Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
Hill School coach Seth Eilberg describes Augie Gerhart as a ‘throwback kid’.
Things like the ‘Cathedral of College Basketball,’ still leave an indelible impression on the 6-foot-8 rising senior forward.
When Gerhart took a trip to the Palestra last fall, the opportunity to call the University of Pennsylvania’s hallowed basketball gym his home court was an enticing opportunity.
“Selfishly, I love the Palestra. It was pretty awesome,” Gerhart said. “I always imagined playing in an amazing gym and not a small little high school gym. That checked off a big box for me.”
“He’s not jaded,” Eilberg noted. “Some of these kids are like, ‘Oh whatever.’ He’s all-in on that.”
Hill School's Augie Gerhart made a verbal commitment to Penn in early June. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)
Of course there were other boxes that needed to be checked: proximity to home, relationship with the coaches, style of play and high academics. Penn fit them all.
It was still hard to make the choice official when most of the Ivy League was in the mix for his recruitment.
After two other 2023 big men committed to rivals Harvard and Princeton, the time was right for Gerhart to make his decision in early June.
He called his parents, Eilberg, the Penn coaching staff then sent a text to a group chat with his Hill teammates to tell them he was officially becoming a Quaker. The rest of the basketball world found out when Hill announced his verbal commitment via its Twitter account. The throwback Gerhart isn’t a big social media guy.
“They were the first (Ivy League School) to offer me and he (Eilberg) has a good relationship with coach (Nat) Graham and I love coach (Steve) Donahue and coach (Joe) Mihalich and the whole coaching staff over there,” Gerhart said. “It was close to home and it checked a big box there with my parents being able to come to games. I think it was everything that kind of accumulated and after breaking it down, I was like, ‘Wow,’ this is definitely the spot for me.”
He's the second member of Penn's 2023 class, along with Lower Merion guard Sam Brown.
Gerhart chose Penn over offers from a list that also included Dartmouth, Columbia, Harvard, Bucknell, Drexel, Albany and Fairfield. The decision came down to two schools, Penn and Dartmouth, but after a seven-and-a-half-hour trek to Hanover, N.H. Gerhart felt his potential landing spot lay much closer to home.
A 90-minute ride from his home in Schoeneck, Pa. (outside of Denver) made it much more feasible for his dad (who didn’t miss a Hill game this year), mother and grandparents to be able to watch his college career.
“They’ve all been in my corner since I was 8 years old, first started playing basketball, so to be able to have them there at the next level is just going to be priceless,” Gerhart said.
Gerhart spent his first three high school seasons in his hometown playing for Cocalico. He was a starter his sophomore year but jokes that he’s glad Eilberg didn’t get a chance to see him or he might not have ended up at Hill. His production was good, but his size and energy were most of what he brought to the table.
A broken scaphoid (small bone in the snuffbox of the wrist) kept Gerhart out for almost all of his junior campaign at Cocalico. He decided to re-classify from the Class of 2022 to 2023 and transfer to Hill.
Another player from Gerhart’s Philly Pride AAU program, Gabe Moss, was already at Hill and Gerhart came highly recommended by the organization’s directors Kamal Yard and Amauro Austin Sr.
“We don’t overthink things,” Eilberg said. “I think when he comes through and interviews and visits it’s pretty easy to see how he represents himself. What he and his family are about are very aligned with our values as a program and a school.
“We knew we were getting a high-energy guy who led by example who was big and played hard. I don’t really need to dig a whole lot deeper than that, and as he got here we realized that he was really super talented and had a huge upside that he’s continuing to realize.”
Gerhart has exquisite footwork that he credits to one of his old Cocalico coaches Buzz Lescoe, the father of Hobart and William Smith College’s all-time 3-point record holder Tucker Lescoe.
“He always says guys like us who aren’t crazy athletes have to have amazing footwork,” Gerhart said. “Great footwork can give you the speed that you don’t have in athleticism. We would just drill, drill, drill footwork.”
Hill School's Augie Gerhart, right, goes up for a shot against Phelps in 2021-22. (Photo: Josh Cerlin/CoBL)
Gerhart arrived at Hill last offseason as pure back-to-the basket back, who had trouble scoring if he didn’t get the ball on the block.
While working with Eilberg and assistant coach Phil Canosa in the past calendar year, he expanded his game out to the perimeter, learning how to attack in different ways from the wing and even knock down 3-point shots. He shot 44 percent from deep on a low volume of shots this season, and Eilberg and Gerhart both said he needs to shoot more this upcoming season.
“All of that is a result of Augie’s hard work,” Eilberg said. “The guy’s coming in in the morning and he’s working on his game. He’s working on his body in the weight room. He’s gotten stronger and more explosive.
“He has some really unique and special intangibles. We talk about great teams have great teammates and Augie is the best teammate and an incredible leader and was for us this year and will be even more so next year.”
Gerhart said mostly high-academic Division III schools were recruiting him after his first junior year. He played during the live period with Hill last summer and ended up with three Division offers. Throughout the course of the season he added six more to his list.
“I’m so blessed to have made the move there and play under coach Eilberg and Canosa,” Gerhart said. “They’ve helped me more than anybody.”
“It just all fell into position when I came to Hill. Everything worked out.”
Penn was always a school that stood out to Gerhart. On the first day he was allowed to be contacted by colleges before his junior season, Gerhart heard from Quakers’ associate head coach Nat Graham. Gerhart said things like hand-written letters set the Penn coaching staff apart as they started to make him a main target.
There was also a special moment during his trip to the Palestra when he and HIll teammates Josh Cameron and Trey O’Neil watched the Quakers take on East Stroudsburg in a scrimmage last October.
Before the game, Donahue and Penn honored former ESU player Ryan Smith, who died of cancer at age 21 last year. Smith played at Cocalico’s rival Lampeter-Strasburg in high school, and Gerhart described him as a ‘hometown guy,’ much like himself.
“It meant a lot to me that Coach Donahue honored him and got to know him in unfortunately his final couple months,” Gerhart said. “And then I got to watch a game at the Palestra and was like, ‘Wow. I get to play every home game here.’ It’s just amazing.”
On Gerhart’s visit to campus in the spring, Penn’s coaching staff put together a highlight reel of plays from his games at Hill and Philly Pride they thought translated to what he would do for the Quakers like shooting threes and backing guys down.
He said he and Penn seem himself in a similar role to the one he plays at Hill. There’s also the possibility to bring in a more traditional center and move Gerhart outside at times.
Penn’s staff also said they envision Gerhart in a role similar to one of the program’s recent stars — 2019-20 Co-Ivy League Player of the Year A.J. Brodeur — which certainly didn’t hurt in his recruitment.
“They compared me to A.J., which was super special to me because he was like the man at Penn and having that player comparison was pretty awesome,” Gerhart said. “I would obviously love to have an impact at Penn like he did.”
Gerhart is excited to have the decision off his shoulders. He’s going to finish the summer at WeR1 before playing a second season at Hill where he hopes the Blues can win their Mercer Invitational tournament as well as compete for Mid-Atlantic Prep League and Pa. Independent Schools championships.
Then he’ll have the opportunity to play and practice at the Palestra for Penn, where Eilberg knows he won’t take anything for granted.
“He’s a throwback kid who cares about all the right stuff and earns everything he’s gotten,” Eilberg said. “This is a pretty special opportunity to play at Penn and he’s super understanding of how special that is and grateful for it and really ready to work hard to make the most it.”