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Donofrio Classic Report: Weds., March 30

03/31/2022, 12:45am EDT
By Josh Verlin & Andrew Robinson

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin) &
Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)

CONSHOHOCKEN — The first round of the 60th edition of the Donofrio Classic continued Wednesday night at the Fellowship House, with four teams stocked full of some of the best hoops talent the Delaware Valley has to offer making their tournament debuts.

Here’s a recap of Wednesday’s games, with a notebook featuring some of the players who participated in the third night of the opening round; for the event bracket, rosters, and a roundup of our coverage so far, CLICK HERE.

Game One: In a matchup of two teams that didn’t have much internal familiarity but both boasted plenty of capable pieces, Philly Hoop Group got out to an early lead and held onto it the whole way, dispatching Flocco’s 104-85 to advance into the second round; they’ll play April 11 with their opponent TBD on Thursday. Philly Hoop Group, which had most of its roster from the Catholic League and Public League, got 26 points (four 3’s) from Neumann-Goretti sophomore Robert Wright III, 21 points (three 3’s) from Imhotep senior and Rider commit Mo Abdullah, 15 points (three 3’s) from Pennington School (N.J.) senior Ethan Pires, and 10 points from Lincoln senior Matt Williams. Flocco’s, which was made up largely of players from the Philly ‘burbs, got 19 points (five 3’s) from Spring-Ford freshman Jacob Nguyen, 12 points from Wissahickon junior Earl Stout and 12 points from St. Joe’s Prep junior Jackson Gaffney.

Game Two: With one of the best prospects in the country leading the way, M-Sport held off the 717 Hoop Devils, 115-99, to advance to play Great American Pub in the second round on April 7. Imhotep’s Justin Edwards, the 5-star junior wing with offers from just about every big-name school in the country, paced the way with 25 points, getting to the rim effortlessly. West Catholic junior Zion Stanford joined him with 23 points (three 3’s), while his classmate Adam ‘Budd’ Clark had 14 and Norristown’s DJ Johnson and Myon Kirlew had 11 apiece. For the 717 Hoop Devils, who came from the Lancaster area and the western part of District 1, Octorara junior Elijah Hamilton dropped in 25 points, La Academia senior Jamal Lebedev had 19, Coatesville’s Jeremiah Marshall had 17 and West Chester East freshman KJ Cochran had 15.


Spring-Ford’s Nguyen, Kelly hoping to be part of program’s future

Jacob Nguyen and Tommy Kelly's freshman years went a little differently, but they're both hoping to be a major part of what's coming for Spring-Ford in the next few years.

Jacob Nguyen (above) is one of two Spring-Ford freshmen who impressed Wednesday night. (Photo: Dan Hilferty/CoBL)

Nguyen, a 6-foot-3 guard, was a fixture in Rams' coach Joe Dempsey's rotation almost from the start of the season while Kelly, a 6-foot-4 wing, wasn't quite as ready for such a big role but still saw his way to a share of varsity minutes. The tandem was back together on Wednesday playing for Flocco's All-Stars in their first Donofrio Classic experience.

They'll also be teammates this summer with Philly Pride's U15 national squad and, they hope, sharing major roles in Royersford next winter.

"I didn't really know what to expect or what was going to happen coming to this event, but it was pretty cool," Nguyen, who stuck around to watch most of the second game, said. "The environment was cool and the competition was very good."

Kelly started well with eight points in the first half then went scoreless in the second half but did have an athletic block on defense and instead looked to his Spring-Ford teammate. Nguyen was solid with a team-high 19 points including five makes from 3-point territory and enjoyed the opportunity to get a look outside the Pioneer Athletic Conference sphere by matching up with players like Neumann-Goretti's Robert Wright III and Lower Merion's Jaylen Shippen.

Not that the pair of freshmen needed any extra incentive, but it was also another nudge on where they're both looking to spend plenty of time this spring and summer - the weight room.

"It's a lot different than middle school, but it's also not AAU," Kelly said of his first high school season. "You have to play big but you also have to be smart. It starts with the gym, I have to work out and get bigger and I think Jacob wants to do that too."

The PAC will have a different feel next season, with nearly every team that qualified for the league playoffs losing at least one major contributor. Spring-Ford, which missed out on the PAC playoffs but did get into the district tournament, isn't immune either and graduates First Team PAC Liberty selection Jake Kressley and Second Team pick Cole Turner.

That means Dempsey, who will head into his second season heading the program, will have some spots to fill. It's an open opportunity for Kelly and Nguyen, who have been teammates since sixth grade, to instill themselves as fixtures if they put the work in before next fall.

"We can both score on three levels," Nguyen said. "It's hard to stop both of us at the same time if we're both on the court."

Kelly added he and Nguyen have a solid chemistry already, which they're hoping is a positive as they start getting into practice and events with their AAU squad. There's also a reason Kelly started looking for Nguyen when the two of them shared court time at the Fellowship House on Wednesday.

