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Alum's assist helped Garnet's Carl Schaller find college home at Gettysburg

04/08/2021, 11:00am EDT
By Josh Verlin

Carl Schaller dribbles a basketball

Carl Schaller (above, last season) is headed to Gettysburg after a strong high school career at Garnet Valley. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

In the three years he played at Gettysburg from 1990-92, Mike Albero had 147 assists. Three decades later, he might have earned credit for No. 148 — and it’s Bullets head coach B.J. Dunne who was the recipient.

For it was Albero who last February recommended to Dunne that the second-year head coach should check out this point guard named Carl Schaller, whom Albero had coached during CYO ball with St. Cornelius as a fifth and seventh grader.

“I sent him an email, and I said ‘hey listen, there’s a kid at Garnet Valley you need to go see,’” Albero said. “The kid just competes at everything he does.”

Dunne watched some film of the 5-foot-11 lead guard’s junior season with the Jaguars and saw in Schaller what the rest of the Central League already knew: a hyper-competitive, three-level scorer and quality defender, a kid who can get his own bucket but also knows how to get his teammates involved.

By last summer, even during COVID times, Dunne was able to see Schaller play in several events with the K-Low Elite travel program, and began recruiting the Garnet Valley standout by Zoom, FaceTime and text. Even as other colleges piled on board, eager to try and sway one of the most talented scorers in the region to their program, Dunne and Gettysburg were always there.

And that’s how Schaller, despite picking up multiple Division II scholarship offers and a slew of interest from other D-IIIs, ended up becoming a major pickup for Dunne and the Bullets when he committed back in December before embarking on yet another impressive campaign.

“Coach Dunne was really impressive in the first meeting and he was the first one to really show interest,” Schaller said. “He saw me first and that meant a lot to me, and I visited and just loved it from there.

“The plan was really to wait [to commit], as a kid you always want to go to the highest level and then you get wrapped up in that idea,” he added a minute later, “but as time went along and as I visited more schools, I realized that it was the place for me.”

In adding the two-time Central League MVP to his roster next fall, Dunne gets a guard he calls a “potential day-one starter” at point guard, and a player he’s hoping will help drive the Bullets up through a Centennial Conference that’s getting tougher and tougher every year.

“I think Carl will fit like a glove [at Gettysburg], I give him a lot of credit," GV coach Mike Brown said. "He’s an excellent, I would say excellent on-ball defender. It’s such a luxury to be able to put him on the other team’s best guard and really not have to worry a whole lot about that kid hurting you that night.”

During Gettysburg’s last season of competition, 2019-20, the Bullets went 12-13 overall (6-12 Centennial). There were a few close losses: by four against No. 1 Swarthmore, by six against No. 15 Johns Hopkins, by two against by Haverford and Muhlenberg, a one-point loss to Washington College in 2OT. There were also a couple blowouts — but only a couple.

Dunne needed a guard to be able to compete with the all-conference level guards around the league, quite a few of whom come from the Philly area — like Hopkins’ All-America candidate (and Episcopal Academy product) Conner Delaney and Swarthmore sophomore Vinny DeAngelo, who averaged double-digit scoring in his first collegiate season out of Sun Valley and was named the National Rookie of the Year.

Carl Schaller dribbles a basketball as an opposing player runs behind him

Schaller (above, last season) played a key role in Garnet Valley's playoff run this season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

“We definitely felt like there have been some really good guards in the league,” Dunne said. “We felt like if we could add a dynamic guard who scores it at all three levels, and who’s capable of leading a team, that was going to be a piece that we really needed if we were going to take the next step as a program.”

Hired in 2018, Dunne would be preparing for his fourth season at Gettysburg, but the COVID pandemic kept the Bullets from playing this past year, the school choosing to join the majority of other Centennial programs in cancelling the winter season outright. He was hired to follow up on the tremendous run of George Petrie, who took the program to its first and only five NCAA Tournament appearances during his 29 years as head coach. Now he’s trying to get the program back on top of the Centennial, which means winning a few more games against the likes of Swat, Hopkins, Muhlenberg, Ursinus and other perennial NCAA-quality teams.

Winning is certainly something Schaller did plenty of at Garnet Valley, which went 23-5 (15-3 Central) in 2019-20, earning a spot in the PIAA Class 6A tournament.

