Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
CONSHOHOCKEN — The first round of the 2022 Donofrio Classic came to a conclusion on Tuesday night, with the last pair of games to set the 16-team second round. Here’s a roundup of the evening at the Fellowship House, with recaps of each game, as well as notes and quotes from several of the participating prospects:
Game One: The high-level talent from Philly Pride was too much for Old School Cavaliers, as the Under Armour-sponsored program’s all-star team had a relatively easy time in a 108-90 win. Leading the way for Philly Pride was Cincinnati-bound Roman Catholic senior Daniel Skillings, who had five 3-pointers as part of a 38-point outing, while Cardinal O’Hara junior Izaiah Pasha poured in 29 of his own, including three 3-pointers; Springside-Chestnut Hill junior Alassane Amadou (11 points) and Malvern Prep junior Andrew Phillips (10 points) also reached double figures for Philly Pride, which led 55-32 at the break and never really seemed in danger of losing. For Old School, Math Civics & Sciences senior Trent Middleton (32 points, five 3’s), Engineering & Sciences senior Denzel Figueroa (17 points), Deptford (N.J.) junior Josh Eli (16 points) and Neumann-Goretti senior Aamir Hurst (12 points) all reached double figures.
Game Two: The impressive Scranton-area group of NEPA Elite came down to Philly and earned themselves another trip, running away from BW Elite 17U for a 91-60 win. It was definitely a group effort for NEPA, which got 20 points from Stonehill commit Ethan Meuser (22/Hill School), 15 from Scranton senior Jason Shields (three 3’s), 14 points from Augie Gerhart (23/Hill School), 11 from Mike Cumbo (24/Dallas Area) and 10 from Ben Chilson (23/Tunkhannock); most of the second half was played with a running clock. BW Elite, which was missing half of its roster, got six 3-pointers from Imhotep junior Malcolm Muhammad for a team-high 18 points, plus 13 points from Angel Otero (23/Abington Friends) and 10 from Marcus ‘MJ’ Branker (23/West Catholic).
N-G’ Hurst staying local at Holy Family
It was before his senior year at Neumann-Goretti that Aamir Hurst first noticed Holy Family head coach Ryan Haigh show up to an open gym. Then Haigh kept coming back, to open gyms, to games, as the year changed from 2021 to 2022, all in pursuit of the 6-foot-3 guard.
Aamir Hurst (above) committed to Holy Family during his senior year at Neumann-Goretti. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“It feels good, it feels good to be wanted,” Hurst said. “You want to be wanted, wherever you go. I felt like I (was) wanted there.”
So midway through the season, Hurst committed to Holy Family. Only he kept it quiet, not putting it on social media, not really telling many people about his decision to accept a scholarship to the D-II program in Northeast Philly, to become the first member of the Tigers’ 2022 class.
It was only after Hurst helped the Saints to a PIAA Class 4A state championship on March 25 that the Holy Family account Tweeted out a congratulations to Hurst, the first public acknowledgement of his commitment.
“I was just waiting until I felt like the time was right,” he said. “After the visit (earlier in the season), I called Coach Haigh and just let him know I wanted to be there, this is who I wanted to be with.
“It’s a pretty small school so everybody there’s tight, you’ll probably know everybody,” he added of what he’s learned about the school. “It’s family-oriented, they show you love.”
Hurst started 24 games for the state champs, averaging 8.4 ppg, 2.7 apg and 2.3 rpg, shooting 47.3% overall and 41.7% (30-of-72) from 3-point range. His poise, defensive abilities and shooting will make him a valuable asset right away in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC), where Holy Family has to contend with the likes of Jefferson, Wilmington, Chestnut Hill and more in the South Division.
Though his postseason run was deep with N-G, Hurst’s only Donofrio appearance was much briefer, as his Old School Cavaliers fell 108-90 in the opening round.
Haigh, who graduated from Holy Family in 2006 after scoring 1,679 points in a Tigers uniform, will be a fourth-year head coach next fall after taking over for RC Kehoe, let go after a successful run when the school cut back on its overall athletics budget. He’s built a roster full of local talent, including Conwell-Egan product Eric Esposito, Haverford School’s Kharon Randolph, Haddonfield’s Daniel Fleming and more.
“That’s my guy, I appreciate him to the fullest,” Hurst said. “The conversations we had, besides basketball, and everything, was just nice. He’s a good guy.”
Last year, Holy Family went 9-19, including a 4-14 mark in CACC play. But with 12 losses coming by single digits, Haigh’s not far off from being able to make a significant jump up the standings.
Hurst is hoping he can help bring the winning mentality he learned under Carl Arrigale at Neumann-Goretti to his new home.
“For sure, definitely,” he said. “Just come in, be a play-hard guy, play hard, put it all on the line, help the team.”
Meuser goes from D-II to D-I overnight
Ethan Meuser got the heads’ up a month ago that his college years might look a little different than planned.
Ethan Meuser (above) found out on Tuesday that he'd be a Division I ballplayer after Stonehill bumped up. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The Hill School post-graduate forward, who graduated from Wyoming Seminary (Pa.) in 2021, had come off the recruiting board early in his prep year, committing to Stonehill College (Mass.), which played in the powerhouse Division II Northeast-10 Conference (NE-10). Instead, a month ago, Skyhawks coach Chris Kraus called Meuser up to tell him an upgrade might be in order.
“He was like ‘don’t get your hopes up,’ and I was like ‘okay,’ I put it in the back of my head that it was a possibility,” the 6-foot-8 forward said. “He called me last night, told me there’s going to be a big announcement tomorrow at 10 am, the whole world’s about to find out, and I was super-excited.”
Tuesday morning, Stonehill announced it was headed to the Northeast Conference, upgrading to Division I in all sports.
