John Engles earned each of his three varsity letters for the Penn basketball team the hard way. He battled through not one but two career-threatening knee injuries that sidelined him for significant portions of his Penn playing days.  Still, Engles persevered to win the battle at wounded knee and along the way left an indelible mark on the Penn basketball program.


He came to Penn from Staten Island as one of the most highly-touted athletes the area had ever seen.  He led his high school, St. Peter’s, to three Staten Island High School League championships and an unbeaten regular season when Engles was a senior.  At 6’8”, Engles, who had been selected a Parade All-American and named to the Scholastic Magazine 40-man All-America team, had his choice of athletic programs but he chose Penn for its academics and basketball tradition.


In his first year with the Red and Blue, he was an immediate success as he was named ECAC Rookie of the Year and Sophomore of the Year by the Ivy League.  Suddenly at the beginning of his junior year, Engles suffered a terrible knee injury in a game against La Salle.  With hopes of salvaging the remainder of his collegiate career, he underwent surgery and sat out the remainder of the 1973-74 season.  Complications arose, another surgery was needed and it looked as if Engles may have had his last run on The Palestra hardwood.


After a tremendous amount of rehabilitation and determination, Engles returned to action in his senior year.  Despite great pain and swelling, he played on, inspiring teammates, coaches and fans alike.  He averaged 16.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg and was a 71 percent free-throw shooter.  He recorded over 400 points in his senior year alone, bringing his career total to 1,038 in just three years of action.  Only 30 other players have recorded over 1,000 career points for the Red and Blue.


Engles earned a Second-Team All-American nod after his gutty senior season.  In addition, he was named First-Team All-Philadelphia Big 5 and was also given the Bus McDonald Award as the team’s Most Inspirational Player.