Matthew Ryan (@matthewryan02)
PRINCETON, N.J. — The first live recruiting period in two years tipped off Friday night in gyms and arenas across the country, with just about every college coach around heading out to a local event or two to start to catch up on a years’ worth of missed recruiting. Quite a few high-majors and plenty of other D-I, D-II and D-III coaches were at the Hun School for Sunday’s Mid-Atlantic Independent School Shootout action, which began at 8:30 AM and came to a close around 5:10 PM.
Here’s a short notebook from the morning and afternoon sets of the final day of the event, which features private schools from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York:
Ben Luber (above, during the 2019-20 season) has brought in a good dose of talent to the George School. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The new era of George School basketball
In addition to their high academics, athletics at The George School have always been big, but not so much basketball; Ben Luber is here to change that. The former Penn State point guard came in to coach George prior to the 2019 season and in a few short years has built the program up to a high level, with some D-I talent.
In Luber’s first season coaching the Cougars, his squad improved on their 5-5 Friends’ League record the previous season, going 7-2 in conference play, losing in the FSL semifinal. Last season George only played four games, going 2-2; however Luber wasn’t the head coach, as he was out with a family emergency. Over the past two weeks, Luber said, the squad has about nine practices under their belt along with the four games they played this weekend.
On Luber’s first team at George, they only had one college player, Jack Vreeswyk (TCNJ), son of Temple legend and former pro Mike Vreeswyk, who is an assistant under Luber. After just two short years the former point guard brought together a mix of size, skill, and athleticism with multiple D-I prospects that has a chance to bring home the schools’ first-ever Friends League title.
“We got a great group of guys, man. They're all coming from different places but they’re smart kids who love the game, they hate to lose,” Luber said. “ And they're ambitious about going and playing this game at the college level. So it's fun to coach them everyday in practice.”
The Friends’ League has recently been dominated by Westtown who has taken home the last seven conference championships, with a roster of talent that’s outclassed the rest of the league put together. Seth Berger’s program has become a hot spot for future pros and high-major players such as Atlanta Hawks forward Cam Reddish, Orlando Magic big man Mo Bamba, and rising senior Dereck Lively II, a top prospect in his class. Luber wants to put together a program to rival that group.
Over the past month the Cougars have added two main players to their roster, rising juniors Christian Bliss and Dante Weise. Bliss is a 6-3 point guard that just transferred from Archbishop Malloy and had a really impressive showing on Sunday, knocking down threes and getting to the rim. Weise is a 6-1 guard who came in from Allentown (N.J.) and reclassified into the class of 2023. Luber mentioned that rising freshman Luke Melniczak and rising sophomores Bryce and Tyler Flowers will be in the rotation next season.
Rising seniors Evan Heffelfinger, Gestin Liberis, and Zach White all will also be key contributors this coming season, along with incoming junior big man Onyekachi “Kachi” Nzeh. Nzeh is an athletic 6-8 forward with high major offers who showed out on Sunday, scoring inside and blocking shots. Nzeh’s and Liberis’ work for The George School doesn’t stop on the court.
“People don't know this but Kachi, he’s a tour ambassador at the school, he's on the student activities board,” Luber said. “Gestin is a dorm prefect. We’ve got kids who are doing more with our own George School community, than most people do at the college level.”
The staff surrounding Luber on the sideline knows a thing or two about hoops. There are four assistant coaches for the Cougars, all of which played or are still playing high level basketball. Matt López and Anthonhy Durham both played at Rider with López currently playing pro ball in Puerto Rico, and Durham playing in the Czech Republic. Justin McFadden, a Lower Merion grad, played three seasons at Binghamton University, and Vreeswyk scored over 1,600 points at Temple before having a lengthy career playing overseas.
“I think I got great teachers in our program, guys who have done it for sure,” Luber said. “But I also want the kids to listen to those who have done it and I want our guys to push them so they can get to where we've been. I think once you’ve been there it’s just a different voice. Not that others can’t speak like that.”
Pennington School (N.J.) forward Mark Woolhouse is hearing from several high-academic Division Is so far. (Photo: Matthew Ryan/CoBL)
— Entering his senior season at The Pennington School, Mark Woolhouse is still searching for his elusive first offer. The 6-9 220-pound big spent his first three years of high school at North Hunterdon High School prior to transferring to Pennington and reclassifying to the class of 2022.
In the final game of the Mid-Atlantic Ind. Shootout against the George School, Woolhouse showed out, knocking down three threes and finishing the game with 17 points. The big man is getting interest from Ivy and Patriot League schools: Princeton, Brown, and Bucknell among them.
Putting on weight in the gym has been a focus for Woolhouse along with improving his handle, and footwork in the post. Woolhouse is continuing to let shots fly while still being a great teammate.
“I think going and being the best teammate I can, that’s probably one of the biggest parts of the game...I’m just trying to go set screens and then get my teammates involved and just kind of keep the ball moving,” Woolhouse said.
— Entering his senior season, Chas Kelley is hoping for a big push going into the fall. The 6-5, 180-pound point guard transferred to Phelps from Cypress Creek (Tex.) prior to his junior year, and played with the Lions during a COVID season where they still got in somewhere between 20-25 games.
Kelley has offers from numerous D-I programs and has taken unofficial visits to Temple, Rutgers, and La Salle; the later two which he has offers from. Kelly, who plays with Team Durant on the grassroots circuit, has also taken an official visit to George Mason who offered him back in April. Kelley is planning to narrow down his schools in August and make his college decision late that month or early in September.
Over the summer, Kelley is working on his stamina, communication, and improving his ball speed and ball control, wanting to be able to play at a high pace while still maintaining control.
Kelley showed his ability to shoot on Sunday, knocking down multiple threes in his squads last second victory over St. Benedicts (N.J.). The point guard is getting ready for the biggest AAU tournament in the nation next month, Peach Jam, and wants to come out victorious.
“As of right now I’m just in the lab with my guys with Team Durant and we’re just getting ready for Peach Jam,” he said.
— This past week has been one to remember for Augustus Gerhart of The Hill School; he picked up his first offer from the University of Albany.
“It was amazing,” the 6-9, 220-pound rising junior said on picking up his first offer. “It was really indescribable. I always imagined it happening since I was like five years old. When he said it, it was crazy. It really made my year.”
The Philly Pride big man has also recently heard from schools such as La Salle, Penn, and Princeton, among others.
On the floor, Gerhart’s communication stood out, telling his teammates they were by themselves or calling out a screen and which direction it was coming from. Gerhart also delivered some nice passes to his teammates and was able to score inside and rebound.
Expanding his range and pushing the ball more are some things that Gerhart has been working on during this offseason. He and his teammates have been in the gym and Gerhart is working on becoming a more explosive athlete, something he showed was working with his and one dunk against The Patrick School (N.J.).
— One of the most impressive players on Sunday, Elmarko Jackson is entering his junior year at Academy of the New Church. Jackson started off his high school career at St. Augustine Prep in N.J., transferring after his sophomore year and repeating it at ANC, but not playing a single regular season game last year due to COVID.
Jackson is working on becoming a better passer and a more ‘well-rounded player,’ as he put it, and as the offseason progresses, he will be working on his body as well. The 6-4, 185-pound guard also mentioned he has been working on his jump shot, which looked pretty good against Germantown Academy, knocking down at least four threes. Jackson also did a great job communicating with his teammates while on the floor. While on the floor, Jackson’s communication stood out.
Jackson has a plethora of offers including Maryland, VCU, and Ole Miss, who have all offered him a scholarship within the last three months. Thus far Jackson has not taken any visits, but is planning on taking an unofficial to Maryland next week.