The heavily underdog Penn Quakers were unable to pull off an upset against the Kansas Jayhawks in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, but March Madness lived up to its name for junior guard Jake Silpe.
“I dreamed about it all my life,’’ the Cherry Hill, N.J., native said. “It’s the most unbelievable environment I’ve been around in basketball.”
Just the media crush alone made the experience unique, not to mention having to play top-seeded Kansas on essentially its home court at 15,000-seat Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita.
“It’s usually a six on five [home-court advantage] at the Palestra,” Silpe said, adding that the Quakers had to deal with a roaring pro-Kansas crowd. He did note that the fans and Jayhawks treated their visitors well.
And despite the long odds, Penn remained competitive throughout the March 15 game, losing 76-60. Silpe saw action late in the game.
Beforehand, watching film of the opposition, the Penn players realized it was just another game and embraced the underdog role, a la the Philadelphia Eagles.
“You only have your team, your coaches, your staff, your community,” he said. “We believed in each other.”
The game could have ramifications for the 2018-19 season as a confidence builder.
“We’re going to have targets on our backs,” he said, noting that he’s one of two Jews on Penn’s team, along with sophomore Zack Kaminsky from Atlanta.
At Penn, Silpe’s played for the basketball team for three years, playing in all 28 games as a freshman. He played in 21 games in the just-completed season, scoring a season-high 10 points against Penn State-Brandywine.
Silpe’s name may be familiar to high school basketball fans, as he was a four-year letter winner and two-year captain for Cherry Hill East High School’s team. He was inducted into the school’s Boys Basketball Hall of Fame as the second-leading scorer in school history.
The Philadelphia Inquirer and Courier-Post both named Silpe the South Jersey Player of the Year his senior year, among other honors he received during his high school career.
Silpe honed his game at the Katz JCC where he also was a coach and trainer for an elementary school boy’s league. He still plays ball there on occasion.
“That was my stomping grounds as a kid, and it’s now my home away from home,” he said.
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