Rip Engel (above) has settled at Gwynedd after playing at three different high schools. (Photo: Gwynedd Sports Information Department))
Austin Petolillo (@AustinPSports)
Gwynedd Mercy point guard Rip Engel has been around plenty of different basketball programs in his life.
A native of Newtown, Pa., Engel started his high school career off at Roman Catholic, then he transferred to Council Rock North High School for his sophomore and junior season. He attempted to change one more time, going to Pennsbury for his senior season; Engel’s home in Newtown is right on Lindenhurst road, the border between Council Rock school district and Pennsbury school district.
But his final transfer was denied, the PIAA board ruling that the move was for athletic purposes.
Once his eligibility was denied, Engel decided to attend Life Center Academy in Voorhees, N.J., where he played for the first overall pick in the 1989 NBA Draft, Pervis Ellison.
“It was definitely a cool experience,” Engel said. “I met a lot of different people, got to play with some great players...I would do it all again if I could.”
Once his time in high school was finished, Engel elected to attend Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., about 25 minutes north of Richmond.
Before attending Randolph-Macon, Engel was being pursued by other area D-III schools such as Ursinus, Franklin & Marshall and Gwynedd Mercy.
As a freshman at Randolph-Macon, Engel averaged 3.7 ppg and 1.8 apg in 11.9 mpg for the the 2014-15 ODAC conference champions. That season, Randolph-Macon, led by head coach Nathan Davis, finished 28-3, was ranked No. 1 in Division III for a few weeks and was a game away from the D-III Final Four before losing to Virginia Wesleyan, 49-47.
But in the 2015-16 season, Davis and assistant coach Joe Meehan made the jump to D-I as Davis was named the head coach of the Bucknell basketball team; Meehan joined him as an assistant with the Bison.
When Davis and Meehan -- who was the coach that recruited Engel to come to Randolph Macon -- decided to leave, Engel was left at a crossroads: stay at a school with an unfamiliar coaching staff, or transfer?
At first, Engel decided to stay at Randolph-Macon, but after the fall semester in 2015, he decided to transfer.
One of the schools that recruited Engel when he was in high school was Gwynedd Mercy, a school that Engel had a long-lasting connection to.
“Coach [John] Baron, I was friends with him for a while,” Engel said. “I know him from Wildwood, we both have beach houses down there.”
“I know his dad, his dad is my age,” Baron said. “His dad owns a store on the boardwalk and would always come down to the court and just hang out.”
As a kid, Engel’s father would take him to the basketball court down the shore and work him out. As Engel got older, he would start to attend the camp “Buckets by the Beach”, a camp Baron often spoke at; then, Engel started to play in the high school league down there as Baron watched on with his kids who played in the first-to-third grade leagues.
As Engel went from high school to high school, Baron kept an eye on him and then finally, as a senior, Baron offered Engel a spot on his team. It was too late, at that point; Engel had his mind set on Randolph-Macon.
When Ray Engel, Rip’s father, reached out to Baron about his son’s transfer, he didn’t hesitate to say yes.
“At Christmas break he decided that he wasn’t going to go back, and then Ray called me and then he got here right at the break,” Baron said. “It’s like a Christmas present, I guess.”
Engel started his Gwynedd Mercy career on the bench, but averaged 3.9 ppg in 13.5 mpg over the span of 18 games to close out his sophomore year. Engel’s junior season is when he took over the starting point guard spot for the Griffins and averaged 12.6 ppg and 4.1 apg, shooting 41 percent from three, all while playing 29.3 mpg.
Through the first dozen games of his senior year, Engel is averaging 15.2 ppg and 5.0 apg in 34 mpg for a Griffins squad that currently is 10-2 on the season despite the graduation of several key seniors from last year’s 21-win team.
On Tuesday night, in a key Colonial States Athletic Conference (CSAC) matchup against Neumann, Engel gave Baron good reason as to why he called him his “Christmas present.”
Coming off a game where Engel struggled, only attempting eight shots, going 0-4 from 3-point range and scoring only 10 points in Gwynedd Mercy’s loss against Immaculata on Saturday, Baron gave Engel some words of advice if the Griffins were to be successful in their hunt for a CSAC championship.
“I told him he didn’t shoot enough,” Baron said. “He’s typically not a gunner but he only shot eight times, and if he can get 15 shots up, I think he’s going to get 16-to-18 points every game.”
Engel took his coaches’ advice and put it to use against Neumann. He increased his shot total from the previous game by 10 shots, going 10-of-18 from the field and 6-of-11 from deep, scoring a career-high 32 points in Gwynedd-Mercy’s 79-68 victory over Neumann on Tuesday night.
“Everyone has those nights,” Engel said. “I guess tonight was my night.”
The win put Gwynedd at 5-1 in league play, tied atop the conference with Cabrini. Neumann (9-3, 4-2) and Keystone are one game back, with Marywood, Rosemont and Immaculata also in the chace at 3-3 through the first six of the league’s 18-game slate.
Baron sees Engel as the yin to his yang, as Baron has more of a reactionary and emotional personality while Engel is more calm and laid-back. Baron said he tends to be more tough on Engel than any of his other players for that very reason.
“He’s actually a better complement for me than I am for him,” Baron said.
When Engel’s Gwynedd-Mercy career is all said and done, there will be plenty of days on the sun-kissed beaches of Wildwood where Engel and Baron can reflect on their time together as player and coach.
“We’ll laugh about some of the things,” Baron said, “but hopefully we’ll have some accomplishments to be able to celebrate, too.”