CoBL Staff (@hooplove215)
OAKS, Pa. — The Big Shots Philly Pride tournament took over one section of the Greater Philadelphia Convention Center this weekend, as the Under Armour-backed program put its bevy of teams on display in bracket play against several dozen other programs from the Northeast throughout the three-day event.
Here’s the first of three pieces coming out from this weekend, a recruiting notebook chock full of notes and quotes on a dozen rising seniors (and a junior):
Conestoga big man Michael Walz (above) has grown into a big-time post presence at 6-10 and 240 pounds. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Mike Walz (2022 | Philly Pride | Conestoga, Pa.)
It was hard to ignore the height on the Philly Pride roster. The tallest on the roster, Mike Walz, who stands at 6-10, is joined by 6-9 Demetrius Lilley (Lower Merion), and 6-8 Gabe Moss (Hill School). Walz, who currently has offers from St. Joe’s, Lehigh, La Salle, and Penn State, is taking advantage of the opportunity to play and travel with his teammates and develop his skills.
“It feels good after nearly a year of being off, play some good, high-level competition,” he said Saturday afternoon. “Loved seeing my guys, love winning. We get to travel this year which is a big thing over the other years. Going down to Dallas, Atlanta, all of these places which will be super fun, really looking forward to it.”
Walz, who plays under head coach Mike Troy, saw his role for the Pioneers increase during his junior year, when Conestoga went 7-3 and finished their season with a first-round loss to North Penn in the District 1 playoffs. He is preparing for his leadership role as a senior next season.
“I put in a lot of work over COVID, and they saw that, so I earned that starting spot junior year,” said Walz, who grew from 6-8 as a sophomore to his current height, bulking up to 240 pounds. “And this next year, I’m going to be taking a huge leadership role, as a senior, one of the few seniors, so I’m looking forward to developing my skills further, but also getting the younger guys involved and ready with the program.”
Along with his four offers, Walz has interest from William & Mary, Davidson, Delaware,and Drexel, along with some other Patriot League and Atlantic 10 schools.
Walz mentioned two schools that remained in close contact: St. Joe’s Billy Lange and staff, and Brett Reed and Quinn McDowell from Lehigh.
“(St. Joe’s) were the second school to reach out to me and they’ve been a great family,” he said. “They’ve reached out to me probably every week or so, hopped on a lot of Zooms, love the staff, met with some of the players there, they’re great guys and I’m going to be going on an official visit coming up in June, probably first or second week of June.”
For Lehigh, what has stood out to Walz about Reed and staff is the consistent communication. “I can’t wait to go to Lehigh, '' Walz mentioned. “They have been the school that’s reached out to me the most, shown me how much I mean to them. Can’t wait to get out there.”
While Walz notes that he does not have an exact timeline for his commitment, he wants to continue to develop during this AAU season and see what happens. As he continues to prepare for Division I basketball, he adds that he’s working on adding more elements to his game that will allow him to be a stretch four in the future.
“I’ve been working with a couple trainers this past summer on shooting,” he said. “More of that stretch four, putting the ball on the floor. I really gotta work on that in these games, show them what I can do.” -- Kayla Yoegel
Elmarko Jackson (above) picked up several high-major offers last summer. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Elmarko Jackson (2023 | WeR1 | Academy New Church, Pa.)
Already a talented guard prospect when he was at St. Augustine Prep (N.J.), Jackson decided to spend an extra year before he got to college, transferring across the river and repeating his sophomore year at Academy New Church.
“I wanted to just better myself as a player,” he said. “Be able to slow the game down on the court, become a better point guard, just working on my point guard skills.”
But the Lions were one of a handful of area programs that sat out the 2020-21 season entirely, keeping Jackson out of the eyes of scouts and coaches until this offseason. A year after the Lions challenged Westtown School in the Friends’ Schools League championship — which the Moose have dominated most of the last decade — he was forced to wait until 2022 to get a chance to go up against the best.
He spent the time working on his game, taking advantage of some scrimmages to test his skill development.
“It was pretty good,” Jackson said. “I could see, in the games that we did play, the stuff that I needed to work on, so when I did have off time, to work on that stuff, I did.”
Now the 6-3, 185-pound guard is ready to build on an already-impressive resume.
