Memories Serve to Strengthen the Future ...
Moon Township, Pa. - The picture hangs on the wall just inside the door to Robert Morris University head coach Andrew Toole's office in the Charles L. Sewall Center.
Toole only has to glance to his right and a bit up to see himself in his younger days.
Well, to be fair, not that much younger.
This was, after all, only a little over eight years ago when he was a senior at the University of Pennsylvania.
In the picture, an exuberant Toole is sitting on a basketball rim celebrating Penn's clinching of the Ivy League championship which guaranteed his team a spot in the NCAA Tournament . Again.
The rim-sitting celebration tradition might have begun in 2000, when Toole played at Elon in North Carolina.
Penn won the Ivy League title in 2000, and captain Michael Jordan, not that Michael Jordan, of course, sat on the rim after the championship-clinching victory.
"In 2002, we won and we had one senior, Dan Solomito, and he got on the rim,'' Toole said. "So when we won in 2003 (on Toole's Senior Night), the guys said, ‘Get on the rim.' And so I got on the rim.''
Penn also won the Ivy League championship in 2005, 2006 and 2007, but Toole isn't sure if anybody did any rim-sitting in those years.
Toole can, however, revive the tradition, of sorts, tonight when Robert Morris plays Penn at the famed Palestra in Philadelphia.
If the Colonials win, would Toole sit on the rim?
"No,'' he said. "You kidding me?''
Well, yeah. Probably.
Besides, he does already have that picture of his rim-sit in his office. Who needs two of those?
"The reason I have it in my office is to remind myself what it's like to be a college player and how fun it is to be successful," Toole said. "How great it is to go to the NCAA Tournament. How great it is to be part of a team that has success, and that's why I (have) it. That's why I coach the way I coach.
"It's why I try to beg these guys to give everything they can every day because if they get rewarded with an opportunity to sit on the rim or cut down a net or go to the NCAA tournament it's something they're never going to forget. I think that's the meaning of it, that if you work hard every single day you can accomplish the things you're trying to accomplish and you can take with you great memories and not a lot of regrets.''
Toole, who's from New Jersey, transferred from Elon to Penn to be closer to his home.
"And to go to a (top academic) school like Penn and then have the opportunity to go to the NCAA Tournament,'' Toole said. "Those are the three biggest reasons. It worked out great. I went twice."
In 2002, when Toole averaged 13.9 points and 3.7 assists per game and shot 87.3 percent from the free throw line, Penn finished 25-7, losing to sixth-seeded California 82-75 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Pittsburgh.
"That was the first time I ever came to Pittsburgh,'' Toole said.
In 2003, when Toole averaged 10.6 points and 2.9 assists per game and shot 83.6 percent from the free throw line, the Quakers were 22-6 after losing to sixth-seeded Oklahoma State, 77-63, in the NCAA's first round.
Pretty good memories for Toole. Just like the ones he's making at Robert Morris.
In 2009 and 2010, when Toole assisted head coach Mike Rice, the Colonials went to the NCAA Tournament. Last season, his first as the Colonial head coach, his team advanced to the Northeast Conference Tournament championship game and finished 18-14.
This season, Toole's team is off to a 2-0 start with wins against Rider and Saint Peter's of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
Next up is RMU's game against Penn, Toole's first game as a coach against his alma mater.
Pretty meaningful for him, eh?
"It's going to mean something for our season. It's not going to be a personal accomplishment,'' Toole said. "It's going to be another opportunity for us to get better and win. It's not about me anymore. It's about the guys in the locker room. I had the opportunity to sit on the rim. I had the opportunity to go to the NCAA Tournament. It's about getting those guys the same opportunity.''
Still, Toole acknowledged Saturday's game will be a bit extra special for him.
"It'll probably be pretty exciting,'' he said. "I'm going to have a lot of friends there, a lot of family there, a lot of people who saw me play. There will be some emotion to it, but I think you worry about what's actually important and that's the team and how prepared they are and (if) our guys making the right decisions and making the right plays. You don't really worry about yourself.''
Against Saint Peter's Tuesday evening, the Colonials again played tight defense, just as they did in their 83-57 season-opening win against Rider Nov. 11.
Robert Morris held the Peacocks to just 23 points in the second half and quickly pulled away after leading by only two points at halftime.
Penn, which is 2-1 after earning an overtime victory at Rider Thursday, was picked by the Ivy League media to finish fourth behind Harvard, Yale and Princeton this season.
Second-year coach Jerome Allen, a former Penn star, welcomed back three starters from a 13-15 team, including All-Ivy pick Zack Rosen and Tyler Bernardini, the Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2008.
Allen played at Penn in the early to mid-1990s and helped the Quakers win 48 straight Ivy League games, a league record that still stands.
No word, though, on how many Quakers sat on rims back in that day.