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Sunday, August 22, 2004

Tidbit About Penn Basketball

I listened to ESPN Radio recently, and they had an interview with Penn coach Fran Dunphy right after Dunphy announced that he was turning down the opportunity to return to his alma mater, LaSalle, as head coach. Dunphy spoke of the prospects for his Penn team, and he indicated that the key to the next season is junior PG Eric Osmundsen.

Osmundsen transferred to Penn two years ago (Princeton and Penn recruited him out of HS), and at the time the Penn faithful thought that the Quakers were getting the next in a distinguished line of point guards under Fran Dunphy. (You'll recall that Dunphy has only won titles when he has had a stellar PG running the show -- Jerome Allen, Matt Maloney, Michael Jordan and Andy Toole; without the sterling PG, the Quakers have looked a bit lost at times). PG is as important to Penn as, say, the center position is to Princeton (and to any team playing the Princeton offense).

Last year, Osmundsen was a disappointment. Reports were that a surgically repaired knee never fully healed, and that he played at too frenetic a pace, almost as if he were so anxious for the game to ensue that he played in overdrive instead of under control. Dunphy confirmed the latter point, indicating that the key for Osmundsen is to play at a more relaxed pace. Osmundsen showed evidence of his vast potential in the Princeton-Penn game at Jadwin Gym last year, where, as a substitute, he hit two key three pointers that enabled Penn to get a big lead on the Tigers and trounce them in their own house (arguably, that game was the best the Quakers played all year).

That Dunphy made this statement means that 6'2" guard Ibby Jaaber, who showed great ability during the Ivy season last year, will be playing the 2G. He had a great year, is an able defender and a very quick player. After those two players, though, the Penn backcourt is rather thin. There are a few incoming freshmen (about whom little has been written), and the returning veterans are more or less practice players (the Quakers graduated starting guards Charlie Copp and Jeff Schiffner). But, if Osmundsen can play reasonably well, the Penn guard duo should give the Princeton Tigers fits.

The reason: height. Princeton returns three seasoned guards in 6"3" first-team all-Ivy player Will Venable, 6'1" backup PG Max Schafer (who played well in spots down the stretch), and 5'9" combo guard Scott Greenman (who came up big down the stretch for Princeton). In their game at the Palestra last year (which the Tigers won), Princeton figured out a way to solve the height differential. And it wasn't always with playing three guys over 6'8" on the front line, although they did that occasionally in that game. Still, a 6"5", 6'2" backcourt in the Ivies is pretty tough. Venable, though, is a very special player who at times willed the Tigers to victory last season.

So remember the name Eric Osmundsen, especially if you're a Penn fan, and remember the fact that the Quakers only win the title when they have a penetrating PG who scores about 15 a game and is an integral part of the offense, both by penetrating and creating and by shooting the three. If Osmundsen can't fill that role for the Quakers, they will have a hard time winning the Ivy title.


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