Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
MANHEIM, Pa. — The Hoop Group Spooky Nook Jam Fest continued on with its longest day of the three-day tournament, all 30 courts inside the massive sports complex at the Nook full of games from 9 AM until after dark. Spent all but the first and last sets courtside, watching a variety of 16U and 17U game in different brackets and stages of competition, including some local talent, some regional talent, and some from a little further away.
This tournament also doubles as the championship for the Hoop Group Showcase League (HGSL), a league that’s been taking place at various tournaments since April, with the 30-some HGSL programs involved earning points for wins, deep tournament runs, and championships to set up this weekend’s final bracket.
Here’s a coverage notebook featuring Saturday’s action:
(More Coverage: Day 1 Notebook)
Ethan Simmon (above) is the latest Division I prospect to come out of St. Joe's-Metuchen (N.J.). (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Ethan Simmon (2022 | NJ Panthers | St. Joe’s-Metuchen, N.J.)
From a young age, Simmon had some big names to look up to. Growing up near the town of Metuchen in Edison, N.J., located about midway between Princeton and Newark in the Garden State, Simmon used to attend basketball camps at his future high school, like many future hoopers do. Except when he went as a third grader, he had future NBA big man Karl-Anthony Towns to look up to.
Metuchen has produced quite a bit of high-level talent over the years, from Towns and 2016 NBA first-round pick Wade Baldwin IV (Vanderbilt) to Marques Townes, the Loyola (Ill.) star who led the Ramblers into the 2018 Final Four and now plays professionally in Russia, one of the top leagues in the world.
Next up is Simmon, a two-year starter for the Falcons who’s going through a breakout summer of his own. A 6-4, 180-pound off-guard, Simmon had largely been under-the-radar coming into the offseason, having played only on a local grassroots team his 15U summer two years back before COVID kept him working on his game by himself during the 2020 summer.
But he’s played well during both of the June scholastic live periods, first Kean University (N.J.) and then at the second session of Philly Live, with St. Joe’s-Metuchen. That carried right over into July with the Panthers, where he’s starting for a squad with aspirations of proving its the best on the Hoop Group circuit. Simmon picked up his first two scholarship offers last week, first from D-II Chestnut Hill and then immediately afterwards from D-I Central Connecticut State.
“It felt really good, like finally all my hard work’s paying off, people are kind of seeing me,” he said. “But I don’t let it get to my head, the next day I was in the gym getting shots up. I’ve got a long way to go, and I’m just going to keep working.”
While he’s thrilled to have two offers in his pocket, Simmon is still hoping to make his choice even more complicated by the time he’s taking visits in August. He said he’s also hearing from Niagara, Coppin State, UMBC, Wofford, Fairfield, NJIT and VMI, and with a couple dozen coaches sitting and standing courtside for his performance Saturday afternoon, it certainly wouldn’t be surprising to see a few more reach out in the next few days.
Simmon was stellar on Saturday in helping the Panthers knock off Philly Pride Gold 64-50 and move into Sunday’s HGSL semifinals. Coming out hot and knocking down his first two shots — both 3-pointers — Simmon didn’t let up, finishing with a game-high 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting, including 4-of-5 from deep. He also hit several tough mid-range pull-up jumpers and flashed his finishing ability, utilizing his long frame to get around defenders.
“I think I can score the ball really well, I can score it with the best of them,” he said. ”I’ve honestly always had that mentality, always had that confidence in myself. It was just about putting it all together and showing everybody what I can do.”
The Panthers’ HGSL semifinal game comes Sunday at noon against Crown Basketball (N.Y.); the NJ ShoreShots face Global Squad in the other, with the winners meeting at 2:20 PM for the title. It’s a group that’s certainly capable of taking home the championship.
“I always had the feeling, we had the right pieces, but it’s our first year playing together, so we didn’t have the chemistry,” Simmon said. “I feel like this group right here, everyone’s bought in […] we’re just playing the right way, playing selfless, and that’s why we’re getting all the wins.”
Javon Adams (above) is up to seven Division I offers after the spring. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Javon Adams (2022 | Team Final Red | Olympus Prep, N.J.)
By this point of the 2021 recruiting periods, most Division I prospects have gotten used to playing in front of the college coaches. Between the two weekends in June and the two weekends in July, D-I coaches have been out for 13 days of recruiting, getting plenty of much-needed in-person evaluation.
But it’s all new for Adams, as Olympus Prep didn’t play in either of the June periods and he wasn’t with Team Final Red during last week’s live period events in Atlantic City and Spooky Nook, or on Friday night. The 6-8 wing forward finally got his live period feet wet Saturday afternoon, and was relieved to finally make his presence felt.
“With D-I college coaches watching, I was able to play harder, way harder,” he said. “It was able to push me to where I needed to be.”
A native of Reading, Adams has spent the last few years at Olympus Prep, where he’s developed into an intriguing prospect with a varied recruitment. His first D-I offer came in Feb. 2020 from Rider, with one that followed from Bryant shortly thereafter, but really took off this spring. East Carolina and La Salle offered in April, followed later that month by Iona; Rhode Island and Radford became the sixth and seventh schools to extend a scholarship in May.
