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HG Spring Jam Fest: 17U Notebook, Pt. 3 (April 8 + 9, 2022)

04/10/2022, 3:45pm EDT
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

MANHEIM — The first live recruiting period of 2022 was this weekend, with Division I coaches able to join those from D-II, D-III and junior college programs out at major events all across the country. Many of the region’s local teams and coaches were out at Spooky Nook Sports this weekend for the Hoop Group’s Spring Jam Fest, the first of Hoop Group’s major tournaments in the region this summer.

Here’s Pt. 3 of our weekend coverage notebook, featuring action from the 17U showcase games on Friday, as well as 17U bracket action on Saturday:


(More Coverage: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3)


Augie Gerhart (2023 | NEPA Elite | Hill School) 

It was perhaps a hint to his travel basketball future when Gerhart played with NEPA Elite at the Donofrio Classic this week, but the Hill School forward has indeed made the move over to the Northeast PA group after playing the last two summers with Philly Pride. He’s now playing for the same program that formerly featured his Hill frontcourt mate Ethan Meuser, who’s off to Stonehill.

Augie Gerhart (above) is being tracked by all sorts of high-academic Division I programs this spring. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

No matter where he goes, the high-academic schools follow; Penn, Harvard, Dartmouth and others were all watching Gerhart play on Friday night, even as they had to navigate a few hallways to find the last few courts stuffed into the massive facility, where NEPA rolled in its opening-round game. 

Gerhart made a move last year as well, going from Cocalico (Pa.) High School up to the Hill School, repeating his junior year in the process and moving into the Class of 2023. So he’s playing on the 17U circuit for the first time after playing 16s last year, but his time with both Pride and Hill helped him get ready for the level of competition. 

“Playing with Pride, against that high-level competition all the time, then going to Hill and getting runs with them all season [...] helped a lot,” he said. “I just feel more confident, I feel better with the ball in my hands [....] in the high post, being able to face up, back down.”

Gerhart currently has scholarship or roster spot offers (Ivy League programs don’t award athletic scholarships) from Penn, Columbia, Harvard, Drexel, Albany and Fairfield, and said he’s hearing from “every Ivy League school” along with Bucknell, Colgate, Lafayette, La Salle, William & Mary and Charleston. 

Academics and basketball success will both factor into his recruitment, he said, and he’s enjoyed seeing urban campuses that have their own oasis within, like Penn and Harvard. While he’s not heavily focused on his recruitment at the moment, Gerhatt did say he’d be paying attention to who’s courtside, while acknowledging that several programs recruiting him have told him they’re not likely to bombard him with attention, but not to mistake that for a lack of serious interest.

Currently, Gerhart is a powerful rim-runner who’s a physical presence in the post, and he’s got an expanding face-up game. His goal by the time he gets to college is to be a true mobile ‘4’ man.

“Definitely want to expand more of my outside game, pick-and-pop 3s, corner 3s,” he said. “I shot some at the Hill School, a pretty high percentage, like 46%, but it wasn’t a lot of volume shooting. (Also) being able to get a rebound and push it.”


Justin Molen (2023 | East Coast Cyclones | Hill School) 

When he went into his senior year at Salesianum (Del.) still looking for his first Division I offer, Molen was already thinking about a post-graduate year. When a few injuries slowed him down early in the season, costing him a chance to play in several high-level non-league games, Molen realized that he might not get the exposure he was hoping for during his final season at Sallies. 

Justin Molen (above) will be doing a post-graduate year at The Hill School. (Photo: Dan Hilferty/CoBL)

By the time state playoffs rolled around, he’d made up his mind, announcing at the end of March that he’d be doing a prep year at the Hill School in Pottstown, choosing Seth Eilberg’s program over opportunities at Perkiomen and Phelps. 

“I just felt like where I was at basketball-wise was just not where I wanted to be, kinda wanted to explore my options, really see if I can push that next level,” he said. “I think with COVID, with all of that transfer portal, all that, just thinking another year would help. And the Hill School is a great school to grow as a person, the education aspect, growing as a man, becoming stronger, better and a more mature dude for college basketball and college in general.”

Molen said that the reaction to his decision from colleges was a strong one; the Division I programs who had been tracking him, including Columbia, Princeton, Colgate and more, were happy to see if another year of development would make the difference, and the high-academic Division III programs that would love to add him to their programs now would do the same next fall.

