Jacob O'Connell (above) will be going to St. Joe's Prep this year after previously attending Eastern (N.J.). (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
South Jersey big man headed to the Catholic League
Jacob O’Connell had briefly thought about making the switch from public to private school before his freshman year, yet chose to attend his local high school, Eastern Voorhees (N.J).
As his sophomore year went on, the idea of going to a Catholic school in Philadelphia popped back up, driven by his mom, a St. Joe’s University alumna, who wanted him to look at St. Joseph’s Prep; now that O’Connell was a few years older, he was more willing to give the idea a try.
“I went to visit and it was just a great experience,” he said. “The teachers are great, it's a great school...it was just kind of crazy (how many) kids that I went to middle school with and I knew from before.”
The switch will mean getting up a little earlier to make the half hour commute to Girard Ave.
It also means getting the chance to work up legendary WIlliam “Speedy” Morris. The Prep’s head coach, who coached at La Salle University from 1986-2001 after a 20-year run at Roman and has been at Prep since, has more than proven his ability to cultivate top players on all levels while winning nearly 1,000 games at both levels.
“I think it’ll be really nice having him and the rest of the coaching staff there,” O’Connell said. “I think that would be really cool having those guys to look up on.”
O’Connell has not had the opportunity to play with his new team yet -- he’s hoping to make his Prep debut at the SJU team camp in August -- but is already familiar with several of his soon-to-be teammates.
During his initial visit to the school, O’Connell was led around by rising junior guard Gabe Arizin and ran into another familiar face in rising senior Darius Kinnel, a starting guard.
“l actually played with (Kinnell) in middle school. So he came up to me and started talking to me,” O’Connell said. “Everybody there is just really fun, it’s awesome.”
The Hawks’ graduated five seniors last year but are returning their three leading scorers in rising seniors Kinnel, Kyle Thompson and Edward Croswell as well as Arizin, who also started.
The five of them constitute easily the most talent Morris has had in his starting lineup since future Division I talent Steve Vasturia (Notre Dame), Miles Overton (Wake Forest/Drexel) and Chris Clover (St. Joe’s) led the Hawks to 24 wins and an appearance in the PIAA AAAA semifinals in 2013.
So far, the young forward (O’Connell doesn’t even turn 16 until his junior year begins) has offers from Columbia and Stony Brook. He has also been in contact with Drexel, University of Delaware, and Princeton, among others.
O’Connell said he’s “definitely looking [for] high academics.” -- Isabella Sanchez Castaneda
Rick Perez (above) directs his team during a timeout on Saturday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Butler ready to assert himself for new-look Reading
Besides the Pagoda, Lonnie Walker might have been the most popular figure in the city of Reading for the past few years.
A McDonald's All-American and co-MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic, Walker will be joining the Miami Hurricanes in the fall for his freshman year, fresh off of his historic 2016-17 state championship run with the Red Knights.
Now that Walker is gone, the Red Knights don’t have a superstar to replace him, but they do have the experience and knowledge of what it takes to win a state championship, and head coach Rick Perez is very optimistic about this year’s core group of young players.
“We could never replace Lonnie, and that’s not our goal,” he said. “What Lonnie did was amazing. There are always special men who come through this program. Lonnie left us with core values like family and commitment. He taught us a selfless way to play basketball. These young men who are stepping into this role are special.”
The Red Knights will return a starter from last year with experience, and leadership skills.
Wesley Butler, the sophomore starting point guard on last year’s state championship team, hopes to soak up all the information Walker passed down to him, and lead this team in his junior season.
“Lonnie taught me leadership skills and practice habits,” Butler said. “I now know how practices and games should be run.”
A 5-9 point guard, Butler showcased his scoring ability — something that wasn’t needed of him last year — on Saturday, scoring 21 points against Christian Brothers Academy. In the first half, Butler went 5-for-5 from beyond the arc, all while running the offense and directing traffic on defense.
