Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
MANHEIM, Pa. — The Hoop Group Showcase League (HGSL)’s programs, a collection of independent (non-sneaker) grassroots teams from around the Northeast, have been preparing for this weekend all offseason long. The Spooky Nook Jam Fest served as the HGSL Championship, with eight play-in games on Friday and then a 16-team bracket which played out over the following two days. While that was going on, a couple hundred other teams were playing in other various bracket levels, with D-I through D-III coaches looking on.
Here’s a notebook from Sunday’s championship rounds:
Jaylen Brown (above) had a dozen points as the NJ Panthers won the HGSL Championship. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Battle of New Jersey decides HGSL Championship
The 17U HGSL Championship trophy came down to the Garden State.
While most of Spooky Nook was emptying out and quieting down as the various brackets and consolation games wrapped up, the NJ Panthers and NJ ShoreShots were generating plenty of noise on Court 1, in a title game that fittingly came down to the wire. In a game that didn’t feature a standout player but two teams’ eight-man rotations battling each other and the grind of having played five tough games in three days, the NJ Panthers emerged victorious, 56-53.
The key sequence came with four minutes left, when the Panthers got a 3-pointer from Jayden Brown (2022 | Immaculate Conception, N.J.) and then a 4-point play from Ryan Pettit (2022 | Rutgers Prep, N.J.), a seven-point swing which put them up 53-49 with 3:50 to go.
“Once I hit that shot,” Pettit said, “I got the feeling like we could really get this thing done.”
A 6-foot-2 guard, Pettit’s go-ahead bucket from the right wing was his third 3-pointer over the game; the foul shot put him in double figures, one of three on his team to reach that mark. Brown, a 5-11 point guard, had 12 points, along with nine rebounds and three assists; Aidan Kehoe (2022 | Canterbury School, Conn.), a 6-10 center, had 12 points and five boards of his own.
The win kept the Panthers an unbeaten 13-0 in July: 5-0 at the Atlantic City Jam Fest (July 7-9), 3-0 at the Summer Jam Fest (July 10-11) and then 5-0 again this weekend. They’ll have one more chance to keep it rolling, at the Jersey Shore Jam Fest next weekend (July 23-25).
It was that opening salvo in Atlantic City, Pettit said, which really gave them an indication that the HGSL championship could be within their grasp. A win over Rhode Island Elite, which features 7-1 junior and high-major recruit Isaiah Miranda, was especially an eye-opener.
“After the first two, three days of Atlantic City, I thought we had something,” Pettit said. “But no one really talked about it... never like ‘oh we’re 8-0 right now,’ just straight ahead, next game.”
The championship run went through TNBA Ohio (55-43), Philly Pride Gold (64-50), Crown Basketball (63-54) and then the ShoreShots.
Along the way were contributions from the whole eight-man rotation, which also includes 6-6 wing Logan Blake (2022 | Delaware Valley, N.J.), 6-4 guard Ethan Simmon (2022 | St. Joe’s-Metuchen, N.J.), 6-7 wing Pat Rogers (Rutherford, N.J.), 6-7 wing forward Kunga Tsering (2022 | Roselle Catholic, N.J.), and 6-9 forward Mark Woolhouse (2022 | Pennington School, N.J.).
Of the 20 shots they hit in the championship game, 14 were assisted, with Pettit, Blake, Brown and Simmon each dishing out three dimes and Tsering the other two. Quality ball movement has been a key component of all their success, along with that multi-faceted scoring approach, size inside with Kehoe and Woolhouse, and the leadership of Pettit, Brown, and others.
“I feel like we came a long way,” said Brown, who joined the program earlier in the offseason. “Every game, every week, we were just building chemistry, and it turned out great. You see the outcome.”
BW Elite continues strong first offseason of action
It’s the first summer that the program formerly known as Positive Image has reformed as BW Elite, and its namesake and supporter Brad Wanamaker has to be happy with how ‘his’ team is playing. Nick Daggett’s group took home the 17U ‘Platinum’ bracket, one of several smaller secondary 17U tournaments taking place simultaneously over the course of the weekend, downing Middlesex Magic-Lambros in the championship to cap off a 5-0 weekend.
It’s the second tournament title of the ‘season’ for the BW Elite 17U squad, which also won its bracket during the Pittsburgh Jam Fest; the 16s have also topped one bracket of their own.
“I think it’s going well, a lot of guys are getting opportunities and they’re getting time to play, show their talents,” said Daggett, who played with Wanamaker and his brother Brian Wanamaker, graduating together in 2007. “They don’t usually get this time in high school, so I’m just happy and proud of all of them, because they’re playing their butts off.”
Daggett, who played Polk CC (Fla.) and then D-II Bridgeport (Conn.), put together his program sans tryout, getting a group of under-the-radar players from around the Catholic League and Public League, getting players from successful programs who aren’t the typical stars. That includes Imhotep’s Ronny Raphael and Chad Anglin, Roman Catholic’s Quadir Brown, Rocktop’s Earle Greer Jr., the West Catholic trio of Adam ‘Budd’ Clark, MJ Branker and Nasir Griffin, and a few others.
