Despite what I wrote in the Inquirer this morning, there definitely were not 2,335 people in the Palestra last night. Maybe they sold that many tickets, but I doubt there were more than 1,500 fans actually in the building.
Among the stragglers, though, a couple faces stood out to me. Gov. Rendell was there, the burden of his regular job notwithstanding. Former Penn stars Bob Morse and Stan Green were also courtside. Bob Weinhauer, who coached the 1979 Quakers team that reached the Final Four, was in the house for both games this weekend.
Weinhauer usually shows up for a few games a year, but I think this was the first time this season he was in attendance. I hadn't seen Morse in quite a while, although I certainly may have missed him if he was around.
Regardless, I couldn't help thinking that it was pretty meaningful that they all showed up. Despite the improvements Penn has made under Jerome Allen, this year's Quakers squad will set a new program record for Ivy League futility if it loses Tuesday at Princeton.
A Tigers win at Jadwin Gym will mean that Penn finishes the season at 5-9 for the first time since 1958-59, when Jack McCloskey was in charge. To give you an idea of how long that's been, that season was only the fourth of the Big 5's existence.
You wonder how many people would show up if Penn was any good. It's been a couple years now since the Palestra was really packed for a Quakers game, and it could be a while before it happens again.
But as I said a few paragraphs earlier, this team has made strides since Allen took over in December. There's still a (very) long way to go, but the unpredecented anger that coursed through the Penn alumni I heard from last fall has dissipated.
I spent time with Rendell and Weinhauer last night, and a bit of what they had to say made it into the paper. Here's more from them, as well as Allen, senior forward Justin Reilly and junior forward Jack Eggleston.
On why he keeps coming to Penn games despite the team's struggles
Well, I missed last night's game, which turned out to be a hell of a game. I was in Harrisburg. But it's the last home game of the year. I wanted to see the seniors play - I've always liked Justin Reilly - and, you know, I'm in Philadelphia. When I'm in the city, I always come. I enjoy it.
I love watching Zack Rosen play. I think he's a terrific player. Had he been surrounded by good players, he'd be awesome. And there's individual sparks. I always thought Eggleston could be better if he played consistently, and he's playing great tonight.
And I do have hopes for them, when Bernardini comes back and Schreiber comes back next year, and they supposedly have a good class coming in. Toni Kukoc's kid is supposed to be a good shooter. And I'm a loyal alumnus. If I'm in town, I'm here.
On Jerome Allen's performance as coach
He's done an excellent job. I think they play much harder, they play with intensity, they play better defense - although they still make some mistakes. They still don't box out as much as I'd like to see. He's got them moving the ball very, very well. Tonight there have been some great passes that led to easy baskets. And not just Rosen. He's got everybody passing.
I like that the players are getting better under Jerome. I think [Dan] Monckton has gotten better. [Rob] Belcore has gotten better. And I think that's the sign of a very good, supportive coach, when the players make progress. Down the road, this team could have beaten Harvard. We could have beaten Columbia twice, and I think still could have beaten Princeton. I think Jerome's done a fine job.
His impressions of the team
I've seen a tremendous improvement in the quality of the team from the begining of the year when Jerome took over until now. I see the fact that the players are having more fun, they're really going after it very hard. We have some deficiencies, let's face it - shooting is one, protecting the basketball is another one. But I see a tremendous improvement.
On what advice he would offer the team*
Well I would try to be very positive. In some cases I may point out a deficiency that needs to be worked on, but overall, it's not my position to be anything other than positive, and encourage them so that they can continue to build on their careers.
* - You did not have to look around for too long to see Weinhauer chatting with Zack Rosen and then Jerome Allen after Friday's game. I don't know if he addressed the full team, but he certainly appeared to have a few things to say to Rosen and Allen.
On Jerome Allen
I think Jerome has done an excellent job. The players respect him, the coaching staff works together. I think the coaching staff respects the effort that the players are giving. I think that's a good combination.
On coming back to Penn games
I always enjoy coming back to Philadelphia and especially to the Palestra. It's a fun place to be.
On how important it was to beat Dartmouth after Friday's close loss to Harvard
It was very important. I knew it was going to be difficult mentally for these guys to respond back after losing the way we did Friday night. But it's a testament to their growth and their maturity and their desire to try to come back and make a difference.
On whether the team has improved over the season
Somewhat. Yeah, definitely. The biggest thing, though, is that I think all the guys want to do the right thing. So when they make mistakes, it's not with malicious intent. It's not going to happen overnight. How they process things - you may process things a little bit faster than I may, or vice versa, but this is a great, great group.
I really enjoy the opportunity to coach these guys, and I'm appreciative of the fact that they tried to go out and execute what we wanted to do as a staff.
On having Bob Weinhauer in attendance
Words can't really express how much respect and admiration I have for Coach Weinhauer. For the obvious - for all the things that he's accomplished as a coach and as a general manager. For me personally, I think [for him] to genuinely care about what goes on here, and to offer his advice, and want to help, it means a lot.
I'm so honored and so grateful that I can pick the phone up and be able to call him and get his ear. That's a big deal. Pretty soon he's probably going to get tired of me calling. But I'm going to try to wear him out as much as I possibly can, because I want to improve.
On playing his final game at the Palestra
I guess tonight, there's a lot of emotions. So much of my family flew in from all over the country. But I think one of the biggest things is all the people who played before me, all the players and coaches - I just wanted to come out and help get a win tonight. It means a lot to walk out of this place with a Penn jersey on your back - it's a historic place.
On his dunk at the end of the game
I probably should have pulled that one out and not got that dunk, but everyone was on me to get it.
On having Weinhauer and former players including Bob Morse in attendance
I came down last night at like 1 a.m. and just stood at half court. That's what I did when I first got here in a pre-freshman program. That's why I came here. Looking around at all the banners and all the pictures, when those guys come back, it means more than you can believe just to have them standing behind you in the locker room or just saying "Good game," or giving you advice.
On the former players in attendance
It's an incredible honor for me. We see in the locker room the pictures of Coach Weinhauer, Tony Price, you name it. Every guy who's come before us. We walk around the Palestra and we see all these people, and we see what the Penn program and could be again.
For them to come back and support us, especially when we've benn struggling so much, and just show what the tradition means to this program, and tell us that there's good times ahead, to me, that's an incredible honor.