Two other players Coach Perez looks forward to developing this offseason are seniors Hector Dixon and Ricky Lopez. Dixon, a 5-11 combo guard, has been playing “amazing” as of late, has caught the eye of Coach Perez as someone who could make a big splash in their senior season.
Lopez, a 6-5 forward, will play big minutes for the Red Knights this year. Lopez didn’t play very much last year, partly because of the lack of a need for a big man. The Red Knights started two players over 6-4, Walker and Tyrone Nesby, both guards.
Through playing in team camps and various other leagues in and around the area, the new look Red Knights will not hope to recreate last year’s team, but create a new name for themselves.
“Each team has an identity,” Perez said. “Some teams have superstars and some teams have all role players who all contribute a little bit to the team. We have to let this team control its own identity.”
At 7-5, Watari (above) was unmissable on the courts at Albright College. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Bullis School’s Mountari just trying to blend in
From the moment he walked onto Albright’s campus, Watara Mountari had the camp buzzing.
When you stand 7-foot-5 and weigh easily north of 300 pounds, attention tends to follow you around no matter what. So it’s up to Bullis School head coach Bruce Kelley and his staff to try to do what they can to have Mountari be just another kid.
“He’s extremely patient, [but] he gets bothered when people come up and take pictures of him without asking,” Kelley said. “He’s usually very gracious when people come up and ask how tall he is; we try to keep people with him at all times to serve as a buffer. People don’t realize, he’s human, he’s 18 years old.”
A native of Congo, Mountari was discovered by former NBA All-Star Dikembe Mutombo at a Basketball Without Borders camp on his native continent. When Mutombo discovered the two were related -- Mutombo’s niece is Mountari’s cousin, according to Kelley -- he decided to help Mountari navigate the immigration process and used his connections to bring him to Maryland.
While players of his height have become stars at the college level and beyond -- Central Florida’s Tacko Fall stands 7-foot-6 and averaged nearly a double-double as a sophomore last year -- Mountari is not likely to reach that level. The two games he appeared in on Saturday were just Mountari’s second and third appearances in game play since February, according to Kelley, and the fact that Mountari spent much of the afternoon game with ice on his knee was a big hint as to why.
“He gets hurt, unfortunately, just because he’s so large,” Kelley said. “[There’s] so much stress on his knees because he’s a big, big boy.
“He’s the nicest kid you’ll ever want to meet,” added Kelley, who’s going into his 14th season at Bullis. “Everybody who meets him likes him...many times, people on the other team cheer for him because they see he’s not this polished player, he’s a normal kid who’s trying to become good at the game he enjoys.”
-- Dallastown guard Brandon McGlynn has dealt with far too many health issues in his relatively short life -- the York Dispatch’s Patrick Strohecker detailed many of them in this terrific piece -- and he’s had to overcome a few more this summer. After missing the entire second half of his junior season with post-secondary concussion syndrome due to two concussions suffered in a three-week span, he finally got cleared in April. Briefly.
“[The] week I came back, I was at Spring Jam Fest and there was water on the floor, slipped on the floor and I hurt my Achilles,” he said. “So I’ve been only back about three or four weeks.”
Now healthy aside from some lingering tendonitis, McGlynn is back for the York Ballers’ 17Us, which are coached by his dad, Pat McGlynn. The younger brother of former Rhode Island/Towson/Vermont sharpshooter Four McGlynn is still finding his outside shot again but he’s a strong on-ball guard, as evidenced by the 10 points and four assists he contributed to the Ballers’ win over the PSA Cardinals. Navy offered last year; Pat McGlynn said CCSU, Princeton, Albany, Holy Cross and “a dozen D-IIs” are showing interest.
