Steve Donahue, a bit bleary-eyed after an eventful 24 hours, had a simple thought after digesting the euphoric events he and his Penn basketball players had been through.
After the Quakers beat Harvard, 68-65, in the Ivy League championship game at the Palestra on Sunday, the third-year Penn coach and his players learned a few hours later that top-seeded Kansas would be their opponent in the NCAA Midwest Regional opener Thursday in Wichita, Kan.
“After the elation of being in this tournament kind of dissipates a little bit, you want to win,” Donahue said Monday before putting his team through an afternoon practice.
Donahue estimated he has received more than 500 congratulatory texts, and he hasn’t been able to get back to all the well-wishers. Not many people, however, believe his 16th-seeded team can beat one of the giants of college basketball.
Since 1985, when the NCAA first included a No. 16 seed, the bottom team has never defeated a No. 1 seed.
As a coach, Donahue has only one instinct: to prepare to win. He knows the odds and doesn’t really care. Remember, he was the head coach at another Ivy League school, Cornell, that earned a spot in the Sweet 16 during the 2010 tournament.
So never mind that the 27-7 Jayhawks are considered a viable national title contender. Donahue and his players can dream.
“College basketball now isn’t what it was 20 years ago,” he said. “They don’t have five NBA starters that have already been in college three years. We are a more different program than we were.”
The confidence continued to pour through.
“To me, objectively thinking, I don’t think like this is a 16-1 game,” he said of the seedings. “Now that doesn’t mean Kansas isn’t terrific and that we don’t have our work cut out for us, but I feel strongly we will perform well.”
Just because he has to move on from Sunday’s celebration doesn’t mean that Donahue, who was the final one to cut down the nets, hasn’t appreciated the fact that Penn has earned its first NCAA appearance since 2007.
“In 30 years of coaching I have been fortunate to have been a part of a lot of championships, but nothing like this,” said Donahue, who was involved with six Ivy League champions as a Penn assistant from 1990 to 2000.
His team had to win two Ivy League games in 24 hours, including Saturday’s 80-57 victory over Yale.
“You have two games you have to win, the anxiety of getting ready for those games, playing in that kind of an environment [Sunday] and two hours later you are on Selection Sunday and now you are trying to regroup with everything,” Donahue said. “It is all good, but it has been crazy in a good way.”
If it has been crazy for the coach, imagine the players.
“I woke up this morning and thought I just woke up from the best dream of my life,” said sophomore forward A.J. Brodeur, named the outstanding player of the Ivy League tournament. “Because I woke up and felt like a champion, but in a way I didn’t really wake up from it because it is kind of like I am living that dream right now.”
Brodeur realizes that there will be time in the future to reflect on an experience that will stay with him the rest of his life. For now, it’s time focus on Kansas.
“We have to get back to work,” he said. “We have to make sure we don’t take this moment for granted.”