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Matt Gilhool developing as the next big thing in Lancaster

02/18/2022, 7:30am EST
By Sean McBryan

Sean McBryan (@SeanMcBryan)

Make the drive out to Elizabethtown High School, or E-town as the locals call it, and you’ll surely pass an abundance of farmland and a couple horse-and-buggies if you’re making the nearly two-hour trek from the Philly area.

Call it a bit of a hidden gem in Lancaster County, even if the hoops success hasn’t always been there.

E-town has four Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 2 titles coming in 2013, 2012, 2009 and 1977. It has never won a league or district title; the Bears won the program’s first state playoff game in the 2019-20 season, their second season overall with 20 or more wins. In the previous 10 seasons, Elizabethtown sports a 110-123 record.

Matt Gilhool (above) is a prospect to watch in the central part of the state. (Photo: Sean McBryan/CoBL)

One thing is clear: there’s nothing hidden about Matt Gillhool when walking into Daubert Gymnasium nestled in the northwestern tip of Lancaster County. It’s hard to miss a 6-foot-10 youngster anywhere in the state, especially one with the talent Gilhool possesses, and in E-town where the population hovers around 11,500. 

Regardless of class, a near 7-footer will catch the eye. And Gilhool’s only a sophomore — one who already has a well-developed arsenal of skills for an underclassman of his stature while still having plenty of room for improvement. 

This isn’t to say Elizabethtown, or Lancaster County as a whole, hasn’t produced college-level basketball talent, but high-major level players only come around every so often. Gilhool, who was born and raised in Lancaster County, and has played basketball since fifth grade in the county known for its Amish population, is garnering that interest. 

E-town has had 1,000-point scorers such as Joe Lonardi (King’s College) and Ryan Parise (Washington and Jefferson) star at Division III programs. Gilhool’s head coach, Lee Eckert, also went the D-III route after graduating from Hempfield High School in 2011 and playing at Elizabethtown College until he graduated in 2015.

“I grew up playing against Lamar Patterson and Dustin Salisbery, so yes,” Eckert said when asked if he’s seen a player this talented at this young of an age, referencing the former Pitt and Temple standouts, who both attended J.P. McCaskey. “But it’s definitely been a while that we’ve had a high-major D-I guy in this area, that’s for sure.”

Salisbery graduated high school in 2003, Patterson in 2009. Other Division I athletes from the county include 2001 McCaskey grad Jerry Johnson (Rider), 2013 McCaskey grad Devonne Pinkard (Delaware) and his brother Antanee Pinkard (James Madison) three years later. The latest Lancaster Division I prospect is 2019 Hempfield grad Ryan Moffatt, a second-year starter as a junior for Patriot League powerhouse Colgate. 

Gilhool scored 19 points and had three blocks in the Bears 57-55 victory over York Suburban on February 3; 15 of those points came in the second and fourth quarters as he sat out the majority of the first and third with foul trouble.

The game was unique in the fact that the opponent actually had a player (6-7 senior Brady Stump, who is committed to Saint Francis to play volleyball) relatively close in height to Gilhool, something that is unusual when going up against his typical high school season gauntlet.

Gilhool seemed unbothered as the points came in a variety of ways: a corner 3-pointer, three dunks, a reverse layup, mid-range jumpers.

He brought the ball up the court on several occasions, showed disciplined straight-up contests on defense, displayed solid footwork in the paint and a pump fake that got defenders to jump,  leaving him open for two of his slams.

“Everyone wants to block me,” Gilhool said about the effectiveness of his pump fake. “Everyone wants to block the big dude.”

The midrange game is something he’s picked up from his brother, 6-3 senior wing Patrick Gilhool, who leads E-town in scoring and contributed 12 points in the win against York Suburban.

“My brother’s really good at the mid-range so that’s something I try to get from his game,” the younger Gilhool said. “We’ve been playing ball in the backyard forever. It’s great playing against him. It’s always competitive. He’s a lot stronger than me so playing against him I have to make sure I’m physical. Sometimes I come away with the win though. I have the height advantage.”

That wasn’t always the case. Matt and Patrick’s dad stands at 6-4; their mom measures in at 6-0. Matt was around his mom’s height in eighth grade, until quarantine.

“I was always under the height grid,” Gilhool said. “I was tall in eighth grade, probably like 6-0, maybe 6-1, then during quarantine I grew seven inches and that helped me.”

That sudden growth spurt changed Matt’s basketball outlook from being a guard to a versatile big with high-major potential.

“When I was younger I was working a lot on guard skills,” Gilhool said. “Everyone wants to be a guard. Today, everyone is trying to be a big guard. So I’ve always been working on my handle and my jumpshot.”

The next step is continuing to develop strength throughout the rest of his sophomore season and into a key AAU summer with Philly Pride; Gilhool is ready to do that once the warmer weather rolls in and specifically mentioned wanting to improve defensively in making shots more difficult for opponents during the grassroots season.

Gilhool and his family took a tour at Penn State in October, visited La Salle and Rutgers over the summer, and attended a game at Temple. He’s still waiting on his first official offer, though it’s clearly only a matter of time.

Eckert said the University of Virginia was in Daubert Gymnasium to see Gilhool and that he’s also been in contact with William & Mary and Drexel. 

The second-year head coach, who stands 6-5, has enjoyed working with Gilhool, saying he’s seen growth in his maturity when most kids seem to be a year behind development-wise after quarantine. Eckert has also had fun working with him on simple post moves like dropsteps and hook shots, since Gilhool never played in the post before the growth spurt.

The sophomore has had big games this season, most notably a nine-block game in December and scoring 18 of E-town’s 20 first-half points in a January win over then-undefeated Hempfield.

“He’s 15 years old so there are times where it’s like, ‘hey man, you can do that all the time, not just in these spurts, but it’s been fun to work with him,’” Eckert said. “Obviously for him it’s awesome, but for me as a younger coach, I may never have a guy like this again in my career coaching. It’s fun to be getting the calls [from college coaches] and being like ‘what’s this area code?’”

Gilhool is still in the early process of weighing his options, with no specific favorite in mind, but plans to major in business.

For now, he remains focused on helping E-town make a run in the District 3 Class 5A playoffs before turning his attention to the AAU circuit and June 15, when college coaches can officially engage with him in more serious talks on his recruitment status.

E-town missed out on winning its first league title after finishing third in its section in the Lancaster-Lebanon League this season, but the Bears will get to host at least one game in the district playoffs at Daubert Gymnasium.  E-town’s district run begins Monday as the sixth-seeded Bears host No. 11 seed Lower Dauphin in the first round; one win is enough to guarantee a trip to states.

“The improvement is the connection of the guys we have,” Gilhool said on the team’s uptick from last season. “We’ve been working a lot in the offseason and have a lot of new players from last year stepping up. This [high school] season is building up my confidence a lot. 

“Last year my confidence wasn’t the best. It’s getting there.”

A scary statement for the rest of Lancaster County, and beyond.

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