Penn’s Freshman Guard Is Starting to Make His Point

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Jake Silpe has become Penn’s starting point guard in just his freshman season.

Like many kids, Jake Silpe just wouldn’t listen to his mother. Turns out, he was right not to do so.
“He always watched sports on TV and said he was going to play ball when he was little,” recalled Lydia Silpe, whose little boy has grown up to become Penn’s starting point guard in just his freshman season. “I said, ‘Jake, not a lot of kids like you play.’
“He said, ‘I bet Steve Nash’s mom didn’t say that to him.’ I learned after that never to burst his bubble. I am so proud. I never imagined I’d be watching my son playing Division I basketball.”
From the time Jake started bouncing a ball — often to the dismay of his downstairs neighbors in their Cherry Hill townhouse that kept hearing that constant pounding — it was apparent he wasn’t your ordinary kid with big dreams.
He immediately began to dominate at his age level, but realized that was a bit misleading.
“I grew up only playing against kids from the JCC,” said Silpe, who’s averaged 4.9 points and a team-leading 3.4 assists, while shooting just 33 percent from the field for the 10-13 Quakers. “My game wasn’t really expanding until I started playing in Camden and the Sonny Hill League in Philly against city players — tough, gritty, hard-nosed kids. I was 5-9 at the time. When you go there, you obviously have to gain respect and show you belong, especially being Jewish, being Caucasian. But I just played hard, played confident, trusted my instincts and played the way I know how to play. The ball’s still round. The rim’s still 10 feet high.”
What’s changed this season for the now 6-2 Silpe is he’s no longer the focal point of the team the way he was at Cherry Hill High School East, where he amassed 1,580 points, second-most in school history. That earned him South Jersey Player of the Year, as selected both by the Camden Courier-Post and Philadelphia Inquirer.
Even then, though, while his team was relying on him to score, Silpe would’ve just as soon been willing to share the load. “I was sometimes getting 25 a night, but I’ve always been a guy who looks for my teammates,” said Silpe, who committed to Penn between his junior and senior years after being recruited by then-coach Jerome Allen, before Steve Donahue took over. “If there’s a guy open, I look to hit him. I’m not selfish at all.
“Jerome Allen recruited me,” he continued. “I chose the school for the school, whoever the coach would be. I’d heard great things about Coach Donahue, so the coaching change did not affect my decision.”
On the other hand, Donahue knew virtually nothing about Silpe, but has since liked what he’s seen. “I didn’t recruit him, so I don’t know if I had expectations,” said Donahue. “But I will say he’s naturally competitive. Whatever aspect of the game — even practice — every possession, he’s engaged. That’s what you want from all your kids and that’s what’s made Jake a good player.”
Which brings to mind another Jewish Penn guard of recent vintage, and who was more than willing to pass on his knowledge and experience to Silpe. Zach Rosen, the Quakers’ third all-time leading scorer (1,723 points) and all-time leader in assists (588) and games started (115), was happy to share what he learned for the Red and Blue from 2008-2012.
“While I was being recruited, Jerome Allen got me in touch with Zach,” explained Silpe, “because he’s Jewish. I’m Jewish. He’s a redheaded point guard. I’m a redheaded point guard. And we’re both from Jersey. Then I started playing with him and basically, he became my mentor. He was a great passer with a great court IQ, good outside shot and a great attitude. Definitely the kind of player I wish to be.”
With the 26-year-old Rosen currently playing over in Israel — though he’s sidelined for the moment with injuries — they usually communicate though emails and texts. “When I met Jake, I was impressed with his presence for a 17-year-old,” wrote Rosen, who played for the gold medal-winning U.S. team in the 2009 Maccabiah Games, in an email. “He believes he belongs — that’s a major strength for him.
“Jake has really good size for a guard and great basketball instincts,” he added. “He has a feel. He’s a gritty, tough, in-your-face guy from South Jersey who is used to winning. Ironically, just as it was for me, Jake’s game will take off when he builds himself into an outside threat. When Silpe is in the scouting report as a knock-down shooter from distance then the game will really open up for him.”
For now, though, Silpe is content to take it slow, adjusting not only to the college game but to college in general. “This whole thing about college is new to me,” said Silpe, whose great-grandparents were of Russian and Polish descent. “It’s a huge adjustment from the academics in high school, obviously, to an Ivy League school. And the Wharton School has very rigorous courses. But everything’s going well, between the balance of basketball and academics. You have to adapt, because there’s a smarter pool of people and it’s very competitive.”
As he continues to make the transition, look for Jacob Andrew Silpe to only get better. On the horizon, he says he’d love to play in the 2017 Maccabiah Games — perhaps alongside Rosen — he has already won three golds in the local Maccabi Games.
At the same time, the kid who shuttled from Temple Beth Sholom to Temple Emanuel — where he became a Bar Mitzvah — to Beth El seems to be on the right track now.
“I expected it to be this,” said Silpe, whose season will come to an end March 8 against rival Princeton. “It’s the next level. Division I basketball is really good; I knew it wouldn’t be easy at all.”
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0729

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