At Salesianum, where he was often the tallest member of the rotation, the 6-6 Molen had to play the ‘4’ and ‘5’, though he was able to play with the ball in his hands a decent amount thanks to his playmaking abilities. But at Hill, where he’ll have several true forwards who can fill those roles, he’s looking forward to playing more on the perimeter, hoping to swing his game closer to a ‘2’ or ‘3’ and make himself more appealing to college coaches.

That’s something he’s able to do with the Cyclones as well, with 6-8 Bensalem forward Allen Myers, 6-8 Notre Dame (N.J.) forward Stesher Mathelier and 6-7 Rutgers Prep (N.J.) forward Ryan Zan all spending time at the two frontcourt positions.

Molen had 12 points in a 60-49 win over Mason Elite (Pa.) on Saturday afternoon, going in-and-out on a couple 3-point attempts but getting to the rim off the bounce a number of times, coming up with three different and-one opportunities in the second half, connecting on two of them.

“I’m kinda transitioning from a wing to more of a shooting guard, I’m trying to work on my handle, work on shooting the ball at a higher clip, and stuff like that,” he said. “Trying to be a big guard who can handle it a little bit, can really shoot it and just make winning plays [...] that was the big draw to Hill, that was the big draw to this team as well.”


Quick Hits

— Joining Molen in his second year on the East Coast Cyclones’ 17U group is Ryan Zan, a 6-7, 220-pound forward who just played his senior year at Rutgers Prep (N.J.) after previously attending the Hun School (N.J.). Though he didn’t make the move until after Rutgers Prep’s busy summer, Zan was still able to fit in and be a major piece of a team that won the Non-Public ‘A’ South championship. A mobile ‘4’ man who’s working on playing out on the wing, Zan scored 15 points in a win over Mason Elite on Saturday, starting the scoring off with an attacking drive, and otherwise getting his buckets on a number of dives and put-backs, sometimes getting his own second effort. 

Zan’s hearing from a number of Division I schools, including Columbia, Sacred Heart, Lafayette, Colgate, and La Salle — where his high school coach, Matt Bloom worked; Bloom also was a four-year manager under Fran Dunphy when both were at Penn a couple decades ago. A prep year is also in the mix: Lawrenceville Prep (N.J.), Hill, Phelps and Perkiomen have been in touch, and Zan said that schools are talking to him for both 2022 and 2023 opportunities. In the meanwhile, he’s working on improving his ball-handling abilities to better play the ‘3’ at the next level.

Egg Harbor Twp.'s Carlos Lopez (above) finished his high school career with more than 1,500 points. (Photo: Dan Hilferty/CoBL)

— Coming off a strong senior year, in which he led Egg Harbor Twp. to a 23-4 record and surpassed the 1,500-point barrier, finishing his career second in school history in scoring, Carlos Lopez is still figuring out what’s coming next. He’s talking to a couple small-college options, as well as some prep schools, all of whom like the 6-1 lefty’s scoring ability. Lopez looked the part in a 77-40 win for Philly Pride Select’s 17s over Caveman (Pa.), scoring 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting, including 4-of-6 from downtown. Lopez was terrific on catch-and-shoot 3’s but also can attack the rim off the bounce, and he’s comfortable with the ball in his hands. D-II Holy Family and D-III Bryn Athyn have been in touch, as has Harcum College, the area’s only D-I JUCO. 

— Also impressing for Philly Pride Select in their win was Adam ‘Budd’ Clark (2023 | West Catholic), who quickly became arguably the lynchpin of a terrific Burrs squad in his first year with them last year. The 5-10 point guard is smooth as can be with the ball in his hands, toying with Caveman on both ends of the court; he finished with 13 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, and 9 steals, with a few Division I coaches watching. Clark needs to prove he can be a reliable perimeter threat if he wants to secure a D-I scholarship, as he’s certainly at least a D-II level guard, and is really maturing into the role of a college point guard.

— First look at Mason Elite’s 17U squad, even in a losing effort, resulted in a positive impression of a group from western Pennsylvania. On an undersized team without a true post player, it was three guards who stood out for different reasons. Vinnie Cugini (2023 | Aquinas Academy), who’s already scored more than 2,000 points at the varsity level in just three seasons, popped in 17 points, with four rebounds, three assists and two steals, the 6-2 attacking the bucket well off the bounce and knocking in a couple 3-pointers as well. Dante DePante (2023 | Pittsburgh Central Catholic), a 6-3 point guard, added 10 points, four rebounds and three assists; Adam Bilinsky (2023 | Norwin High School), a 6-2 guard who opened eyes with a couple big-time dunks, finished with nine points, five rebounds and a couple dimes. Expect all sorts of small-college types to watch them all summer.

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