During some limited 2020 exposure, Jackson racked in high-major offers including Ole Miss, Cal and Seton Hall, along with La Salle, Rider and Siena. Right now, he said the only other schools he’s hearing from are Miami (Fl.), Temple and Maryland.
All of them love his athleticism at the lead guard position, his ability to score from all three levels. Even though his jump shot wasn’t falling early on Saturday in the first of two games WeR1’s 17s played that day, Jackson’s talent level was on display, able to control tempo and get to his spots, make the right reads, and disrupt opposing ballhandlers.
“It feels great, I put in a lot of work over quarantine over the  summer,” he said. “just to see it pay off with high-caliber offers like that, it feels great.”
Next up for Jackson in the recruiting cycle is the end of the dead period in June, when he can finally start visiting campuses; he said he wants to go to Temple and Maryland, as well as a trip out to Berkeley to see Cal’s campus if possible. Also coming up soon is the June 15 date when college coaches can first contact 2023s directly, a key time for players and coaches alike as they really start to form the connections that ultimately lead to commitments down the road.
“I’m very excited,” Jackson said, “very excited to form some new relationships and see what the future holds.” -- Josh Verlin
Gabe Moss (above) spent the 2020-21 season in a 'bubble' at Hill but now he's focused on getting back in front of coaches. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Gabe Moss (2022 | Philly Pride | Hill School, Pa.)
Along with the rest of his Hill School teammates, Moss spent the 2020-21 season in the school’s version of a bubble, with the Pottstown boarding school sending its non-athletics students home and keeping its teams on campus, testing them multiple times per week while playing a schedule against other prep schools in the region. There was no MAPL championship and no PAISAA tournament, but it was a season.
“I really liked the bubble, the team got really close because we were with each other 24/7,” Moss said Saturday afternoon. “It was just playing games to get better.”
But as soon as the season ended, Moss left the bubble and went back to his hometown of Morgantown (Pa.), taking his classes virtually to be able to prepare for the most important summer of his hoops career thus far. A 6-8, 220-pound forward, Moss has been on Division I radars for a couple years, schools intrigued by his combination of length, athleticism, and effort on the court as well as his affable personality off it.
He’s part of a sizable Philly Pride 17U frontcourt that also includes Conestoga (Pa.) 6-10 C Michael Walz (see above) and Lower Merion (Pa.) 6-9 PF Demetrius Lilley. All three have multiple D-I offers, but their variety of skill sets allows for two of them to be on the floor at any one time.
“It’s fun, we all go at each other, it’s really competitive,” Moss said. “It keeps the intensity high and you always have in the back of your head, there’s someone coming for your spot and if you don’t work hard, you won’t play.”
Moss picked up several offers last summer, and of that group Drexel and La Salle are still in touch, along with quite a few others who are keeping tabs; Moss said recently he’s heard from Loyola-Chicago, Delaware, Penn, Davidson, Lehigh, and St. Joe’s, and that George Washington head coach Jamion Christian has been in regular contact as well.
He’s in no hurry to make a decision, looking forward to getting back out in front of coaches in June (with Hill) and July (with Philly Pride) to solidify his recruitment and help him determine where to visit and focus on. In the meanwhile, he said he’s working on expanding his shooting range and defending multiple positions.
“Definitely trying to get stronger, I’ve been lifting three-to-four times a week trying to get stronger,” he said, “and then just playing more games.” -- Josh Verlin
Lebanon (Pa.) guard Marquis Ferriera displayed a knockdown shooter's ability and quick first step all weekend. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
— Lebanon (Pa.) 2022 point guard Marquis Ferreira was on fire in a Friday night win for LA Cats, scoring 19 of his game-high 21 points in the first half. The 5-9, 155-pound combo guard is a hard worker on and off the ball, utilizing his athleticism and foot speed to work free for shots or create his own, making strong decisions in the half-court and on the break. He’s hearing from numerous area D-III programs, including Wilkes, Juniata, York, and Washington College (Md.). Warwick (Pa.) 2022 point guard Tate Landis hit the game-winning 3-pointer for the Cats in the 68-66 win, capping off a solid game for the 5-10, 175-pound floor general that saw him collect five assists plus seven points. One of the leaders on a Warwick squad that went 14-4 this season and would have been in line for a state berth in any non-COVID year, Landis is also hearing from a variety of D-III schools including York, F&M, DeSales and Randolph (Va.).
