CoBL Staff (@hooplove215)
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — The Hoop Group’s mega-tournament series invaded the AC Convention Center this week for a three-day affair running Wednesday night through Friday afternoon, with Division I coaches in attendance for the latter two days of games spread across more than two dozen courts.
Here’s a notebook featuring news and notes on some 2023 prospects from the first couple days of the event:
Christian Bliss (above) picked up his first four Division I offers last month. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Christian Bliss (2023 | NY Renaissance | George School, Pa.)
A native of Queens, N.Y., Bliss has been focused on playing hoops at a high level for quite some time — longer, perhaps, than even those a few years older than his 16 years of age.
“Third grade, I won nationals and that year I got ranked top-25, 26, something like that in the country,” he said. And while rankings of elementary school students seems like a futile exercise to begin with, for Bliss that early attention was a sign that he’d found the right sport: “At that point, I looked at it like if I can maintain this and continue to get better, sky’s the limit, so I just took that seriously and just worked as hard as I could from that point on.”
Eight years later, Bliss’ hard work is certainly paying off.
Now a 6-foot 4, 180-pound point guard, the rising junior is very much a Division I prospect, with four offers already in his pocket: Drexel, Siena, Bryant and Saint Peter’s, all of which came last month. A 4.0 GPA student from a smart family — his brother, Nicholas, attends Penn’s Wharton School of Business — he’s also getting high-academic interest from Harvard and Yale, as well as La Salle and Hofstra.
“It’s exciting, it’s motivation to see kids around me getting offers,” he said, “and I want to continue to get better, be on the path to a high-major basketball player.”
Bliss spent the first two years of his high school tenure at Queens powerhouse Archbishop Molloy, where he started at point guard as a freshman and sophomore — following in the footsteps of former Molloy stars-turned-NBA guards Kenny Anderson and Cole Anthony. But the allure of Bucks County proved to be too strong, and he’ll head to Newtown (Pa.)’s George School this fall to play for head coach Ben Luber.
“He just pushes me, he’s been where I want to be, so I thought that was just the right move for me,” Bliss said, alluding to Luber’s past as a Division I player (Penn State) and assistant coach (Binghamton, Rider). “We have a great team, so I’m just excited for the season.”
Bliss got his first action with the George School in June, playing in the Mid-Atlantic Independent School Shootout against other schools from the Friends’ League and Inter-Ac, as well as those from Jersey and New York.
The rest of his offseason has been spent playing with the Renaissance’s 16U squad, which features high-major recruits in Gill St. Bernard (N.J.) 2024 Naas Cunningham and Patrick School (N.J.) 2023 wing Scottie Middleton. Bliss stood out for the Rens, playing up an age group in this tournament, in an 86-71 loss to the NJ Panthers on Saturday afternoon; he had 19 points on 4-of-7 shooting, hitting one of his two 3-point attempts and all 10 of his foul shots, with five assists, four rebounds and four steals to round out his stat tline.
An on-ball guard who showed off a continuous ability to get into the lane and find shooters, as well as a smooth step-back shot and off-hand finish, Bliss said he’s focusing this summer on improving his athleticism: “I’m athletic, but not enough; I want to get to another level of athleticism, and just continue to work on my shot — all my skills, really.”
Next up for the Rens is a trip down to N. Augusta (S.C.) for the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League’s only stop of the summer, a two-week affair that features a ‘regular season’ followed by the biggest event on the summer circuit, the Peach Jam. A mention of that tournament, and Bliss’ face lit up.
“You don’t even understand, that’s definitely the biggest tournament of the year for me,” he said. “I’m just so excited to get out there, show them what I’ve got.” — Josh Verlin
Radnor's Jackson Hicke (above) has been on a high-scoring tear through this offseason. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Jackson Hicke (2023 | SJ Hoops Elite | Radnor, Pa.)
Hicke, who is originally from London, England, wasn’t always in tune with the game of basketball. As a matter of fact, he barely knew what the sport was about until he moved to Radnor from the British capital in the 2nd grade.
“I never played basketball before 2nd grade because it just wasn’t a popular sport over there,” he said. “So, when I got here, it was confusing at first obviously because I had never seen the game before, but once I started playing and got a feel for the game, I loved it. It’s my favorite sport now and I’ve never looked back.”
The 6-foot-4 wing from the Main Line has been playing well in tournaments with SJ Hoops Elite and Radnor throughout this summer, with multiple 30-point performances under his belt, including a stellar 33-point performance against Jefferson (W.Va.) with his high school team at Philly Live 1. Hicke has been able to draw some attention from colleges such as Lafayette and Penn; the Leopard coaches witnessed his 33-point showing and called him afterwards as well.
“It was really cool,” Hicke said. “It was just really introducing myself and giving a little background. It was a huge confidence boost to get that first call and stuff like that. Going to try to keep building off of it obviously, but it was really nice to get that call.”
