Ivy League student athletes are still athletes

Penn players Matt MacDonald, Darnell Foreman and A.J. Border take questions from media members during a day of practices and press conferences at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan.

Wichita — Throughout the last few seasons, Penn’s basketball players have noticed a trend inside of the Ivy League: the league is becoming tougher and tougher.

No, this isn’t a case of smart kids just playing basketball in their free time.

Recruiting is at a higher level than ever in the Ivy League. Penn players insist the grind of league play is as tough as anything they saw in non-conference games.

“One of the big misconceptions, I think, people have with our league is that we’re all just brainiacs and we’re all just looking forward to getting back to library and studying after the game,” said Penn sophomore AJ Brodeur, a first-team all-Ivy selection while averaging 13.1 points and 7.1 rebounds.

Of course, studying and the library are still a part of the equation of being an Ivy League student athlete. Brodeur admitted he had to complete a Corporate Finance assignment Wednesday night.

When the Quakers (24-8) tip off against top-seeded Kansas (27-7) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at 1 p.m. Thursday (TV: TBS) at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, they are ready to prove that they aren’t your typical No. 16 seed.

Penn earned an automatic bid into the tournament when it won the Ivy League’s conference tournament — a four-team tournament that has only existed for two seasons.

In the Ivy League, schools typically only play on Fridays and Saturdays in an attempt to make it easier on their academic studies. But when the ball is tipped in the air, there’s no question that those teams can compete with just about anybody.

“People understand how hard it is to be a Division I athlete, regardless of where you are,” Penn freshman Jelani Williams said. “I think doing that in the Ivy League makes it even harder. I do think the athletic part of it is a little bit underestimated.”

Sophomore Ray Jerome added: “I think there’s a lot of guys who do have a chance to go play professionally after the Ivy League. I don’t think a lot of people outside of it realize it.”

Several players across the Ivy League had opportunities to play basketball at more basketball-centric schools. Brodeur, a three-star recruit out of high school, had offers from Notre Dame, George Washington and Davidson.

“You look at guys who the league is pulling in like Seth Towns, who had high-major offers (Michigan, Xavier, Ohio State) and chose to go to Harvard,” Penn sophomore Ryan Bentley said. “You see that all through the league. It’s really changing and it’s awesome. It’s as much of an athletic decision as it is an academic decision.”

In the last 10 seasons, Ivy League schools have 4-6 record in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, usually as a No. 12 seed.

Preparing to play Kansas, even with the history of No. 16 seeds, the Quakers just hope they can prove themselves — and their league — to rest of the country.

“The league as a whole has done a great job of recruiting and done a great job on this stage of the past few years of proving that,” Bentley said. “We are good basketball players. We are athletic. I think that is one of the biggest misconceptions but I think the league has done a great job of proving that to be wrong over the past few years.”