With Penn coach Glen Miller in the second year of a rebuilding project that began after the Quakers won the Ivy League championship in his first season, 2006-07, the team's coming together has been disrupted by injury and an unexpected defection.
The Quakers, who are struggling at 5-13 overall and 1-3 in the Ancient Eight, are missing five players who were expected to contribute.
Andreas Schreiber, a 6-9 forward who played in all 31 games last season while starting 15, has played in only two games because of a shoulder injury after averaging 5.5 points and 3.9 rebounds as a sophomore. Senior guard Aron Cohen (heart condition) and senior forward Tommy McMahon (back) are out for the season. Sophomore swingman Remy Cofield decided to transfer. And junior guard Darren Smith is on the sideline for the second straight season with a knee injury.
The 6-4 Smith, who as a freshman started the last 12 games of the season as Penn stormed to the Ivy League title and a berth in the NCAA tournament, is probably the Quakers' most significant absentee.
Smith went down with a fractured kneecap in the Quakers' opener against Drexel in 2007-08, and underwent surgery the next month on his right knee. It has not healed.
"It's hard, but I'm pretty much just trying to stay positive," said Smith, a native of Elizabeth, N.J., who played at South Plainfield High and the Peddie School. "I'm trying to get better as soon as possible, but I'm not trying to rush back."
Smith was working out with the Quakers last fall during the preseason before being shut down by doctor's orders. Another operation on the knee could be required, but he is looking forward to suiting up again as a senior. And there is a chance Smith could get an extra season of eligibility, though the requirements are different for Ivy League players.
At scholarship schools, the NCAA makes the ruling and the player has to be only a full-time student. Smith would have to petition the Ivy League during his senior season. And what he must present is an academic plan - another major or an additional minor, for instance - that would result in the player's leaving school with additional credentials.
The Quakers had a player in a similar situation in Brian Grandieri, who graduated last year. Grandieri sat out his freshman season with a knee injury, but declined to seek an extra year of eligibility.
Smith said he would take advantage of the avenue.
"I'm not as down as I was," Smith said. "I'm just trying to stay busy. And I'm here to support the team. But it's hard knowing that I could be out there helping."
Through 18 games, Penn has had six different players lead the team in scoring.
Penn is 5-0 when leading at the half and 0-11 when trailing at the half.
The 10 teams Penn lost to in nonleague games were 147-70 before last weekend.
Penn will have played five of its first seven Ivy League games on the road after visiting Brown and Yale this weekend, and Princeton on Feb. 17.
Penn coach Glen Miller will return to the school that gave him his first Division I head coaching job when the Quakers meet Brown on Friday. Last year, Miller's old team beat Penn twice. With Miller in charge, Brown downed the Quakers twice in 2003-04. When Miller took over the Bears in 1999-2000, they were coming off a 4-22 finish that included a 2-12 mark in the Ivy League. In 2002-03 he became the first coach to lead an Ivy League team other than Penn or Princeton to 12 conference wins since 1968.
Record: 5-13; 1-3 Ivy (seventh place).
RPI: No. 250.
NCAA tournament outlook: Must win Ivy title. Princeton (4-0) and Cornell (5-1) are the main contenders for that spot.
Last game: Lost at home to defending Ivy League champion Cornell, 88-73, on Saturday as sophomore guard Harrison Gaines scored a career-high 20 points.
Next game: The Quakers visit Brown on Friday.EndText