By Jack VanAssche, Editor-in-Chief
When Jason Penn snagged an offensive rebound against Lawrence Technological University on Wednesday and laid it in for two points, it didn’t feel much different than all the other times he’d done it the last four years.
At 6-foot-8, Penn was just doing his job–grabbing rebounds and using his power under the net.
But his first basket on Wednesday marked the 1,500th point of his career at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, marking just the fourth time that mark has been reached by a player in program history.
Penn, solely focused on helping his team, hadn’t noticed he was closing in on the milestone until he saw a post on the university’s social media account.
“I didn’t even know I was approaching the 1,500 mark,” Penn said. “When I saw the wallpaper on Twitter of the all-time leading scorers and saw myself, it was exciting.”
The graphic that Penn referred to showed the UM-Dearborn men’s basketball all-time leading scorers list. Penn is currently the fourth highest scoring Wolverine in program history, behind Charles Johnson (1,764), Abrahim Baydoun (1,821) and Pat Hughes (1,962).
“It came as a shock, but then it made me more excited,” he said. “I just wanted to get to the third spot after seeing that.”
His success on the court has not been lost on his teammates, and the team’s improvement over Penn’s career has been eye-popping.
A year before Penn arrived at UM-Dearborn, the Wolverines limped to an 8-22 finish, winning just five games in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference while dropping 17.
“When I first came to the university, I wasn’t sure of the recent talent that it had, or the accomplishments that other people had made,” he said. “I knew that the school wasn’t the greatest with their record in basketball.
“I wanted to change that around, and I think I did that with the help of my teammates and coaches.”
By Penn’s sophomore year, the Wolverines set program a record for wins in a season after entering the season’s final game with a 16-14 overall record and an 11-11 record in the WHAC. However, five wins were vacated by the NAIA after UM-Dearborn was found to have used an ineligible player in as many contests.
Last season was the program’s most successful of all time, finishing with a 20-12 record and reaching the WHAC semifinals. Penn averaged 15 points per game along with 7.28 rebounds per game and 50 blocks.
As the team used Penn to its advantage, his stats began to shoot up quickly. But that never interested him very much–only winning did.
“The team success is going to take my individual success to the next level. It’s not the other way around.
“So, as long as our team’s playing well and we’re winning, I’m going to continue to do what I do.”
UM-Dearborn’s improvement with Penn in the mix was less surprising to him than one might expect.
In his freshman year of high school at Ferndale’s University High, the varsity basketball team went 1-10, embarrassing itself in league play.
By his junior year, the big man led his team to a 12-10 finish and the school’s first district championship in history.
He wants to emulate that championship joy with a block “M” on his chest.
“The idea of me leading my team to a championship for the first time ever was one of the best summits that I’ve had,” he said. “To do it at this university would be even more special to me.
“So, to take my team to the (WHAC) championship for the first time and win it–it would be surreal.
“And with this being my last year, you either get it or you don’t.”
Taking a team from a dismal season to a championship is something Penn feels the need to do one last time.
“We’ve won more than we’ve won before. We’ve won where we’ve never won before. We keep having these new achievements.
“There’s nothing left but to hang a banner and get the respect that we’ve been deserving for a very long time.”