— Getting his final few AAU tournaments in is Archbishop Wood (Pa.) 2021 SF Muneer Newton, one of a couple dozen unsigned seniors still out looking for a college home; it’s certainly more than a normal year, no doubt due to the COVID pandemic and the ensuing scholarship crunch. Newton does have a couple D-II offers, from Lock Haven and University of the District of Columbia, but he’s also trying to prove himself as a Division I player, so he’s also talking to junior colleges, including Grayson College (Tex.). The 6-5, 205-pound wing forward said he’s just trying to make the best decision for himself and will make his decision in the next few weeks.
— Even though it was his first tournament with Philly Pride Select, 2022 Victor Panov (2022 | Philly Pride Select | DME Academy, Fl.) is no stranger to elite competition, since he played for the U16 Russian national team during the FIBA 2019 European Championships in Udine, Italy, averaging 6.1 ppg and 6.4 rpg. He spent this past year at Kiski Prep, though the team only played four games, and he’s already planning on spending next year at DME Academy (Fl.). A solid-bodied 6-7 forward, Panov displayed solid post abilities and a nose for the glass in a Saturday afternoon win over the LA Cats on their way to a championship win in the 17U ‘B’ bracket. Through the little exposure he’s gotten thus far, Panov said he’s getting some interest from Boston U, Lehigh and Bucknell; he’s working this summer on expanding all facets of his game, but specifically mentioned working on his athleticism.
Perkiomen School (Pa.) guard Luca Baratta is hearing from several high-academic Division III programs. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
— Perkiomen School (Pa.) 2022 Luca Baratta showed why he’s getting the attention from a number of high-academic Division III programs with a 14-point effort for Philly Heat in a Friday night game against Reach 1 Teach 1. The 6-2, 180-pound combo guard knocked down a couple 3-pointers and also slashed to the rim for a few nifty finishes. So far, his recruitment includes Washington College (Md.), Scranton, Swarthmore and Franklin & Marshall.
— Another Philly Heat player with a number of schools already on his tail is Central Bucks South (Pa.) 2022 F/C Mike Farley. The 6-7, 190-pound forward is a good athlete in the frontcourt with soft hands and good mobility, with developing skills in both face-up and post-up situations. DeSales, Ursinus, Scranton and Franklin & Marshall are all in touch, as is D-II Cal U (Pa.).
— The Jersey Shore Predators are a new group from the northern part of the Jersey Shore, and the 17U group certainly has some small-college prospects that’ll draw attention during the course of the summer. In a game against GSB Elite on Saturday afternoon, it was Wall (N.J.) 2022 PG Colin Ackerman who stood out with his assertiveness with the ball in his hands, continually getting into the lane, and he’s got a strong competitive streak on both ends of the floor. The 6-1, 170-pound guard said he’s already hearing from Randolph-Macon (Va.), Scranton, Dickinson, and Arcadia.
— A key piece of the Methacton (Pa.) squad that won three straight PAC championships and had eyes on a 2020 state title before the COVID shutdown, East Coast Power 2022 SG Brett Byrne is coming into his own as he enters his senior year. The sharpshooting 6-1 guard had 19 points as East Coast Power topped the Hudson Valley Panthers (N.Y.) in a 17U quarterfinal, hitting four 3-pointers, certainly his best attribute. But the 6-1, 175-pound guard is putting the ball on the floor a lot more than he did as a sophomore and drawing contact, and he’s always played hard. He’s hearing from D-IIs including Jefferson (where high school teammate Erik Timko plays), Chestnut Hill and East Stroudsburg, plus D-IIIs including Franklin & Marshall, Scranton and Catholic (D.C.).
— Thought for sure we’d be writing about the recruitment of a couple guards on the Laurel Highlands Storm, after the group from western Pennsylvania (specifically, Johnstown) knocked off Philly Pride Gold in the 17U semifinals, toughing out a 52-46 win despite a significant size advantage up front. But both Richland (Pa.) 2022 Trent Rozich and Conemaugh Twp. (Pa.) 2022 Jackson Byer said their phones were fairly quiet, though that’s likely not going to be the case for long. Rozich, an athletic slashing 6-4 guard, had 14 points and eight rebounds; Byer, a tough 5-11 combo guard with quick hands, had 14 points, six rebounds and three steals. They’re not the only two on the squad who can play at the next level; small-college coaches, take note.