Without needing to do anything other than roll out of bed, Meuser had earned an upgrade from a Division II recruit to one of the D-I variety, his program going to play an NEC schedule this winter along with what’ll likely be a mostly D-I non-conference slate.
“I feel like it was super-ironic, I committed super-early and I had a ton of people telling me, ‘what if you waited, you don’t think you could have went D-I?’ And it just ended up like that anyways.”
In its last year as a D-II member, its men’s basketball squad went 15-12 (10-9 NE-10), losing in the league quarterfinals.
There is a downside to the move: as a probationary member of Division I for four years, Stonehill will be ineligible for the NCAA Tournament that entire time, barring some kind of waiver or change of rule. However, that tradeoff comes with the likelihood that Meuser and his squad will be traveling to play at some big-time arenas.
Merrimack, which made the same move three years ago and has found immediate success in the NEC, has played at the likes of Northeastern, Providence, UC-Santa Barbara, Rutgers, Virginia Tech, Gonzaga and Indiana in just two non-conference slates.
“[Kraus] was like yeah we could open up anywhere, like Penn State, and that just blew my mind,” Meuser said. “Being a kid, going to Penn State games, and just seeing a huge arena and imagining playing in that, it’s crazy. I’m obviously not going to know how it feels until I’m there, but I’m extremely excited for it.”
Before he gets to school, Meuser said he’s planning on adding about 10 pounds to his 210-pound frame, knowing he’ll likely need more than that eventually to deal with the ‘4’ and ‘5’ men he’ll be seeing at the next level. Also a priority: working on his ball-handling and extending his 3-point range out to the college arc, crucial tools for a stretch-forward who’s going to need to be able to knock down shots with consistency.
Thanks to the change, he’ll be able to get a jump start on all of it.
“I know since we’re D-I now, we’re allowed to go up in the summer, but I’ve got to talk to Coach Kraus on that, honestly,” he said. "I’m excited to get up there.”
Scranton senior Shields picks up another offer, nears decision
The Jefferson coaching staff was three deep for the NEPA Elite win over BW Elite, and it was clear who their focus was: Jason Shields, who just led Scranton High into the PIAA Class 6A quarterfinals. The 6-5 guard was fresh off a visit to the East Falls school on Tuesday afternoon, where new head coach Jimmy Reilly became the latest Division II head coach to extend a scholarship.
Jason Shields (above) picked up an offer from Jefferson on a visit there Tuesday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“They’re probably my top choice right now,” he said. “ Really nice school, really good program, really good team. And a really good school, so that’s exactly what I’m looking for. Just weighing out my options right now.”
Shields does have plenty of options. Kutztown and Staten Island have offered; he’s visiting Millersville on Wednesday, Colgate on Thursday, and has been talking to Assumption, Caldwell, and others. They're all on him for his size and scoring ability on the wing, especially his ability to knock down deep jumpers with ease.
Firmly stating that he’s done playing AAU basketball and won’t be playing in any of the April live periods, Shields is going to see how he feels about the various schools he visits and will go from there. He doesn’t expect a visit will be too far in the future.
“I’m thinking pretty soon. Hopefully within the coming weeks, maybe like two weeks. Just see what happens. I still have to go on a couple visits.”
In the meanwhile, NEPA Elite will have a return to Donofrio next Tuesday, for a second-round game against K-Low Elite. With most of the squads hailing from the Philadelphia area, the group coming from the upper-right quadrant of the state is playing to show it can hang with some of the top talent around.
“I know a lot of great players have played here, so just to be a part of it, the whole experience, it’s really amazing,” Shields said. “I heard the gym can get really packed once you get to the later rounds, so hopefully we get to get there and experience that, and come out with wins.”
MCS’ Middleton deciding between prep year or college route
It’s a choice many high school seniors have made over the years: go to college now, or take a chance at a prep year and hope that things are different in a year’s time? Math, Civics & Sciences senior Trent Middleton is at that crossroads, and he has good options whichever way he chooses. The 6-3, 180-pound scoring guard showed why he’s an intriguing player at the next level with a 32-point outing on Tuesday night, scoring from inside and out, knocking down five 3-pointers along the way.
He’s already visited NAIA powerhouse William Penn (Iowa), which had local prospects Muneer Newton (Archbishop Wood) and Malik Edwards (Bonner-Prendergast) on the roster last year, and said he’s talking to D-II Holy Family and Lincoln as well. He’s also talked to Olympus Prep (N.J.), Mt. Zion Prep (Md.) and “a few schools in California,” and said at the moment he’s leaning more towards the prep school route, though that’s subject to change.
“I’ve got a few visits coming up, to a few colleges, and then after that, I want to visit a few prep schools and then I want to make my decision,” he said. “I want to take my visits first, because if the visits go how I want them to go, then I’m probably going to go to the college level.”
Eng. & Sciences’ Figueroa playing out April
Speaking of William Penn, another local prospect that the Statesmen are onto is Engineering & Sciences senior wing forward Denzel Figeuroa, who’s yet to visit Iowa but is keeping the school under consideration. Before he makes up his mind, he’s playing this month out with Mt. Pleasant Bulldogs, starting with this weekend’s Spring Jam Fest at Spooky Nook Sports in Manheim, Pa.
“[I want to show coaches] my full game, that I can do everything,” he said. “Bring the ball up, shoot the ‘3’, post up, be a mis-match, versatile and stuff like that.”
In addition to talking to William Penn, Figueroa said he’s had “heavy interest” from Bloomsburg and Shippensburg, though Bloom’s now in the middle of a coaching change, and had also heard from D-I Delaware State. He’s hoping to have a clearer picture after April, and will also consider doing a prep year,