Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Penn held its annual Red & Blue Scrimmage on Saturday morning at the Palestra, with most of the Quakers’ 21-man roster split in half for a regulation-length exhibition game.
Here are some thoughts from the inter-squad exhibition:
Antonio Woods (above) looked ready to play a big role for Penn in Saturday's scrimmage. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
1. Woods looks ahead of schedule
Considering it’s been just about 22 months since Antonio Woods last played any sort of meaningful Division I basketball minutes, it would have been understandable if the junior guard looked a bit behind his teammates in his return to the Palestra floor. But the 6-foot-3 guard, who was suspended from the University in January 2016 for “insufficient academic progress" and missed the remainder of that season and all of 2016-17, looks like he’s ready to jump right back into being a primary contributor for the Quakers.
Woods’ shake-and-bake offensive style was on display from early on in the scrimmage, as he sliced his way through the defense to the rim. He finished the day with 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting (note: all statistics unofficial), while also grabbing three rebounds.
“He’s had a really good fall,” Penn coach Steve Donahue said. “We have no one like him that can get to the rim, create his own shot, get to the foul line, make plays for others…it’s another dimension that we need and I think he provides it.”
Woods’ outside shooting was his biggest issue previously; as a sophomore, prior to his suspension, he was 13-of-53 (24.5 percent) from deep after shooting 27.7 percent (23-of-83) as a freshman. On Saturday, he missed his first attempt but finished 2-of-4, with both of his makes on catch-and-shoot opportunities. If he can get his outside shooting above 32 percent, he’ll play a much bigger role this season than previously thought.
2. Sophomores continue to impress…
Penn’s late-season surge last year was due in large part to the play of a trio of freshmen: forward A.J. Brodeur, wing guard Ryan Betley and point guard Devon Goodman. Brodeur had been the Quakers’ best player all season long, but Betley and Goodman didn’t get their chances to really contribute until the final dozen games of their rookie seasons. That Penn is expected to take another step forward this year is built in no small part on the thinking that those three would make the necessary improvements.
None had a bad day on Saturday. Goodman spent the day dribbling around his teammates, finishing with 17 points and four rebounds, hitting 6-of-9 from the floor and 3-of-4 from the foul line. Betley took a game-high 16 shots, hitting seven of them (including three 3s) to finish with a game-high 19.
Brodeur contributed 10 points and six rebounds while making the anticipated shift from center to power forward in the Quakers’ two-big lineup (more on that in a minute). Playing the ‘4’ seemed to showcase Brodeur’s ability to stretch the floor, as he hit 2-of-3 3-point attempts, as well as his play-making ability; Brodeur had four assists as well as a number of other on-point passes that his teammates failed to convert.
“I think you saw, and we’ve done this in practice enough, you’re going to see a lot more interior-assisted baskets for easier shots than kick-out 3s, which is probably what we did over the last couple years,” Donahue said. “With having two bigs in there, I think our interior passing will get better.
Jarrod Simmons (above) scored all 13 of his points in the second half. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
3. ...but the freshmen need some time
Of the four freshmen on the Quakers roster, two are making a serious push to be in the rotation right away. Moon (Pa.) grad Jarrod Simmons and Gonzaga (D.C.)’s Eddie Scott both saw a lot of playing time on Saturday, their first time in Penn uniforms, and with them on the court it becomes easier to see where they fit in right away.
Both were clearly shaky out of the gate. Scott fumbled the ball the first couple times he touched it, turning it over on several occasions; Simmons didn’t produce a single stat in the first half. But as the game went on, he started to find confidence, scoring his first bucket early in the second half and going from there.
Simmons, a 6-8 forward, finished with 13 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals, showing some ball skills on a driving layup but also displaying he knows how to run the floor, catch and finish in transition without missing a beat.
“He’ll show flashes of just naturally scoring the ball, and then he’ll have lapses,” Donahue said. “When we get in a lot of structure and scouts, you concern yourself with all freshmen. I think we’ll see more ups and downs, but the good stuff makes you encouraged that he’s going to be a really good player.”
Scott, a 6-6 wing, finished with five points and two boards, hitting two of his nine shots.
A third freshman, Salt Lake City East (Utah) grad Mark Jackson, got some playing time, though the 7-3 center has been on a Mormon mission the last two years and is still clearly re-adjusting to getting back on the court. The fourth freshman, Sidwell Friends (D.C.) grad Jelani Williams, continues to recover from his ACL injury.
4. Role players step up
Though much of the focus is on the underclassmen, there’s several juniors and seniors on the roster who are still fighting for minutes that are available in the rotation.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the afternoon was senior big man Dan Dwyer. A 6-8 forward out of River Forest (Ill.), Dwyer has only played in 46 games in his first three seasons, scoring a grand total of 39 points, and only saw action in seven contests a year ago. But he was active around the glass, kept the ball moving in the Quakers’ offense and worked his way to a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds, as well as two assists. With Penn hoping to play two forwards at all times, there’s room for one more forward alongside Brodeur, Rothschild and Simmons.
“I thought he played well, made others better,” Donahue said. “He’s bigger, stronger, more confident than he’s ever been.”
Also playing well was junior guard Jackson Donahue. The 6-1 shooting guard knocked down three long balls (on five attempts) en route to 15 points, while grabbing four rebounds and dishing out two assists. He and Caleb Wood (7 points, 1-8 3PT) are battling it out for the shooters' role off the bench.
Though he doesn’t quite fit in with this group, Darnell Foreman just continues to get better and better. The senior guard, who carved his way into the Penn rotation and eventually starting lineup, contributed 13 points and at least one rebound, assist, steal and block in a complete all-around effort. The team’s best on-ball defender as well, Foreman will make it tough for Donahue to keep him off the court after playing 28.6 mpg as a junior in 28 games (21 starts).
“He’s got a great presence on offense and defense, I think it really holds us together on both sides of the ball,” Donahue said. “He’s a kid that I continuously worked hard to get better, and at this age, this stage of his career, I think he’s a really good floor general, leader and just a really good basketball player.”
Extra Notes: Betley didn’t start, but Donahue said afterwards it was to let some upperclassmen get that opportunity, and that it didn’t have any meaning beyond that. ...Junior wing Tyler Hamilton has been out with a sports hernia he had surgery on 8 weeks ago; Donahue said Hamilton suffered a “little setback” this week but should return to the court soon. ...Freshman guard Jelani Williams is still about six weeks from his return to practice. Williams tore his ACL during his senior year of high school at Sidwell Friends (D.C.), and Donahue said Simmons’ doctors down in D.C. are targeting Dec. 1 as his “live” return to practices. After that, his timeline for a return is still to be determined.