Penn grateful for struggles in only year with Siena basketball


Roman Penn was a freshman on a Siena men’s basketball team that hit rock bottom with an 8-24 record three seasons ago.

Now a redshirt junior at Drake, Penn is the floor leader for a team that’s 9-0 and off to the best start in the program’s 115-year history.

Penn said he appreciates both experiences as the Bulldogs get ready to enter Missouri Valley Conference play at Indiana State on Sunday.

“Going through that season with the (Siena) team is was just an eye-opening experience,” Penn said in a phone interview this week. “I’ve won eight games, so I’ve seen going through a losing season, and now I’m going through a winning season, so now I kind of got the best of both. I’ve seen what it takes to win and I can give knowledge to my teammates about how hard it is to win a basketball game. I’m happy I went through that because it made me tougher and made me stronger.”

Penn, a 6-foot, 185-pound point guard, is second on Drake with 11.9 points per game and leading the MVC with 6.0 assists per contest. The Bulldogs and Chattanooga are the only 9-0 teams in the country.

Just getting in nine games to this point was impressive to Penn during the coronavirus pandemic. His old school has yet to play a game because of COVID-related pauses.

“It shows how we just were focused and made sure we followed protocols and all that,” Penn said. “But it’s great to be in the history books here at Drake.”

That 2017-18 Siena team made the history books for the wrong reasons, tying the program record for losses. They even had to vacate the eight victories for NCAA violations under then-head coach Jimmy Patsos.

Patsos resigned under pressure after the season with a financial settlement. Even though new coach Jamion Christian wanted Penn back, he decided to transfer. “It’s time to move on,” Penn said at the time.

He chose Drake, which was in the process of signing three junior college recruits all from near Penn’s hometown of Calumet City, Ill.

“It’s crazy we’re all on the same team in college,” Penn said. “It’s just a dream. It all came to fruition and evolved and that’s how I ended up here, pretty much.”

He sat out a year at Drake, in accordance with NCAA transfer rules, and became a key member of a Drake team that went 20-14 a year ago. Penn started all 34 games, led the MVC with 5.6 assists per game and was named third-team all-conference.

He was named to the MVC preseason second team in November.

“I think I’ve changed a lot,” Penn said. “I just matured a lot more. I’m a lot more vocal. When I was at Siena, I wasn’t as vocal as I should have been. I was very quiet. I didn’t know who I was yet. I kind of found myself last year and then this year it’s like I know who I am and I know what I need to do for the team and I’m just being a point guard now.”

Penn said he still enjoys watching Siena, which found another fine point guard in junior Jalen Pickett, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year last season.

“They’ve just got a lot of good players and I love just watching them play,” Penn said. “And then the fans there and the arena, I just like it.”

Penn said he still plays online video games with Siena senior Manny Camper, the only player left from Penn’s time there.

While Siena is picked to win the MAAC, Drake was chosen seventh in the MVC preseason poll. The Bulldogs opened with a win at struggling Kansas State. But none of their Division I wins is against a team that currently has a winning record, and the other two came against a Division II and NAIA opponent.

“It’s the underdog role,” Penn said.  “It is what it is. We’re just going to go out there and play, regardless, and at the end of the season, we’ll see where we’re standing. Hopefully, we’re at where we’d like to be at.”

[email protected] • 518-454-5509 • @MarkSingelais


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