ended his career as Penn’s leader in

assists and steals.

He was a former team captain and played on three NCAA tournament

teams. He was on the 1994 team that beat Nebraska in the first

round for the program’s only NCAA victory since 1980.

Allen also spent two seasons in the NBA and played

professionally in Europe.

Allen asked Penn radio analyst Vince Curran, his former Quakers

teammate, to join him on the bench. Allen’s role is temporary for

this season, but he wants to be considered for the full-time

job.

“I approach it as if it’s the case,” he said. “It’s the only

way I can give my all. I can’t approach it like this is only where

I’m at for the time being.”

Allen, who cites Dunphy as a major influence, said his only

focus is beating Davidson. The Quakers still have city games left

with No. 21 Temple, La Salle and Saint Joseph’s before opening Ivy

League play on Jan. 29 at Yale. Cornell has wrested away the title

of the Ivy’s best team, and the Quakers weren’t expected to be in

title contention anyway.

They just weren’t expected to be winless.

Gov. Ed Rendell, who earned his undergraduate degree at Penn in

1965, has some influence on the program and called Allen’s

promotion the right choice.

“Jerome used to work for me in the summers when he played

basketball for Penn,” Rendell said. “Jerome worked for us and

he’s a terrific young guy, I think he’ll be a great recruiter, I

think he had an incredible work ethic as a player, which he’ll

imbue on the team, so I think things will change for the better at

Penn.”

The Quakers, who played in the 1979 Final Four, are counting on

change.

“Guys are excited,” Rosen said. “The change has brought a new

sense of energy, a new environment. Guys are excited about

practice.

“We definitely feel we have a shot to turn it around.”