As a senior, Schaller led the Jaguars to a 17-4 record and an appearance in the District 1 6A semifinals, the program’s deepest run in the district playoffs since its growth into the largest classification in the state over the last couple decades. In a non-COVID year, that would have been enough for a quality seed in the state tournament and another potential program first, but only the district championship made it this year. 

More important than that was the first Central League title in program history, captured over Conestoga early in March.

“Throughout the years we’ve had some hard losses, some games we should have won, and to see us finally break through and get that Central League title and make it to the semis in districts, it was a sigh of relief,” Schaller said. “Being able to accomplish the things we did this year and throughout the four years the 2021 class was at Garnet Valley, it was an awesome feeling and hopefully I can experience one of those moments again at Gettysburg.”

Before his commitment to Gettysburg, Schaller had pulled in offers from USciences and Georgian Court, with East Stroudsburg another D-II school on his recruitment, plus D-III programs including Scranton, Ursinus and Franklin & Marshall.  

Schaller is also the latest in a string of high-scoring Garnet guards who’ve gone on to play at the next level, following in the footsteps of ‘17 grad Brandon Starr (USciences), ‘18 grad Austin Laughlin (Kutztown) and ‘19 grad Greg Vlassopoulos (Rowan). 

“When I was a freshman, Austin took me under his wing, so we’ve been in touch ever since then, and same thing with Greg, too,” Schaller said. “They both had been telling me just go where your gut tells you.”

Carl Schaller dribbles a basketball

Schaller (above, last season) (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

He might be the most well-rounded scorer of the bunch, without quite the size of the 6-3 Laughlin but every bit his ability to put the ball in the hoop. Schaller’s best offensive asset is his mid-range pull-up, but his strong handle allows him to get to the hoop and finish with both hands, and he’s a knockdown 3-point shooter off the catch and pull-up. He finished his high school career with 1,186 points, good for third in program history.

The only issue with Schaller’s terrific talent from early on was his height: when Brown first saw Schaller as a talented eighth grader, he stood only about five feet tall. He’d been told by the GV middle school coach that they had a great guard, but was surprised at who it turned out to be.

“He would have been the last kid you would have picked out, but then they started playing and he was very, very good,” Brown said. “There’s small, and he was smaller than small.

“You could tell him was going to grow, he looked like he was eight years old.”

Grow, Schaller did: to 5-4 by his sophomore year and 5-8 as a junior, now inching closer to six feet tall as his high school years end.

“My height was definitely a little scary at first, I’m looking at some of these posters that I got from our banquet and I looked like someone’s little brother in the pictures,” Schaller said. “It was scary, but it was funny and I’m just glad that I could get to at least 5-11. Hopefully there’s another inch or two in me.”

What exactly the Bullets’ roster will look like next year is still somewhat up in the air, as some of the would-be seniors on this year’s roster will have the opportunity to return to school for their extra year of eligibility, but Gettysburg doesn’t have graduate school opportunities. 

At least one 2019-20 starter, point guard and Lower Moreland alum Danny Duffey (9.1 ppg/2.8 apg), the program's all-time assist leader, exhausted his eligibility. Another starting point guard, Alex Leder (13.4 ppg/4.0 apg), was a junior two years ago, as was third-leading scorer Avery Close (11.6 ppg/6.5 rpg), a forward from Phoenixville.

In addition to Schaller, Dunne also has commitments from Ben Drury (Cumberland Valley, Pa.), Colin King (Seton Hall Prep, N.J.), Colin Farrell (Christian Brothers Academy, N.J.), Kellen Walker (The Berkshire School, Mass.) and Jordan Stafford (St. Joe’s-Hammonton, N.J.).

They’ll all be working collectively to help the Bullets reach March Madness for the first time since 2009. Just a few months after his biggest goal was reaching the Central League, Schaller’s offseason workout plan has a much larger goal.

“It’s definitely eye-opening, I think, to hear ‘NCAA Tournament,’” Schaller said. “It’s like, wow, I’m in college now, playing college basketball, I’m a college athlete. It’ll be a lot harder, mentally and physically, so I’m prepared for the challenge, it should be fun.”

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