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Midwest guard A.J. Levine adds to Penn's 2024 class

11/21/2023, 2:00pm EST
By Dylan Lutey

By Dylan Lutey (@dylan_lutey)

All it took was one visit.

AJ Levine was on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus for a team camp this summer, but only got a brief tour. He went on his official visit last Tuesday, Nov. 14, the day after the Quakers’ upset win over Villanova.

Within the first few minutes, he was sold.

“My parents told me when I was looking for a college that I’d step on a campus and really know that’s where I wanted to be; I didn’t know what that was going to feel like, but when I got to Penn that’s exactly what it was,” Levine said. “I walked on (campus), we were looking at everything, and I was like wow this is where I need to be and if they offer me, I don’t think it’s going to be long until I commit.”

The offer indeed came in at an impromptu meeting with Penn head coach Steve Donahue later that night. 

Two days later, the 6-foot point guard out of York Community High (Ill.) gave his verbal commitment to Donahue and the rest of the staff who he called individually. 

Illinois guard A.J. Levine announced his commitment to Penn last week. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

He announced the decision last Friday via social media, making him the fourth member of Donahue’s 2024 recruiting class which also includes Alex Massung, Michelangelo Oberti, and Bradyn Foster.

“I think it’s the facilities that stand out; the Palestra is an historic place to play (and) they definitely have the best facilities in the Ivy League,” said Levine. “The size of the school and the liveliness also stood out. When we were walking around campus there were people everywhere. It just seems like a really great place to be and I don’t think people realize that.”

In addition to the Quakers, Levine picked up an offer from Northern Illinois, but moving out of his hometown and finding a campus in the middle of a vibrant city was a priority. Penn provided just that with its 299-acre campus located in West Philadelphia’s University City.  

“The big thing for me was I wanted to get out of the Midwest,” he said. “I love being in a city and being able to explore the city and Penn is really a community within a huge city like Philadelphia.”

For Donahue and the entire basketball program the visit came at a perfect time. The Quakers were coming off a 76-72 upset win over No. 21 Villanova, earning just their second win in the last 20 years against the Wildcats. Not only was the campus still buzzing after storming the court the night before which added to the “liveliness”, but Levine was also tuned into the game.

“It was great to see Penn get a huge win vs Villanova the night before and it showed how supported the basketball team was throughout the campus,” he said.

Levine started off playing many sports including football, lacrosse, soccer, baseball, and basketball. It wasn’t until the beginning of high school when he started to key in on basketball after realizing he would need to devote more time to the game if he wanted to keep up with his peers.

His work paid off as a junior at York Community last season when he averaged 17 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists per game, earning West Suburban Silver All-Conference Team.

“My freshman season, just seeing people pass me up, I got motivation from it,” Levine said. “I got in the gym a lot with my shooting coach and started to go to a trainer which made me fall in love with basketball.”

Levine continued on to have a big spring with Big 3 AAU, putting up 20+ points on multiple occasions. Then, during the June scholastic live period he had a monster performance, putting up 39 points in a 49-42 win against Warren High. He also attended a few team camps at Columbia, Princeton, and Youngstown St.

Despite his success, the spring and beginning of the summer was “slow” for Levine in terms of his recruitment. Then he attended the UPenn Elite Camp on July 7, when his contact with Donahue and the Quakers started.

The following weekend, Donahue went to see Levine at Spooky Nook playing with Young & Reckless HGSL in the 17U HGSL Showcase. Playing with his new team helped with exposure and he went on to garner more attention from the likes of Dartmouth, UW Milwaukee, Northern Illinois and D-III Carnegie Mellon. The Huskies became the first team to offer him July 25.

He took a visit to UW Milwaukee on Sept. 23.  Similar to the other schools who showed interest, their staff “seemed close to offering, but never did”. When he got notified of the official visit to Penn he was very hopeful that an offer would come.

“I talked to my AAU coach and they were telling me that it was unlikely that they’d take me out for an official visit and not offer me,” Levine said. “I went into the visit hoping I would get the offer, but I wasn't sure.”

After he received the offer and ultimately committed, Levine also learned about Donahue’s plans for him when he steps on to campus next season.

“He expects me to come in and be able to lead the team, run the show on offense, handle the ball, and score it when I need to,” Levine said. “He talked to me about how they haven’t really had a good point guard leader to run the show.”

It remains to be seen how often he will see the court for the Quakers who are coming off a successful 2022-23 finishing 17-13 overall and 9-5 in conference play, and are currently sitting at 3-2 led by a couple young promising guards. 

The group of youngsters is headlined by freshman guard Tyler Perkins who is currently averaging 15.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, and sophomore guard Cam Thrower, who is currently averaging 8.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Junior Ed Holland III, who is scoring 7.3 points and grabbing 3.3 rebounds per game, also plays an important role. 

Playing time will have to be well earned, but Levine has never been one to shy away from hard work.

“My work ethic,” Levine responded when asked about what will allow him to adapt to the next level. “I think I’m one of the hardest workers, and I got my teammates coming in with me constantly going to put up shots. I feel like I’m really able to influence a team.”

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