"He can hit pretty much any shot imaginable, he's a really good teammate," Kelly said. "We both definitely need to talk more on defense."

Nguyen echoed his classmate that improving their defense, along with plenty of time hitting the weights, would be the foundation of their offseason work. If they can do that, Dempsey can certainly find a spot for them.

"He's a really good coach," Nguyen said. "He taught me a lot of things throughout the year, different reads on offense but also things I need to work on, definitely looking forward to what's next for us."


Lebedev weighing his options

Jamal Lebedev started as a traditional big man but has stretched himself out.

Lebebdev, who hails from Kazakhstan originally, came to the United States in 2020 and played two seasons with La Academia Charter School in Lancaster. At 6-foot-7 with a good frame and perimeter shooting ability, Lebedev is an interesting prospect.

He’s not committed anywhere yet, but not for lack of options.

“I’m mainly just thinking now,” Lebedev said after playing for 717 Hoops in Wednesday’s second game. “I have some D-III, D-II and JUCOs. I’m looking for a place where I can fit and that will be good for me.”

Lebedev said he’s very interested in Allegheny College of Maryland, a two-year college in Cumberland (MD.) as an NJCAA option while he continues to build on his skillset. The senior also wants a place he can play and focus on his studies, adding he’s eyeing a potential major in business.

He played last summer with Team Final Red but is focusing on navigating his options this spring while continuing to hone his skills in the gym. On Wednesday, Lebedev knocked in a couple perimeter shots and moved well outside the lane, adding he’s worked to develop his catch-and-shoot ability.

“I want to be a stretch player, more of a ‘four’ or ‘three,’” Lebedev said. “I used to play just as a center, but I think I can be more of a stretch player.”

Lebedev said he’s also had a few prep schools reach out. He’s willing to keep working wherever he ends up and has already come a long way in just two years.

“Playing college basketball, that’s my dream,” Lebedev said.


WC’s Zion Stanford ready for move to EYBL

Heading into the biggest summer of his hoops career, Zion Stanford found the perfect fit in the 60th annual Donofrio Classic, playing for M-Sport.

The West Catholic junior has a familiar face on the bench in Miguel Bocachica, his head coach with the Burrs, who’s playing a supporting role in the offseason tournament. He’s also teammates with Imhotep Charter’s Justin Edwards, with whom he’s about to get a lot more familiar this summer. 

Zion Stanford (above) picked up offers from Drexel and Saint Joseph's earlier this month. (Photo: Dan Hilferty/CoBL)

The duo of Stanford and Edwards is only getting started at Donofrio, as they will be playing with each other in the summer on Team Final’s 17U squad in the Nike Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL), trying to follow up a group that won the Peach Jam title a year ago.

“It’s a lot of good players,” he said of a group that also includes Edwards’ Imhotep teammates Rahmir Barno and Ahmad Nowell, Lower Merion’s Sam Brown, Wood’s Carson Howard and more. “It forces me to get better every practice, forces me to play better competition.”
This will be Stanford’s first year with Final, having previously played with K-Low elite on the Adidas Gauntlet.

“It’s a new thing trying to play against new competition, so I just wanna see where I stand with the ranked players, more talented players,” Stanford said.

Stanford had an impressive junior year at West Catholic. He started 25 games, averaging a team-high 14.8 ppg, making 59.6% of his field goals and 36.7% of his 3-pointers. The 6-foot-4 wing also averaged 5.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.8 blocks per game. 

The West Catholic Burrs enjoyed a 21-6 overall record and a 12-1 record in the Catholic League, though they lost in the PCL semifinals. The Burrs ended their season with a loss to Devon Prep, 60-53, in the PIAA 3A quarterfinal.

The summer season presents an opportunity for Stanford to continue to improve as he prepares for his senior year of high school and faces quality competition.

“(I’m trying)  to make the game slower for me,” he said. “Try to work on mid-range jump shots, try to tweak my 3-point jump shots, handles, stuff like that.”

He was terrific on Wednesday night, scoring 23 points in M-Sport’s win. Stanford hit a number of pull-up mid-range jumpers, even with a hand in his face, and his perimeter game looks smoother than ever, as he hit three 3-pointers and got to the rim when he wanted.

Heading into the spring, Stanford has five offers: Bryant, Fairfield, Saint Joseph’s, Drexel and Albany. His two from the local schools were the most recent; both the Dragons and Hawks offered within the last few weeks. Stanford had an unofficial visit with Drexel, and he had a phone call with Saint Joseph’s, talking to head coaches Zach Spiker and Billy Lange.

“It’s good to have some local schools, that the local schools see my improvement,” he said. 

To have offers in April is a good feeling and a confidence booster, but Stanford is more concerned about his game and improvement.

