Fresh start for Penn, coach Allen

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Penn was picked fourth in the Ivy League preseason media poll. (Steven M. Falk/Staff file photo)

Last October, Jerome Allen was settling in as a volunteer assistant at his alma mater. His long and distinguished basketball career in Europe over, Allen was thrilled to be back at the school he loved - the University of Pennsylvania.

Two months after that first practice, Allen went from volunteer to interim head coach. A little more than 3 months after that, he was named head coach, period.

Allen, one of the best players in Penn's distinguished basketball history, was entrusted with the job of making Penn into Penn again.

He got the interim job when last season's team was 0-7. Nobody was happy, not the players, not then-head coach Glen Miller. One could try to pinpoint reasons it was not working, but it was not working. The change was made.

The Quakers got better, but 6-22, 5-9 in the Ivy League is never going to be acceptable at Penn. Last season's team had injuries, but it also had issues. Now, after a spring and summer to clear everybody's head, the 2010-11 season is just a few weeks away.

"We don't want to assume anything from either the freshmen with high school experience or the upperclassmen," Allen said yesterday. "We want to start at point A and try to get to point B with a sense of confidence and understanding . . . [the players] have really been allowing themselves to be taught the game."

They have, Allen said, a willingness to be taught. Going from volunteer to interim to head might seem like a whirlwind to most, but, to Allen, one of the solid people in the history of city basketball, it is all part of the same big picture.

"I just wanted to help in whatever capacity that I could and that's still the same thing now," Allen said. "The main difference would be in terms of the amount of details. We probably didn't play our best basketball right after the change because we really weren't worried about winning in the short term. We just wanted [the players] to have a winning experience."

Allen's players wanted him as head coach because he gave them a winning experience. Now, they would like to do what he always did at Penn - win.

"This university has a history that allows you to create a vision that fits what you want," Allen said.

Penn was picked fourth in the preseason Ivy poll behind Princeton, Harvard and Cornell. Princeton, which went 11-3 and finished second to Cornell a year ago, has been picked to win this year's title, receiving 128 voting points and 12 of the 17 first-place votes.

A few years ago, Princeton was right where Penn was last season. They made a coaching change, bringing back Sydney Johnson, one of the great players in school history. Now the Tigers are back. So, it can be done. And Jerome Allen has been given the opportunity to get it done. He promised in March that it would get done. The season awaits.

Penn opens the regular season on Saturday, Nov. 13, when Davidson comes to The Palestra for a 7 o'clock tipoff.