As the head coach of the Penn mens basketball team, Jerome Allen practically lives at the Palestra. But when he walked into his second home on Tuesday morning, he spotted someone who hasnt been inside the historic gym for more than a decade.
Tilting his head and smiling, the coach walked over to the guest. The two men hugged, laughed and posed for pictures. On the same floor where they once led Penn to three straight Ivy League championships, Matt Maloney and Jerome Allen one of the best backcourts in Big 5 history were together again.
Well, I think its more Allen-Maloney, said Maloney, who starred at Penn from 1992-95 after transferring from Vanderbilt. If you ask me, he was one of the best players in Big 5 history. He entailed everything you want in a great player. I just tried my best not to embarrass myself around him more than anything. He taught me so much about the game.
Allen came to Penn a year earlier than Maloney but played alongside him in the backcourt for their final three seasons, when the Quakers went an astounding 42-0 in the Ivy League.
I think the relationship went both ways, Allen said. I know I needed him for a number of reasons. The Maloney family, they opened up their home to me. If not for him, Im not sure where I would have been.
Tuesday at the Palestra, with Allen, his old Penn coach Fran Dunphy and many others looking on, Maloney was officially inducted into the Big 5 Hall of Fame. The ex-Penn guard was part of a class that also included former Temple and Sixers forward Marc Jackson, as well as three standouts in the womens game: Kelly Greenberg (La Salle), Jenn Beisel (Villanova) and Melissa Coursey (Saint Josephs).
Its incredible, Maloney said. I havent been back here in more than a decade, and when I walked through the door, a bunch of emotions came flooding back not only from my days playing here but just going to games when I was younger.
Like many of the inductees, Maloney indeed has a deep connection to the Big 5. His father, Jim, was a longtime assistant coach for John Chaney at Temple, and being closer to him was the main reason why Matt decided to transfer to Penn.
During his induction speech, Maloney recalled all the times his dad popped in a VHS and showed him all the things he was doing wrong. It was that kind of attention to detail that helped Maloney become one of Penns top 10 leaders in three-point baskets (second), steals (third) and assists (seventh) despite only playing three years for the Red and Blue.
I remember my first game at Penn, how nervous I was, Maloney said. My first game in the NBA, I wasnt nervous. But for my first game here, playing for my hometown team, I was so nervous. I would say thats my biggest memory the atmosphere of playing here rather than being in the stands and watching.
Sadly, Jim Maloney never got to see his son continue to play after college. Chaneys longtime deputy had a heart attack while driving across the Ben Franklin Bridge and died in 1996, shortly before Matt teamed with superstars Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler to help take the Houston Rockets to the 1997 Western Conference finals.
After playing for the Rockets, Bulls and Hawks, Maloney retired from the NBA in 2003. Hes currently still enjoying his retirement in Houston, where he plays golf and helps his girlfriend with a charity she started. But he thinks he may soon want to get back into basketball.
I definitely want to give back what my dad gave me all of the knowledge of basketball, Maloney said. Whatever opportunity comes up, Ill consider it and go from there.
Like Maloney, Jackson also forged a successful professional career after playing in the Big 5, suiting up for six NBA teams, which was sandwiched between overseas stints in four different countries. But of all the places he went, nothing was better than coming home and playing for the 76ers.
He still remembers the day he was traded from the Timberwolves to the Sixers in 2003.
It was funny, when I got the call I was being traded, former Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders told me personally, Jackson recalled. He said, I know youre happy about going home but were not. In order to make this deal work, they had to have you. You were the major factor in it. Just to hear that was special.
Jackson has always had Philadelphia in his blood. In his induction speech, he talked about how he was born at Temple Hospital, went to elementary school on 13th street, went to high school on North Broad Street (Roman Catholic), went to college on North Broad Street and, traveled all around the globe and came back.
And even those schools he didnt attend, Jackson sometimes broke into just so he could get some shots in. (Dont tell legendary Palestra caretaker Dan Harrell but Jackson claims to know a few secret entrances to college basketballs most historic gym.)
Because he transferred from VCU and left Temple after his junior year to provide for his family, Jackson played just two years for the Owls. But those two years (1995-96, 1996-97) were certainly special as Jackson managed to rack up over 1,000 points while leading Temple into the second round of the NCAA tournament both seasons.
Its incredible, said Jackson, who officially retired two-and-a-half years ago after a 13-year professional career. I grew up here. From me sneaking in to be on basketball courts to playing basketball to now be honored here its unreal, it really is.
Kelly Greenberg never had to break into the Palestra. Between watching her brother, uncle and father play for La Salle, playing for the Explorers herself and later coaching Penn, she was in the old gym on 33rd Street about as much as she was in her own living room.
Its funny, when people mention the Big 5 to me, I dont think of when I played and I dont think of when I coached, Greenberg said. I actually think of when I was a little girl and came here.
Greenbergs basketball path is one many young girls should model. Originally a field hockey player at La Salle, she walked on to the basketball team and, through sheer will and hard work, guided the Explorers to three Big 5 championships and NCAA tournaments in the late 1980s. She set La Salles record for assists in a game (19), season (190) and career (512) and shot a blistering 51.6 percent from three-point range from her career, which remains a program record.
Years later, she went back to the NCAA tournament, coaching the Penn women to the programs first two Ivy League championships (in 2001 and 2004), before accepting the head coaching position at Boston University, where she remains today.
But she still misses Philadelphia especially her 11 siblings, a clan that includes Chip Greenberg, a Big 5 Hall of Famer who played for La Salle from 1982-86.
I miss the basketball part of it and I really miss my family, said Greenberg, whose 11 siblings were all on hand for her induction. Up at BU, we feel like weve got something special going on but my family is not a part of it, so thats the one thing I do miss a lot.
Family was also very important for Jenn Beisel, who played for Villanova from 1994-98 and followed her sister Kathie (1979-83) into the Big 5 Hall of Fame. Beisel, who crafted an excellent poem as her induction speech, finished her college career, with 1,050 points and is regarded as one of the programs best all-time defenders.
One of her Big 5 contemporaries, Melissa Coursey, joined Beisel in the Hall of Fame. Coursey played for St. Joes from 1995-99, leading the Hawks to Big 5 titles in 1997 and 1999 and racking up 1,047 career points. She closed her speech fittingly by saying, The Hawk will never die.
Email Dave Zeitlin at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.