Ryan Daly (above) has instantly become an indispensable piece for the Hawks. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Zach Drapkin (@ZachDrapkin)
One is a 6-foot-5 guard, his team’s primary ballhandler, a late-blooming high school product who’s done nothing but exceed expectations during the course of his college career.
The other is a 6-foot-8 post player, a highly-regarded high school prospect who’s become one of the best players in his program’s history.
Ryan Daly and A.J. Brodeur are quite different from one another, in their respective paths, their particular skills, their body type, and their position. What they do have in common, however, is that they’re amongst the most important players to their respective teams of anybody not just locally, but in the country.
When Saint Joseph’s and Penn battled it out at the Palestra on Saturday, there was no doubting that Daly and Brodeur were the most impactful players on the court.
Daly led the Hawks to an 87-81 win with 30-points, nine rebounds, and six assists — his twelfth 20-plus-point performance of the season — while Brodeur had 33 points and seven rebounds of his own for Penn.
And the two stepped up when their teams needed them most.
After St. Joe’s (4-14, 1-2 Big 5) took an early lead, Brodeur scored 17 of the Quakers’ final 23 points in the first half to cut the St. Joe’s lead to six by halftime, and early in the second half he stayed hot to help the Quakers (7-7, 1-2 Big 5) take a one-point lead with 10 minutes to go.
That’s when Daly took over, however, and the Delaware transfer scored the next 13 points for the Hawks to regain the lead and eventually seal the win.
“I knew that we couldn’t let it get from a one-point deficit to a five or six because it would be hard, so I took it upon myself to try to make a play,” Daly said. “I made a few in a row that luckily went in.”
These situations are hardly new for either player at this point in the season.
Daly has taken on a massive role in his first year on Hawk Hill. When he transferred to St. Joe’s, he expected to play in a backcourt that featured Charlie Brown, Lamarr Kimble and Jared Bynum. But the situation changed when Phil Martelli was let go, with Brown declaring for the pros, Kimble transferring to Louisville and Bynum to Providence
Under new head coach Billy Lange, Daly has shouldered a heavy load for an inexperienced Hawks squad, taking over primary ballhandling duties and creating shots for teammates and himself. It’s not dissimilar from his two years with the Blue Hens, where he scored exactly 1000 points and averaged just shy of seven rebounds per game while starting 59 games before his transfer.
“I had a big role at Delaware, not as much ballhandling, moreso scoring, but here I’m trying to do everything: rebound, score, assist, find guys open,” Daly said. “It’s a new challenge.”
A.J. Brodeur (above) is rocketing up the Penn record books in scoring, rebounding, minutes, and more. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Brodeur, meanwhile, has been integral to Penn’s success since his freshman year, starting every single game of his collegiate career (106 and counting), and the Quakers have practically build their offense on his ability to score in the paint and find open shooters. Though fellow seniors Ryan Betley and Devon Goodman help take off some of the pressure, the Quakers ride and die by their versatile big man, especially with the number of freshmen in the rotation this season.
“We rely on AJ for so much over the four years now,” Penn head coach Steve Donahue said. “Daly attracts so much attention, he’s obviously extremely important to [St. Joe’s]…We’re kind of similar in that both of us need those two to play well to win.”
With the way that Daly and Brodeur run the offense for their respective teams, it’s no surprise that both are members of a short list of players who lead their team in points, rebounds, and assists — Daly now with 20.1 ppg, 8.0 rpg, and 4.4 apg and Brodeur with 17.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg, and 4.4 apg.
Saturday’s game was the first time the two played against one another, and afterwards, both could see the commonalities in the way they play. Despite the clear differences in physique and position, they share a mutual respect and have a similar approach to the game, especially in terms of competitiveness.
“Brodeur is a heck of a player,” Daly said. “I think we’re similar in the fact that we’re not the most athletic on the court but I think we have high IQs.”
“I know what it’s like to come out and be expected to play that type of role on a team and it’s not easy,” Brodeur added. “[Daly] definitely commands a lot of attention from other teams’ defenses and his ability to find the open man is also really impressive, and I like to think that’s also something that I do pretty well…I really respect what he’s doing on that team.”
The other common thread between Daly and Brodeur at the moment is an unfortunate one for Big 5 fans; St. Joe’s and Penn are underperforming expectations at the start of conference play. As nice as individual numbers are, both players would rather have their teams winning games.
It was always going to be a tough season for St. Joe’s, which had to retool after Martelli’s departure, and then suffered a season-ending injury to one of its starters (Taylor Funk) within the first month of the season; the Hawks have lost their first five games in Atlantic 10 play. Penn, meanwhile, has lost three straight after a promising non-conference showing, including two losses to Princeton to open Ivy play.
With Daly and Brodeur in place, both teams have reason for optimism, as the young players have more cushion to improve and fill the supporting roles. The need for growth is more immediate for Penn, with this being the final season for Brodeur, Betley, and Goodman as Quakers, but all sides are confident that things will fall into place.
“I just want us to win, no matter what, if I take 25 shots or 12 shots or five shots. I just want us to win,” Daly said. “I’m just getting used to it, but the wins will start to come.
“I feel like we’re making good strides,” Brodeur said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we get there pretty soon, to the potential that I know we can be at.”