-- Thanks to his outstanding play in his first two games of the day, 12-point and 11-point performances, Jonathan Norfleet was extended an offer from Robert Morris University. Besides the Colonials, Norfleet currently holds offers from Hampton, Mount St. Mary’s, Redford, and Norfolk State, among others. A super-quick point guard with an extremely tight handle, Norfleet was outstanding on the fast break. He likes to compare his aggressiveness to reigning NBA MVP Russell Westbrook, preferring to play downhill and above the rim. A 6-2 rising senior at Salem High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Norfleet hopes to add to that list of offers with a strong July Live Period with Team Loaded 757 (Va.).
-- Stashed in the southwest corner of Pennsylvania is Laurel Highlands, a WPIAL 5A program without much of a hoops history. Bryce Laskey is putting it on the map with a strong summer with Bridge City AAU, a new program that came out of the formation of his former Pittsburgh-based program, TTG, and one other from the Harrisburg area. A 6-4, 180-pound guard, Laskin is a tremendous shooter off the catch or pull-up, whether that was knocking down contested shots from the mid-range or stroking it from deep; he’s also used to playing with the ball in his hands, and showed that off with some nifty behind-the-back passes for assists. Laskin owns a trio of D-II offers, from Pitt-johnstown, Malone (Ohio) and Fairmount State, and is starting to hear from D-Is including Navy and Loyola (Md.) plus more D-IIs like West Liberty, Wheeling Jesuit and Cal U of Pa.
-- Point Pleasant Beach (N.J.) rising senior Danny Frauenheim brings a large contingent of coaches to watch him whenever he plays with his high school team or his NJ Shoreshots AAU squad, which is who he was with this weekend. The 5-10, 160-pound point guard runs an offense at a very high level; if he were a few inches taller, his recruitment would be a little easier to figure out, as he’d be a Division I lock. As it is, he’s hearing from D-Is (UDel, Army and Navy will be watching him, he said), as well as D-IIs like Wheeling Jesuit (W.Va) and West Liberty (W.Va.) and D-IIIs from Wesleyan to Franklin & Marshall, Penn State-Harrisburg, Susquehanna, York, Salisbury and more. Frauenheim showed why in a close loss to Team Loaded 757, scoring 16 points and keeping his team in it on both ends down the stretch; he said he’s working this summer on being a better teammate/leader, his jump shot and getting stronger and tougher.
-- Tearing up the court for the PSA Cardinals’ 16s in a close loss to the York Ballers was Hassan Diarra. The 2019 guard from Holy Cross HS (N.Y.) had it going from all three levels, attacking the rim and knocking down a long-range shot or two en route to a 13-point outing; he also grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists while playing some solid defense on a talented York Baller backcourt. Diarra, who has an offer from Quinnipiac, said he was hearing from several other mid-major programs as well, and is working on his point guard skills to play that position at the next level.
-- Gettysburg, Scranton, and Franklin & Marshall are three schools that Seneca (N.J.) guard Jack Brockett mentioned as possible landing spots for him after he concludes his upcoming senior year. He’s toured all of the schools, and plans to take official visits in the fall. Playing for SJ Hoops, Brockett played the role of lead guard. A tenacious defender with a soft touch around the rim, Brockett was seen stealing the ball from opponents and finishing though contact on the other end. After playing a big role on his young Seneca team last year, Brockett hopes to step into a leadership position during his senior year.
-- If one player on the NJ Playaz 16u team looked tanner than the others, it’s because Jake Betlow lives in Florida during the school year, at Montverde Academy. After spending his freshman year at Gill St. Bernard’s in North Jersey, the 2019 6-2 point guard made the switch to Monteverde, highly regarded as one of the top high school programs nationally; number one pick in the 2016 NBA draft Ben Simmons attended the school. Betlow played for Nike Team Florida in the spring because he was living in Florida for school.
Monteverde has provided Betlow with a competitive atmosphere with a unique opportunity to play against the best high school players in the country. Stony Brook and Columbia have offered, and thanks to his 4.1 GPA, Princeton, Yale, and William and Mary are all expressing high interest. “It’s definitely prepared me for college,” he said. “I’m pretty much already playing on a college basketball team.”