For the summer, Stanford will be focused on basketball and then, he will start focusing on narrowing down his college search. Out of the schools he mentioned, he has visited Albany and Drexel.

“I’m here to keep working for myself,” Stanford said. “It’s good to get colleges looking, but I’m just looking to be a better player overall. I’m working. I’m never going to settle.”


Sanoh looking to add polish, muscle

Moustapha Sanoh knows to get where he wants to go, he’ll have to watch his steps and get a little stronger.

The Executive Education Academy Charter School big man, a 6-foot-10 post, served mainly as a rim protector for the District 1/11 Class 3A regional champions this past season. He’s long and athletic, which helps in blocking shots but Sanoh wants to reinforce his frame by putting on some muscle this summer.

“It was a lot of fun and a good experience,” Sanoh said of his first exposure to the Donofrio Classic. “Seeing that many people watching and that many college coaches out there, it gave me motivation to keep trying harder and to go harder this summer.”

Sanoh scored six points playing with Flocco’s in the first game on Wednesday and made a few nice defensive plays. The junior prides himself on his defensive play and enjoys filling that role for EEACS, which made it to the second round of the PIAA 3A tournament this season.

However, he also got pushed around down low a couple times, which served as more motivation to hit the weights hard this spring and summer.

“I saw my competition in the future, I saw some of them are bigger and stronger than me so that’s my goal,” Sanoh said. “I have to go and get stronger.”

Sanoh will be playing with Team Final Red this summer where he’s also aiming to improve his footwork on the offensive end and become more of an option down low. He’s had a little contact with St. Francis (Pa.) but is hoping a good spring and summer of work, combined with a good showing on the AAU circuit leading into a successful senior year will bring more attention his way.

Originally from New Jersey, Sanoh now resides in the Allentown area and is keeping his focus simple right now.

“I just want to get better,” Sanoh said.


Jaylen Shippen (above) is one of many seniors hoping to use Donofrio to pick up some last-minute college looks. (Photo: Dan Hilferty/CoBL)

Quick Hits
Jaylen Shippen is one of many local players enjoying his first and only Donofrio experience, the Lower Merion senior not on a team as a freshman and thus getting just one chance to play in a tournament he’s been watching since he was young. The Aces’ multi-year point starting guard helped his team to a pair of District 1 6A championships the last two years, and a run into the PIAA Class 6A semifinals this year. While it was difficult to stomach the end of his high school career following a loss to Roman in the state semifinals, Shippen said he’s able to appreciate all his team accomplished.

“Everyone’s like hey, you got two district championships, last person in Lower Merion who’s ever done that is Kobe,” Shippen said, though Kobe only won one. “For me even to have two, it’s a great experience and I left my mark at Lower Merion, which is fun; for years to come, people will be talking about the team I played on.”

Shippen said he’s currently hearing from a few Division III colleges, naming Penn State-Abington as well as Bucks Co. CC, but he’s hoping to get the attention of one of the PSAC schools by playing AAU basketball in April, even if only for a walk-on opportunity, hoping to save money by going to a state school and playing at a higher level.

— The Pennington School (N.J.) closed its season strong, and now Ethan Pires is hoping for a similar conclusion to his high school years. The 6-5, 200-pound senior guard is playing in Donofrio with Philly Hoop Group and plans on playing with WeR1 during the April live periods, in hopes of securing a scholarship offer or two at the next level. 

“A lot of my guys from AAU and a lot of my coaches told me that it’s a big-time event and it’s always fun to play in and compete in,” he said. “It’s always good, especially for me being an unsigned senior, it’s good to get extra looks down the road, which is what I want to do, and obviously I just want to win.”

Pires said he was hearing from a few Division I schools earlier in his senior year at Pennington, but this is the toughest time for potential D-I prospects to get a coveted scholarship, with teams focusing on the transfer portal more than ever before, the extra year of COVID eligibility not helping matters either with so many extra college hoopers than ever before. However, he did say there had been recent contact with D-II West Chester (Pa.), and he’s hoping that a few more appearances in front of college coaches — Holy Family head coach Ryan Haigh was in the building Wednesday night — could lead to more opportunities.

D.J. Johnson is still open to schools, but it seems that it’s one of two colleges who are most likely to get a pledge from the Norristown senior, who’s playing with M-Sport in the Donofrio Classic. Two area D-IIIs, Gwynedd Mercy and Delaware Valley, are both heavily involved with Johnson, the 6-2 guard and son of Norristown head coach Binky Johnson who helped lead the Eagles to a District 1 6A championship game appearance. Johnson has already visited both schools, as well as been accepted to each, and now he’s just waiting for his gut to tell him which is the right fit for him.

“They were nice, basketball’s a main focus on each of the campuses,” he said. “They’re close to where I live, 40 minutes.

“(My decision) might be soon, I’m not sure yet,” he added. “Just based on what I feel…it’s going to hit me one day, probably.”

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