Penn enters the 2007-08 season having won 3 straight Ivy League titles and coming off a 13-1 Ivy League record. However, the Quakers must replace 3 starters including 2-time Ivy League Player of the Year Ibrahim Jaaber. A strong incoming freshman class ensures Penn will be solid for years to come. Jon Teitel interviewed four members of Coach Miller’s first ever recruiting class: Tyler Bernardini, Remy Cofield, Jack Eggleston, and Harrison Gaines.
Tyler Bernardini, 6-6, 205, Carlsbad, Calif., Francis Parker
1. Was it difficult to commute from your home (Carlsbad) to your high school (Francis Parker's Linda Vista campus)? The 45-minute commute took a toll on me my freshman year, as I had to take a train and city bus just to get there, and then catch a ride home from my coach. Luckily, I got my license after my sophomore year, so that made it a little easier. However, it was hard not having a high school gym that was very accessible, so I would often just go to an outdoor park to shoot around. One of the things I am looking forward to at Penn is just being able to wake up five minutes before class, roll out of bed, and make it on time.
2. How close did you come to choosing Columbia or Princeton? I did not come close at all to choosing Princeton, but I felt a good connection to Coach Jones and his staff at Columbia. I had a good visit there, which made my decision tougher, but Penn now seems like the clear-cut choice for me. It has a great combination of academics and basketball, which my parents stressed would be a good choice, and I wanted it too.
3. What made you choose Penn over schools like Arizona State, Northwestern, etc.? My AAU coaches had contact with those coaches, as well as other Pac-10 schools, but I felt a great connection with Coach Miller and Coach Martin at Penn. I have never wavered from my choice, and I think Penn is the right place for me.
4. Since the only returning starters are a couple of 6'4" guards (Brian Grandieri/Darren Smith), do you think it will be hard to get playing time in the years ahead? As the tallest guy on my high school team, I got plenty of experience guarding big men. Offensively, I played a lot at shooting guard, and I have worked very hard on my ball handling this summer. I am just looking to fit in and help out where I can, and if I work hard, hopefully I can help continue the winning tradition at Penn.
5. How bad were your sophomore/junior year injuries, and how did you overcome them? I played less than 10 games each of those years, so it was very frustrating. I broke my foot before my sophomore year, spent two months in a cast, and then re-injured it after coming back. I had a good summer, but then I hurt my back during my junior year. My injuries really hindered my development as a player, but the most positive thing to come out of the situation is that I do not take anything for granted anymore.
6. What position do you see yourself playing at Penn: SG, SF, other? I feel most comfortable at the 2 or 3, and if I can bulk up some more, maybe I can get a little time at the 4.
7. Have you met your fellow Californians (Harrison Gaines/Conor Turley/Tommy McMahon), and are you going to bring a little West Coast attitude to West Philly? I have not gotten to know Conor very well due to his mission, but I talked to Tommy briefly. I got to connect with Harrison during my visit, and we have talked and worked out together several times: it can only help me to have a good relationship with the point guard. We are not trying to have a California clique: I think the entire team will mesh well together.
8. What lessons did you learn from your own championship experience (winning league titles in 2004 and 2007) that you can bring to Penn’s own conference championship team? The title we won during my freshman year was big, as it was the first time that our league rival Horizon had not won the title in over a decade. We should have won it again during my junior year, and we had a lot of players graduate, yet we were able to come back and do it again this past season. When you win a title, you get a big target on your back; when you do not repeat, you learn not to take it for granted. I learned to work hard every day, because a day not working out is a day lost.
9. Did you get to see Penn play at all last year on TV, and if so, what were your impressions? I saw the game against North Carolina (Penn looked good early, but struggled late), and liked what I saw. Coach Miller has said he wants to play a more up-tempo style this season, which I think will be good. I like the guys I have met so far and the way they play, and I just want to see how I can fit in.
10. How did you end up on YouTube (making a backward shot from half-court), and how many times did you have to shoot before making it? My friend kept trying it, but could not make it, Then he picked up his camera phone, and when I tried it, I swear to you, I made it on my very first try. We went crazy (you can hear my friend laughing in the background of the video), and the next I know he put it on the Internet for everyone to see.
Remy Cofield, 6-4, 205, Newton, Mass., Roxbury Latin
1. You get a lot of blocks/rebounds for a 6'4" guard: what’s your secret? I have a lot more experience as a forward than most of the guards I play against. When I was younger, I was big enough to play down low, and even though I am primarily a guard now, I can still hold my own with guys in the paint.
2. What have you learned from your brother Corey (who played at William & Mary)? He taught me the importance of budgeting my time, which will come in handy at Penn because of the large role academics play there. He also told me that the coaches will be very demanding, and that I just have to take the criticism and keep working hard.
3. How close did you come to choosing Columbia? I went there last summer, and liked the coach and the area a lot, but I chose Penn because it is a big-name school with a great tradition of winning. I want to help continue that tradition of winning Ivy League titles, but I also want to try and win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament.
4. What made you choose Penn over another big-name school with a great tradition like UMass? I had known one of their assistant coaches for a long time, but they were bringing in 8-9 other freshmen/transfers with a high level of talent, so I was not sure it would have been the best fit for me.
5. Since the only returning starters are a couple of 6'4" guards (Grandieri/Smith), do you think it will be hard to get playing time in the years ahead? Whatever Coach Miller wants to do is what will happen, but I think there is enough room for all of us to get some time on the court. Penn used a big rotation last year, and I think I am well on my way to getting a shot to play, as I have been working on my game a lot over the summer.
6. What position do you see yourself playing at Penn: SG, SF, other? I feel comfortable at the 2, because I have a lot of athleticism and can defend pretty well. Since I feel I am strong for a guard, I could also play small forward if that is where Coach Miller wants me.
7. What was the competition like in the Independent School League (ISL), and do you feel it prepared you for Ivy League competition? The ISL has it critics, but there have been some great players who played there like Mike Jones (University of Maryland) and Antoine Wright (New Jersey Nets). I played against many talented ISL guards last season, so I feel it prepared me quite well for Ivy League basketball.
8. What did it mean to you to be a McDonald’s All-America nominee? It meant a lot to me to be recognized, and it was great to get my name out there for others to see.
9. What was your reaction to being named runner-up for the 2007 Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year (an award won in the past by players who went on to the NBA such as Rumeal Robinson, Travis Best, and Dan Gadzuric)? I had mixed reactions: while I was happy to be in the running, I felt kind of disappointed and slighted that I did not win the award. I worked very hard throughout my career, and really wanted to win it.
10. Did you get to see Penn play at all last year, and what were your impressions? I watched their NCAA Tournament game against Texas A&M on television, and was impressed that they stuck right with them into the second half. I like that Penn fights hard to win every night, and their style of play should be a good fit for me. My defensive pressure can help create steals that lead to easy baskets, and I can also help slow down the pace if necessary.