Several more schools, including high-majors, had told him they wanted to see him live: “They basically just wanted to see me in person, so I should be picking up a couple offers,” he said.
A lanky wing/forward with an inside-out game, Adams has the ability to stretch the floor with his outside shot but is at his best as a mismatch ‘4’ who can handle the ball in the open court and finish above the rim, and who can defend the ‘2’ through ‘5’ with his length and quickness.
Adams used the month of June to take his first college visits. Temple and La Salle both had him on campus, as did Penn State, and they were all visits he enjoyed.
“(La Salle) was good, it was a nice area around there, not really too bad,” he said. “You were able to walk around, everything’s close.”
As for the rest of his offers, Adams said he was especially looking forward to visiting Iona, now under the leadership of former Knicks, Louisville, and Kentucky coach Rick Pitino. Pitino, who was fired from Louisville in 2017 when he was caught up in the ‘pay to play’ scandal that rocked Division I hoops, guided the Gaels to a 12-6 record in his first year in New Rochelle this past season.
“He wants to turn me into an NBA player,” Adams said, “that’s what he wants to do for me.”
Ryan Williams (above) was on target from deep as Philly Pride's 15s picked up an early Saturday win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
— Playing up an age group, Philly Pride’s 15U squad was strong from behind the arc in a 58-41 win over Team BBC (Md.), with four different players knocking down triples on a 7-of-11 performance as a team from deep. Leading the way in that regard was Ryan Williams (2024 | Philly Pride | Malvern Prep, Pa.), who was a perfect 4-of-4 from 3-point range to help him to a team-high 14 points in the win. A 6-2, 145-pound guard, Williams has a quick release and a high-arcing shot whether he’s pulling up or in catch-and-shoot situations, and he’s shown in multiple watches this offseason that it’s not a fluke. Now it’s about rounding out the rest of his game.
“[Philly Pride coach Brandon Williams] is trying to get me to do more than just shoot, because some days I can’t make a shot,” Williams said. “I need to work on my rebounding, get my teammates better shots, stuff like that.”
Though he’s still got three full years until he’s ready for college (and is still getting ready for his first significant varsity experience), Williams is already squarely on Division I radars. He’s already had conversations with the Temple and George Washington coaching staffs, getting some early encouragement: “To see them say that they were watching me and they care for me,” he said, “it was great.”
— In a 16U Gold second-round game, Pro Skills Philadelphia came from behind and then hung on to top the NJ Panthers Select squad, 63-58, behind strong. games from a trio of players. Madison Tatom (2023 | Upper Merion, Pa.) showed off his ability to get to the rim, as the 6-1 guard went for 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting (3-3 FT), hitting one of his four 3-point attempts while adding in five assists and four rebounds. Just edging him out in the scoring column was Brian Wiener (2023 | Haverford High, Pa.), who hit his first five shots and finished 6-of-9 (3-5 3PT, 4-4 FT) to get to 19 points, adding in six rebounds. His classmate, Alex ‘Googie’ Seidman (2023 | Haverford High, Pa.) added 15 points, five rebounds and three assists.
— Watched Global Squad take out Jersey Force 60-51 in an afternoon HGSL Round of 16 matchup. It was certainly a balanced effort for Global Squad, which had seven players contribute between five and 12 points, including four in double figures. Cesar Tchilombo (2022 | John Carroll, Md.), a 6-9 forward with previous offers from Howard, Mt. St. Mary’s and Siena, contributed 10 points, three rebounds and two blocks as he did a good job controlling the paint, while guards Tyy Peterson (2022 | Archbishop Spalding, Md.) had 12 and five rebounds and Kyle Pulliam (2022 | Our Lady of Good Counsel, Md.) had 10 points and eight boards. Jersey Force was led by Asim Jones (2022 | Paterson Charter, N.J.), as the 6-4 wing with a plus wingspan had 18 points and five rebounds.
— In a 17U quarterfinal in one of the other two top-level, non-HGSL brackets, the NY Gauchos squeaked past Team Final Black 68-66 thanks to a 25-point outing by Believe Prep (N.Y.) 2021 wing Tyreck ‘T.J.’ Morris. A 6-5 wing guard, Morris was 9-of-17 from the floor and 2-of-5 from deep, hitting all five of his foul shots, while grabbing six rebounds and four steals. He’s deciding between doing a true prep year or going the junior college route. For Team Final Black, 5-9 guard Drew Greene (2022 | Cherry Hill East, N.J.) had 11 points and 11 assists, showcasing a terrific dribble-drive game and the ability to make tough passes, with great court vision that allowed him to see drivers on the move and make pinpoint deliveries. Luke Boyd (2022 | Archbishop Ryan, Pa.) added 15 points on 4-of-7 shooting from deep, while Landon Shivers (2022 | Life Center Academy, N.J.) had 13 points and nine rebounds.