He captivated our hearts, stirred our emotions, and made us proud of Ohio State basketball. Five years removed from a magical, and admittedly surprising final four run, Scoonie Penn is as charismatic as ever.
Oh, and Penn can still play too.
Thursday evening at the McDonalds Summer League at Worthington Kilbourne High School, Bucknuts spoke with James "Scoonie" Penn and caught up with the 25-year old Boston native to collect his thoughts on several issues, including that of the firing of his former mentor and head coach, Jim O'Brien.
One might say that Penn plays on The Buckeye Corner, but watching them play, you might think he is The Buckeye Corner.
Sure, with all due respect to former Buckeyes Brent Darby, Ken Johnson, and Velimir Radinovic, the team is far from a one man show. Throw in current Buckeyes J.J. Sullinger and Ricardo Billings, and you have what's almost definitely the most talented team in the league.
However, Coach O'Brien used to say when Penn was on the floor for Ohio State, he felt like he had an assistant coach on the floor. Penn may not wear the title of head coach, but he may as well be considered a head coach who happens to also play.
"That's just my style," Penn said. "I enjoy being a leader and I enjoy the game of basketball. There's no question I'd like to coach some day, but I also have too much basketball in me to give it up just yet. Maybe it's the best of both worlds."
Penn has spent the last three seasons playing professional basketball in Europe. Although he's a free-agent right now, and he still has aspirations of playing in the NBA, surprisingly, he's very satisfied with where he's at.
"I can't complain whatsoever," he said. "I'm playing the game I love, I'm in good shape financially, and I'm having fun. I'm in no hurry to change anything."
Although he's in no hurry to change, he's also not against embracing change.
He realizes he won't be able to play forever, and he also realizes that circumstances change and his plans could get altered in a hurry. In the meantime, he's soaking up all the information he can in anticipation of someday coaching.
"It's really amazing how much I learn every day," he said. "I always like to help my teammates out, but in doing so, I've really started to grasp a lot about the game of basketball. I'd definitely like to coach someday in college. Pro ball is a whole other level, but college ball is a lot of fun to be around."
It's hard to grasp that Penn could actually have learned so much more than his college days, where he seemed light years ahead of many players in terms of comprehending the game.
A lot of thanks to that learning curve, of course, goes to O'Brien, who molded him into a large portion of the player he is today. So, it was with great disappointment that he had to see his former coach be removed of his job by the university Penn loves so much.
"It was very shocking to me," Penn said of learning about O'Brien's dismissal. "The situation is what it is, and nothing can be changed. It's just one of those things you have to move on from."
Penn has spoken with O'Brien several times since the firing.
"He's doing pretty well now, I think," he said. "I think O'Brien is going to bounce back from it in some way or another. The important thing for Ohio State is to embrace Coach Matta. He's a great coach, and he's going to pick up right where Coach O'Brien left off. Ohio State is very lucky to have a great guy in there to take over."
If there are any hard feelings toward Ohio State for the firing of O'Brien, Penn certainly didn't show it.
Although Penn grew up in Massachusetts, his heart is still apparently in Columbus. Penn still enjoys sticking around and following Ohio State basketball.
"I love it here in Columbus," he said. "It's a great place to live and the people are great. Things happen for a reason, and Ohio State did what they had to do. We just have to take what comes our way and move on. We can't let those things affect us personally."
Whatever Penn ultimately decides to do, it's with no question he'll be quite successful.
It seems nearly every obstacle that's been thrown at Penn thus far he's managed to overcome. Not much will stop him from enjoying himself, that's for certain.
"I'm just enjoying the ride," Penn said. "I'm taking things
one day at a time."