Rob Belcore plays with his hat, scratches his head and gazes up to the Palestra rafters.
The senior guard has just been asked to list all of the injuries hes had during his Penn basketball career. Its a daunting question.
After a moment of thought, Belcore begins to rattle off the ailments. A sprained ankle. A dislocated elbow. Torn ankle ligaments. Migraines. Torn tendons. A shifted ribcage. Dislocated fingers. Sprained thumbs.
And, he adds, theres probably more that hes forgetting.
I had expectations of myself, a vision of how things were going to go for me, Belcore said. And Ive had a lot of setbacks.
Soon, he will be able to rest. But for the next two months, he will fling his weary body all over the court with complete disregard for what happens to him. Thats because the Ivy League season is about to commence, and this is the last chance for Belcore and the rest of the Penn seniors to win a conference title and play in the NCAA tournament.
The Quakers, who havent captured a league crown since 2007, open the league slate with road matchups against Columbia Friday night and Cornell on Saturday. Both games tip at 7 p.m.
There are so many banners up there, Belcore said, pointing to the Palestra rafters. You can look at them and count them, and none of those have any of my years on them. Just to get one on the way out would be a dream come true. I came here with some expectations. It hasnt quite gone that way but, you know, if you end up on top, youre going to forget about the past.
Its funny, sometimes, how things change. When Belcore committed to Penn in Sept. 2007, he was a sharpshooting combo guard from Illinois, and the Quakers were coming off three straight Ivy League titles. Nowadays, Belcore is essentially a power forward for a team that hasnt had a winning season since hes arrived on campus.
But while his shooting touch isnt what it once was because of all the injuries Its hard to shoot when you dont have two feet under you, he said the senior has turned into the glue guy for the Quakers, grabbing offensive rebounds, playing lock-down defense (on the perimeter or in the paint) and diving all over the court for loose balls.
And even though most people know more about high-scoring Quaker guards Zack Rosen and Tyler Bernardini, the truth is their senior teammate might just be holding this team together. Earlier in the season, head coach Jerome Allen said Belcore works harder than anyone hes ever seen.
It felt great to hear that from Coach Allen because hes been all over the world and has seen so many great players, Belcore said. So it was one of the greatest compliments Ive ever received in my life. His support of me makes me play that much harder for him. The next time the balls on the floor, hell know that Ill be coming out of left field to get it for him.
Belcores hustle might be one of the few things we can safely predict about the upcoming Ivy League season.
Yes, Harvard is a heavy favorite to win the 14-game regular season title and advance to its first NCAA tournament since 1946. (The Ivies are the only league that doesnt have a conference tourney to determine the NCAAs automatic bid.)
But, the Quakers (7-9) have been tested by a brutal non-conference schedule and may just have enough senior leadership to give the Crimson and the rest of the upper-echelon Ivy teams a run for their money.
Everybodys 0-0, Belcore said. Thats my take. Its college basketball. Who can ever predict college basketball?
More than most people, Belcore knows this to be true.
Drexels diaper dandy
Shortly after Drexels 64-58 win over VCU on Sunday, Dragons coach Bruiser Flint didnt hold back when asked to assess the performance of freshman guard Damion Lee.
He called him bad. And then, he called him awful.
Four days later, in another big Colonial Athletic Association game, Lee was the opposite of that.
Simply put, the freshman was on fire, scoring 16 of his 21 points in the second half to lead Drexel (11-5 overall, 3-2 CAA) to a 60-53 comeback win over first-place George Mason, which had come into Thursdays contest on an 18-game conference winning streak.
Lee, who iced the game with a pair of quick-trigger three-pointers, is currently the top freshman scorer in the city, averaging 11.1 points per game.
And the Dragons, after losing two of their first three league games, are now coming off consecutive home wins over maybe the two best CAA teams heading into road matchups against UNC Wilmington (Saturday) and Hofstra (Wednesday).
Villanovas shooting woes
So far this season, Villanova juniors Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek are both shooting less than 30 percent from three-point range.
That might not be as much of a problem if both players werent jacking up a combined 10 long-balls per game.
So what exactly has been the issue?
I do think theyre good shooters, Villanova coach Jay Wright said after the free-falling Cats dropped to 8-9 overall and 1-4 in the Big East with a loss to Syracuse on Wednesday. They have to learn how to go against defenses that are geared to stop them. They had always been the secondary guys that played off Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes and they got easier shots.
The Nova guards will look to find the bottom of the net more Saturday when the Wildcats take on Cincinnati in a Big East contest at noon.
If the first couple of games are any indication, the Atlantic 10 season is going to be a wild ride. Just take a look at what the Philly teams have done so far.
Temple (10-4, 0-1), one of the leagues top squads, opened with a surprising defeat to Dayton its first home loss since Jan. 2, 2010 before earning a gutsy road win against a very strong Saint Louis team.
Saint Josephs (12-5, 2-1) sandwiched a rough home loss to Charlotte around wins over Duquesne and Fordham.
And La Salle (13-4, 2-0), which was picked 13th out of 14 teams in the preseason poll, is one of only two unbeaten teams in the A-10, having beaten powerhouse Xavier and UMass at home.
La Salle will try to keep its perfect league record intact when it travels to Dayton on Saturday for a 7 p.m. matchup. Temple and St. Joes are also both on the road Saturday, taking on Richmond (7 p.m.) and UMass (4 p.m.), respectively.
Six in the City is a weekly notebook on the citys six Division I college basketball teams written by CSNPhilly.com contributor Dave Zeitlin. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.