After starting out 0-2 in Big 5 play, Penn (3-13, 0-1 Ivy) will take on St. Joe’s (9-6) at the Palestra on Saturday evening. For this edition of Behind Enemy Lines, I caught up with Hawks’ assistant coach Mark Bass, a St. Joe’s alumnus and former player who competed against Jerome Allen and Penn during his playing days. During our conversation, we talked about coach Phil Martelli’s commitment to Big 5 tradition, the Hawks’ turnaround over the last three seasons and more.
Last year, this game was listed as a home game for Penn at the Palestra, but this year it’s listed as a home game for St. Joe’s, despite also being played at the Palestra. Do you get the sense that your team enjoys coming to the Palestra for these games?
I think coach Martelli — that’s a question for him to answer, because he likes playing at the Palestra. I think any opponent would love to play the game on their home floor … But I think in his point of view, Big 5 game, he thinks it should be played at the Palestra … But personally I would love this game on home field to give us all the advantages we can get.
In last year’s game between Penn and St. Joe’s, Zack Rosen, Tyler Bernardini and Rob Belcore combined for 52 points. How does their absence change your gameplan against Penn?
I think last year’s team with those three guys — they were seniors. They had senior leadership, and we were playing with sophomores and juniors.
And now, there’s this turn that we’re playing with juniors and seniors, and they’re playing with some underclassmen. So hopefully our upperclassmen can do the same things that their seniors did last year. Those three gentlemen dominated the game last year, and we didn’t have an answer for them.
What do you see about Jerome Allen as a player that is reflected in the teams he coaches?
His passion as a player and as a coach just boils over. You can see how much passion he has on the sidelines, and he played with that same passion. And of course it rubs off on his own players, and that’s what Jerome brought as a player and he’s bringing it as a coach — his passion for the game.
Just two seasons ago, St. Joe’s finished the year well below .500 at 11-22. What have been the keys to the program’s improvement since then?
I just think guys getting better — getting better in the offseason, working on their game, working on their body, just getting better.
And that’s basketball because now in a couple years you’re going to be saying the same thing about this young group of guys at Penn. They’re taking their bumps in the road right now …so next year they should be better. And that’s what happened with us. Two years ago, we won 11 games. Last year, we won 20.
So it’s about getting better, not getting down on yourself and getting better as an individual and as a team. I think if you look at our team and you look at the Penn team now, they were along similar lines. That’s what I see with our team, and I think this young core group of guys that Penn has are doing the same thing that we have. They’re going to get better just as we’ve gotten better and hopefully continue to get better.
Do you have any memorable moments from your playing days competing against Jerome Allen and Penn?
I just remember Jerome Allen and Matt Maloney — those two guys were a great backcourt — and just playing against those two and assistant coach Ira Bowman. It was just some good matchups and memorable moments playing in the Palestra against those guys.
I really can’t pick out a specific game or what-have-you. I just know matching up it was going to be a tough night for us guarding those three guys night in and night out.
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