A photograph displayed outside the locker room at the University of Pennsylvania shows three Penn basketball players skying for a rebound over opponents from the University of North Carolina. The picture was taken in 1979, the year Penn beat the Tar Heels, 72-71, on its way to the NCAA Final Four.
Every time Penn Coach Tom Schneider walked by the photograph this season, he'd instruct his players, "Look at the picture, guys" as if to say, "That could be you."
Tonight, it will be.
Penn players, including former Marshall High star Jerry Simon, will be seeing Carolina blue in living color when the Quakers (13-13)--seeded 16th in the East--play a first-round NCAA tournament game against top-seeded North Carolina (29-3) in Charlotte, N.C.
3-A Player of Year
An appearance in the tournament will be one of the season highlights for Simon, a freshmen who was the 1985-86 City 3-A Player of the Year. This season, Simon has been the first guard off the bench for the Quakers and is averaging 2.6 points and 2.1 rebounds a game. It's quite a difference from the days at Marshall where Simon broke the City scoring record by averaging 37.9 points a game his senior year.
"Jerry came to a team that is senior dominated, so it was difficult for him to break in early on," Schneider said. "I think it helped him though, because his role had to change from doing everything like he did at Marshall. He's played terrific pressure defense for us this season and he's going to be an offensive force for us in the future."
Simon, who plays about 25 minutes a game, had his best offensive showing this season against Dartmouth when he scored 12 points. His biggest play of the year, however, came against Princeton in the game that clinched the Ivy League championship for the Quakers.
Stole the Ball
Penn was ahead 67-66 with 1:04 left in the game when Simon sank an 18-foot jumper to give the Quakers a three-point lead. Princeton closed to within 69-68 and had the ball with four seconds left when Simon came up with a steal to ensure the win.
"It was tough at the begining of the season because I wasn't used to sitting on the bench," Simon said by phone from Philadelphia. "I'm happy now that I'm playing more."
Along with dealing with his limited playing time, Simon also had to adjust to an academic workload that included economics and calculus. He also had to get acclimated.
"I saw snow for the first time," Simon said. "It was fun for 24 hours--then it was cold. Yesterday it was 75 degrees outside. Today it was 15."
Odds Against Them
USA Today said the odds are a million-to-1 that Penn will win the national title, but Simon said he and his teammates are glad they're getting a shot at North Carolina as the first step toward a trip to New Orleans for the Final Four.
"We have to play an almost perfect game and they have to play a bad one," Simon said. "It's happened before in the tournament and it could happen again.
"My Final Four? Well, you gotta go with Penn, Indiana, Georgetown and UNLV."