“We know how that feels, to not play a lot and everything like that,” Brown said, “but mentally all you’ve got to do is put in the work, and that’s it.”
It’s a group that’s caught the attention of scouts since the spring, thanks to their defensive presence and energy and an offensive attack that could come from any number of angles. The 6-8 Anglin, 6-7 Griffin and 6-7 Imhotep 2024 MaKye Taylor gave them size on the interior, while Clark, Raphael and Brown are both solid two-way guards who excel at on-ball defense and can all get their own shot.
With a couple key pieces back next year in Clark and Taylor, and a successful 16U group moving up, Daggett is hopeful this year will set the stage for the BW Elite program to build just as Wanamaker’s did, going from Pitt to Europe and eventually to the NBA.
“I do want to grow the program to the D-I level but I want to continue to get the guys that I get and push them to be the best that they can do,” he said. “Run it the same way: no egos, everybody’s here to play, everybody’s here to get an opportunity and show the coaches what they can do.”
Matt Mayock (above) has seen a number of high-academic programs get involved in his recruitment over the last few months. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
— Playing in front of seemingly every big-name Division I coach in the country was an eye-opening experience for Matt Mayock (2023 | East Coast Power | Westtown School, Pa.), who had the likes of Kentucky’s John Calipari and Duke head-coach-to-be Jon Scheyer, among many others, watching the Moose during the Mid-Atlantic Independent School events at Hun and Blair last month, there to check out Mayock’s teammate Dereck Lively II among other five-star talent. A 6-6 wing guard, Mayock isn’t quite at that level, but coaches couldn’t help notice his ability to make outside shots at a high rate, along with improved finishing skills.
What had been only some early interest from VMI back in the spring has turned into calls from “a lot of Ivies, like Princeton, Penn, Yale, Columbia, and then a couple of Patriots, like Lehigh and Colgate,” Mayock said. None have offered a scholarship or roster spot yet (Ivy League schools don’t have athletic scholarships), but are keeping close tabs; Mayock said Princeton, Yale and Penn have been most regularly in contact. Princeton coach Mitch Henderson and Penn coach Steve Donahue were both in the corner as East Coast Power played the PPA Broncos in a consolation game as Sunday wound down. Earlier in the weekend, he was 7-for-9 from the floor (4-of-6 from 3-point range) for 18 points with six rebounds in a 68-64 win over RI Elite.
— The star of the NJ ShoreShots’ 17U HGSL semifinal win over Global Squad was DiAndre Howell-South (2021 | Immaculate Conception, N.J.), who was 6-of-11 from the floor and 9-of-11 from the line for a 22-point outing, chipping in six rebounds as well. Howell-South added 16 points and nine rebounds in the championship defeat, hitting two big 3-pointers down the stretch to help the ShoreShots stay with the Panthers. A 6-4, 205-pound wing guard, Howell-South plays downhill with the ball in his hands, with the physicality to get into the lane and score through contact, and a high-arcing 3-point shot. He’s hoping to pull in a Division I offer before the end of the summer and find a school for this fall, and said he’s been hearing from Wagner, St. Francis (Pa.), Coppin State and Drexel. Also playing well for the ShoreShots in both games was Princeton commit Jack Scott (2022 | Hun School, N.J.); the 6-5 point guard had 12 points, five rebounds and two steals in the semifinals and 11 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals in the championship.
— Started off the morning watching TNBA Ohio down District Basketball Club (D.C.) 64-48 in an HGSL 16U semifinal, with a strong overall team effort. Daniel Lavelle (2023 | St. Edward, Ohio), a 6-5 wing, showed off his versatility with an 18-point, five-rebound, three-steal affair, while Ryan Walsh (2023 | Elyria, Ohio) had 15 points, going 5-of-7 from deep. As a team, TNBA — which fell to Team Spartans in the 16U HGSL championship — was 9-of-17 from deep, and seven of the eight players who saw minutes registered at least one assist, a telling stat on a team that certainly moved the ball well.
— In a 16U Platinum bracket semifinal that pitted opposite sides of the Keystone State against one another, the western-based Team Wildcat took down Philly-based BW Elite 63-58. Noah Barren (2023 | Penn Hills, Pa.), a 6-1 guard, led the victors with 18 points and seven rebounds, hitting a trio of 3-pointers and going 7-of-8 from the foul line, while 6-6 forward Jaden Gales (2022 | Bishop Canevan, Pa.) added 17 points and four rebounds; Travares Rowe (2023 | McKeesport, Pa), a 6-4 wing forward, chipped in six points but played tough inside with nine rebounds and two blocks, plus four assists. For BW Elite, 5-10 point guard Malcolm Muhammad (2023 | Imhotep Charter, Pa.) had 17 points, including five 3-pointers, and 6-2 guard Paul King (2023 | Father Judge, Pa.) had 14 points and four rebounds.
— Didn’t get to watch all the championship games (there were eight happening at once during the 2:20 PM set), but also wanted to give a mention to Mike Crotty’s Middlesex Magic squads for winning the 17U Spooky and 16U Platinum brackets. Philly Pride Select won the 15U bracket.