The first game that Penn forward A.J. Brodeur played in the Palestra, the Quakers faced reigning 2016 NCAA champion and Big 5 foe Villanova.

Since then, Brodeur, a junior from Northborough, Mass., has played all the other Big 5 rivals at the Palestra and been introduced to Ivy League competition, including the annual war on South 33rd Street with arch-rival Princeton. Virtually the only thing he has not experienced in the building dubbed "the cathedral of college basketball" is the long-banned tradition of streamers being thrown onto the court.

Then in March, Penn advanced to the second Ivy League Tournament, with the Palestra being the venue. The Quakers beat Harvard in the championship game to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007.

A.J. Brodeur dribbling past Harvard’s Seth Towns in the 2018 Ivy League championship game. The Quakers beat Harvard to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
A.J. Brodeur dribbling past Harvard’s Seth Towns in the 2018 Ivy League championship game. The Quakers beat Harvard to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

"It was such an unreal experience," said Brodeur, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Ivy League Tournament. "I've gone back and watched that championship game so many times.

"The feeling when that final buzzer went off, that was something I'd never experienced before. We could win the next two Ivy League tournaments, and I want to, but I honestly don't think it could match the feeling I had after that first one. There's only one first-ever. It was surreal."

Moments such as that are why Brodeur, who was a five-time letter-winner in basketball and volleyball at Northfield Mount Hermon School, came to Penn.

Obviously, Brodeur, who is enrolled in the Wharton School, wanted an Ivy League education, but he also wanted to be part of bringing championships back to a storied basketball tradition.

"There had been a slide recently, but historically in the Ivy League, Penn is one of the great programs," he said. "We're near the top of the list in conference championships [39, adding the old Eastern Intercollegiate League to the Ivy] with anybody.

"We play in one of the, if not the most historic, venues in the basketball world. … All the pieces came together, and Penn was the clear-cut choice for me. I have not regretted that decision once."

The Penn coaching staff often gives Brodeur, who is 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds, the nicknames of former NBA players whom they consider "old school" players.

Brodeur isn't always the strongest, most athletic, or quickest big man on the court, but he uses his guile, savvy, and tenacity to compete soundly with all of them.

"My strengths are definitely around the basket, within 10 feet back to the rim," Brodeur said. "I've been working on expanding my hook shots."

Old school!

After finishing second in scoring (13.1 ppg) and leading the Quakers in rebounding (7.2 average) and blocked shots (41), Brodeur was a unanimous selection to the All-Ivy first team.

He totaled 41 points and 20 rebounds in the two Ivy League Tournament games and had 14 points and nine rebounds in the loss to Kansas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

"My first two years, I was thinking what can I do to help us win an Ivy League championship," he said. "We've done that, but we can't just be happy winning that one Ivy League. We can get more.

"Now, I'm thinking how can I improve and help us win the first game in the NCAA Tournament, how can I help us get to the Sweet 16.

"I'm ready to personally take my game to another level and help elevate my teammates so they can do that, too. I don't think I'm going to be adding too many new things to my arsenal, but I can definitely still improve on the elements that are already there."

A.J. Brodeur has already faced all the Big 5 teams, including La Salle last November.
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
A.J. Brodeur has already faced all the Big 5 teams, including La Salle last November.