For the first time since his days as an assistant coach at La Salle, Fran Dunphy won’t be patrolling the home sideline when he visits the Palestra Wednesday.
And, for the first time in 18 seasons, he’ll utilize the visiting locker room there. He might even be the subject of one of those clever banners constructed by the Penn student section.Wednesday marks the first time Dunphy returns to the Palestra to face his old team, Penn, which he coached to a 310-163 record in 17 seasons.
Dunphy became the first coach to take the head reigns at two Big 5 schools when he accepted the Owls’ open coaching position last spring.
“It’s a place that I head-coached for 17 years, so I’d certainly like to go in there and play well,” said Dunphy, the winningest coach in Penn’s program history.
“But [Saturday’s game] meant a great deal to me. They all mean so, so much to us as a basketball program.
“For me personally, I’m not going to sit here and lie to you, I know those guys really well. I recruited them and coached them. I want them to play well in all games except this night.”
Though there will be future trips to the Palestra for Dunphy, this one might be the most unique, simply because he’ll be coaching against a team that has his fingerprints all over it.
Each of the 15 players on Penn’s roster were recruited by Dunphy; 12 of them saw playing time for the coach, who won 10 Ivy League Championships at the school.
“It’s like almost playing against your father,” Quakers senior Mark Zoller said. Zoller said he talks to Dunphy and his staff (which also made the transition to Temple) about once every week or two. He said Dunphy checks in on his former players, but hasn’t offered any basketball tips.
Still, Zoller said it’s going to be a little weird seeing his former coach on the other bench.
“The emotions will be there, definitely,”
Zoller said. “Hopefully, we can get coach Dunph to shed a few tears and get that hard-shelled exterior into that [emotion].”
Owls guard Mark Tyndale has found that hard-shelled exterior tough to crack. He said Dunphy hasn’t spoken much about Penn to his new players. So, what does Tyndale think this game will mean to Dunphy?
“I don’t know,” Tyndale said. “I don’t really know what Coach is ever thinking – at all. During the game, after the game, he’s always in a pretty serious mood. But it will be a big game for us.”
Junior Chris Clark said he recognizes the importance the game has to his coach.”It’s going to mean a lot to him, especially
for us to come out and play well,” Clark said.
“We lost [Saturday], which was a tough one. We definitely need a win. I think it’s going to mean a lot for both teams.”
The Owls (7-10) enter the game having
lost six of their last seven games. After their latest loss to Rhode Island, a dejected Dustin Salisbery mumbled how he was sick of losing.
“I’m just tired of losing,” the co-captain said. “We had a big win [last week] and then we lose this game. It’s just hard. I hate to lose.”
Penn (10-6) comes in as the winner of four straight, including a 93-92 shootout over La Salle. But if anyone knows how to beat them, it is Dunphy.
“The scouting report should be amazing,”
John Kopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.