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By Dave Zeitlin | Miles Cartwright sat in a restaurant in Belgium and didn’t know what to order. The food, he’d later say, was “horrible”—one of the perils of leaving the country for the first time. But for Cartwright, a junior guard on the men’s basketball team, the meal was memorable for another reason. Sitting at the table with him were Penn classmate Fran Dougherty and Villanova sophomore Ty Johnson. The trio was among a group of American college basketball players who traveled overseas in early August to play European professional teams in Belgium, France, Germany, and Holland. And in that restaurant, in between games and an ocean from home, they talked about basketball, leadership, and life. 

Nearly 4,000 miles away from the Palestra, Cartwright felt as close to Penn basketball as he ever had before. 

“I think I really grew up on that trip,” he says. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Before embarking on his European excursion, which was organized by the Global Sports Academy (whose stated mission is to “promote international goodwill” through sports), Cartwright talked with Penn head coach Jerome Allen W’09 about becoming a leader for a group of college basketball players who didn’t know each other. Heeding his coach’s words, Cartwright ended up guiding the team to victories in all five games it played, while soaking up European culture—aside from the food, anyway. He says it was a terrific trip, and one that he believes will be instrumental for the 2012-13 Quakers.

If the Quakers are to do something special, they will certainly need to lean on Cartwright, the team’s most experienced player. A double-figure scorer in each of his first two seasons, Cartwright will be asked to help fill the massive void left by last year’s seniors Zack Rosen W’12, Tyler Bernardini W’12, Rob Belcore W’12, and Mike Howlett C’12 —a group that accounted for more than 60 percent of Penn’s points—and help show the way to a team made up mostly of underclassmen. Is he up to the task?

“Right now, experience-wise, Miles is the leader,” says sophomore Henry Brooks, who started 24 games in the frontcourt last season. “I believe he’ll be mentally prepared. Miles is definitely primed for a big season.”

The loss of Rosen, who is now playing professionally in Israel after a record-setting college career, will be an especially difficult one for the Quakers. Allen is well aware of that. Without even being asked about Rosen, the Penn head coach cautioned, “He can only be Miles Cartwright … and I’ll think he’ll be fine without anyone adding any extra pressure or trying to tell him he has to be someone or something that he’s not.” 

Cartwright, for his part, says he is not trying to be Rosen. But he will try to harness the lessons he learned from the former Penn star about humility, work ethic, and desire.

“He was the first one in the gym and the last one out, and it showed on the court,” Cartwright says. “I learned [that] the great performances he had in front of everybody started in the gym, before practice and after practice.”

Now, Cartwright will try to do what Rosen never did: win an Ivy League championship. The Quakers came close to capturing their first title since 2007 last year, fueled by a stunning 55-54 upset at Harvard on February 25. But they missed the chance to hoist a banner when they dropped their regular-season finale to archrival Princeton, a devastating night in New Jersey that Cartwright still remembers vividly.

“Every workout, every sprint, every shot we put up, every weight we lift —that’s what we think about,” he says. “We had it in our hands. After the Harvard game, we expected to win the league. And we let our foot off the gas. I think it will be better for us in the long run, maybe, to go through that—because we learned a lot and I think we grew up a lot. I think that will really show this year.”

While expectations aren’t very high for the Quakers because of all of the players they graduated, there is reason for optimism. Cartwright isn’t the only player on the squad with game-time experience; Dougherty and Brooks also earned significant minutes last year. They’ll be joined down low by promising 6-foot-11 freshman Darius Nelson-Henry; 6-foot-7 sophomore Greg Louis, who sat out all of last year with a hip injury; and 6-foot-6 Larry Loughery, the team’s only senior. All in all, the Quakers have far more size than last year, when they were so small that they were forced to start a guard—Belcore—at power forward for most of the season.

Aside from Cartwright, the only returning guard with much game experience is junior Steve Rennard, who averaged 3.7 points per game and made some clutch three-pointers last year. Another junior sharpshooter, Marin Kukoc, quit the team, which puts the onus on junior Dau Jok or any of the untested but athletic freshmen and sophomores to step up and earn minutes on the wing. Allen is bullish on the four-man freshmen class, which is made up of Nelson-Henry along with guards Tony Hicks, Jamal Lewis, and Julian Harrell.

Penn will have other challenges when the 2012-13 season begins on November 9 with a home game against the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. They’ll have to adapt to three brand new assistant coaches: Scott Pera, Ira Bowman W’96, and Jason Polykoff. Their non-conference schedule is daunting (although not as difficult as last year), since the Quakers are renewing their rivalry with neighboring Drexel on November 17 after taking a year off, heading to historic Hinkle Fieldhouse to take on perennial mid-major powerhouse Butler on January 2, and participating in the always-competitive NIT Season Tip-Off tournament starting November 12. And Ivy League competition will once again be stiff, even if two of the best players from defending champion Harvard—Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry—withdrew from school due to an academic scandal.

But Brooks believes the Quakers have the right mix of talent and hunger to “shock some people.” Cartwright thinks so, too.

“Everybody just wants to play,” the Penn guard says. “We’re not thinking, ‘Oh, now that Zack’s gone, it’s my time to shine.’ I think we’re all working hard within the team concept. We want to win games and we want to win championships. A lot of people are counting us out, but we feel like we’re the best team in the league.”

Dave Zeitlin C’03 writes frequently for the Gazette and oversees the magazine’s sports blog.

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