Former Penn assistant coach Scott Pera talks about why he left for Rice

On Monday, I talked with with former Penn basketball assistant coach Scott Pera about why he's moving to Rice, and about the Quakers program he's leaving behind. I thank him for taking a few minutes out of packing up his life and getting ready to move his family to Houston.

What went into the decision to switch jobs? 

The decision for me was based on a longtime friendship with [new Rice head coach] Mike Rhoades. We go back 20 years, to when he was playing Division III [basketball] at Lebanon Valley and I was coaching at Annville-Cleona High School just a few blocks away.

We formed a friendship then that has only grown stronger over the years. We spent many nights talking about one of us or both of us running our own programs some day. When he got the offer and made me an offer, it made the decision pretty easy. 

The timing of the move has gotten attention as much as the move itself, given the rocky state of the Penn program at the moment. Is that a fair perception? 

The timing of these things is uncontrollable. Nobody can control when Mike Rhoades gets named the head coach at Rice, and anyone who follows college baskebtball knows that people get hired at any time. None of [that] has anything to do with Penn. It just is that we had a strong relationship and were excited to work together. Anybody who looks further or for other angles into that is completely off base.

I know it meant a lot to you to come to Penn from Arizona State in 2012, as you're from Hershey and your wife is a Penn alum. What will you miss about being here?

Many things, starting with the people i work with. I'm going to miss Jerome [Allen] and Ira [Bowman] and Jason [Polykoff] tremendously. They are great human beings. They made the work environment a great place, even through tough times.

Everybody's disapponted in the amount of wins we had the last two years - players, coaches, media, fans, alums, everybody. And that's understandable. In spite of that, I will look back on my time at Penn as very favorable and very enjoyable, and it's due to the poeple I worked with every day. Because I know what they're about and trying to do. it is my sincere hope that they have a tremendous year next year.

What message would you give to the Penn players who are coming back next year?

First of all, it's always difficult when you leave kids that you really enjoy being around. I've changed high school jobs [and] I've changed college jobs, and when you leave kids you get close, to it's difficult. Guys like Matt Howard, Dylan Jones, Darien Nelson-Henry, Tony Hicks.

The message is simple: they've got to have an incredible summer, and be arms locked in to stay together and work and improve so they don't go through what they went through this year.

You mentioned Darien Nelson-Henry there, and he has such potential as a big man. What do you hope to see from him in coming years?

Darien's ceiling is as far up as Darien wants to lift it. Hee has a chance to be a good player, and potential sometimes is a dangerous word. He's had some highlights, he's had some lowlights, he's had some great games, he's had some struggles.

What he needs to go is to get as serious as he's ever been about anything in his life, keep working on his body... He looks great, his weight is down, but he's got to make that into muscle. He's got great potential. if he doesn't [do those things] he'll still be good, but not as much as he had hoped. I think this will be a big maturity summer for darien.

And with Tony Hicks as well, what do you see as his potential, since he's clearly going to be one of the leaders of this team going forward?

The same thing. This is a group of young guys that needs to really mature, put in the work, stay together, and they will see it through and then have success. I'm really confident in that if they do those things. If they don't they're not going to [succeed]. That's as simple a sentence as I can give you.

But i was certainly encouraged by the early indications of their attitude and their approach to [this summer]. If that stays consistent over the next five months, they'll see some good results.

Finally, what about Jerome Allen? I know you have seen the pressure he has been under. 

i have total confidence in Jerome Allen to get Penn basketball back to where it needs to be. He's a tremendous person with tremendous passion for the university. He's a great coach - very knowledgeable, he studies the game, he cares about the kids.

I don't think there's anybody who has ever done this over a long period of time and not had a few hiccups. He'll get the ship righted. Hopefully they'll have a great year, and I'll be cheering loud from Houston.