Recently, Hicke played well in his game against Pharos Elite at the Hoop Group event in Atlantic City. After getting off to a slow start, Hicke and the South Jersey Hoops Elite (SJHE) team were able to mount a comeback and contribute a 62-56 win. Hicke, who ended the game with a team-high 21 points, was able to catch fire from behind the arc and score at the basket.
Hicke also has the luxury of playing alongside Radnor teammates Daniel Rosenblum and Charles Thronton on SJHE this summer. As they all prepare for their junior year season at Radnor this upcoming winter, Hicke feels as if playing together throughout the summer can really pay dividends once the high school basketball season begins.
“The chemistry is a huge thing for us because we’ve been playing together for so long but also the high school chemistry helps a lot too,” he said. “So, when we get back to Radnor, we’ll play great off of each other because we get to play like four months in the offseason together here. It’s just huge for us to keep playing together and eventually develop so we’ll be better during the winter.”
In the Central League, Radnor has been looking up to the likes of league powerhouses such as Lower Merion, Conestoga, and Garnet Valley. This past season, under head coach Jamie Chadwin, the Raiders finished 4-8, finishing in eighth place in the league, but they were within three points of beating LM and Haverford and had several other single-digit losses.
“I think Radnor is definitely trying to change around their basketball program and become a winning program,” he said. “I think we are going to be really good next year and I feel like the core that we have I think we have the ability to have a really good season next year. While there’s the headliners like Lower Merion and Conestoga, I feel like we can compete with them this year.”
As Hicke continues to build momentum into an important junior year at Radnor, his main focus as of now is to continue to work on certain areas of his game.
“Right now I would say defense is the main thing,” he said, “on-ball defense and just getting bigger and stronger. It comes with defense, I guess. Just making myself more physical so I can compete and handle the bigger guys.” — Darrion Romulus
Owen Woolbert (above) had a double-double for TNBA (Ohio) in a win over Philly Pride Gold. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
— Playing on a team with a team like N.J Scholars with players like D.J Wagner, Quadir Copeland, Khalil Farmer and others it can be hard to find a role, but Cian Medley (2023 | NJ Scholars | Camden High, N.J.) fits in just fine. Medley came off the bench in the Scholars tight 69-66 win over SHA Elite and helped provide a spark. The point guard came into the game and made an impact right away, running the offense and being a pesk on defense, causing multiple turnovers which led to easy buckets on the other end. He was able to use his dribble penetration skills to get into the lane and when the defense collapsed, the rising junior did a good job of finding his open teammates on the perimeter. Medley currently holds offers from Drexel, St. Francis (Pa.), Rider, Manhattan and Fairfield, while schools like Towson, Harvard, Sienna, Albany, Penn, La Salle and George Washington remain interested.
— After playing in both Philly Live sessions, Cornelius “Boog” Robinson (2023 | NJ Scholars Elite | Camden High, N.J) is ready to make his mark on the AAU circuit with the Scholars. Despite not having his best offensive game, the rising junior's defense and leadership was key in his team's 57-52 comeback victory over PTT. Before each trip to the free throw line, Robinson made sure his team was huddled together to keep them focused and locked in. “Boog” has a growing list of offers, already including Manhattan, Texas A&M, Bryant, Siena, Rider and St. Peters. At 6-5, Robinson sees himself playing small forward in college, but his combination of size, length and willingness to handle the ball makes him a versatile asset. — Zak Wolf
— Speaking of Hicke and SJHE, Jason Fisher’s summer group rolled into the 16U quarterfinals with an impressive 72-54 win over the New Heights Lightnings’ 15U group on Saturday afternoon. Hicke had 13 points, five rebounds and five assists, but there were other standouts from this one, including year-round teammate Danny Rosenblum (2023 | Radnor); the 5-10 point guard was strong on the ball all game long, finishing with 14 points and a trio of assists, hitting a couple early 3-pointers to give him some confidence and a few nifty finishes along the way. Lucas Orchard (2023 | Devon Prep) was a force all game long, finishing with 22 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals; the 6-4 wing was 8-of-10 from the floor, 3-of-4 from deep and 3-of-4 from the foul line. For NH Lightning, Hudson Catholic (N.J.) 2024 Tahaad Pettiford flashed a lot of potential (and a good bit of skill) with a 21 points, six-rebound outing.
— In an entertaining 60-52 TNBA (Ohio) win over Philly Pride Gold, Owen Woolbert made his presence felt. The 6-7, 195-pound forward out of Jackson (Ohio) High School was terrific around the rim, working his way to a 14-point, 11-rebound performance, with an assist and block thrown in. Woolbert is a bouncy, hard-working post with a 4.1 GPA, great hands and touch around the rim, and a general feel for the game. Though he didn’t take any jumpers in this one, he said he’s been working on his mid-range and 3-point abilities. Also playing well for TNBA was Elyria (Ohio) guard Ryan Walsh, a 6-0 gunner who hit 6-of-11 from downtown en route to a 20-point outing. Pride Gold’s own sharpshooter, Sam Brown (2023/Lower Merion) was hot as well, going for 24 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including 5-of-9 from downtown; the 6-2 guard picked up his first D-I offer, from Albany, this week. — Josh Verlin