ATLANTIC CITY — The Hoop Group Jam Fest series is in the middle of its annual stop at the AC Convention Center, a three-day tournament that’ll set up the Hoop Group Summer League championship this weekend at Spooky Nook.
Here’s Part 1 of notebook from Thursday’s action, which saw the various brackets at the 14U, 15U, 16U and 17U levels go from their second round down to Friday’s semifinals and championships:
Jordan Summers (NJ Panthers | 2023 | Bound Brook, N.J.)
Playing at a small public school, it’s always been hard for Summers to get much exposure, so he’s taking advantage of any opportunity he can get to play in front of college coaches. Summers hasn’t been taking anything for granted and has been showing out so far in the AC Jam Fest, scoring 20+ points in each of his teams’ three games.
Bound Brook (N.J.) forward Jordan Summers has enjoyed the exposure he's gotten this summer. (Photo: Zak Wolf/CoBL)
After playing on a couple of AAU teams previously, Summers never got to be a part of something like he is now with the NJ Panthers. The forward was always being asked by the program to play for them, but never budged. That was until this year where he finally gave in and decided to give it a go, which he hasn’t regretted one bit
“This is the best choice I made because they’re always active, posting on social media and always putting us out there,” Summers said. “My previous team was nothing like this. They’re really a family to me, they do everything for me, it’s such a good organization.”
In the past week Summers picked up his first offer from Division II school Catawba College (N.C.), and after a 23-point performance against Mason Elite, he received offers from Pitt-Johnstown and Caldwell University. He’s also started to get calls from D-I schools like Siena, Columbia and Bucknell.
Summers is 6-foot-8 and used to playing under the basket for his high school since he’s the tallest player, but he’s enjoyed more freedom playing AAU ball. It’s allowed him to put the ball on the floor more and take shots from the perimeter more frequently than he would in high school.
“AAU allows me to stretch the bigs out and take them one on one to the basket. I’ve got a great team; they allow me to set up my shot and kick it to me,” Summers said.
His favorite player is Kevin Durant, so he tries to model some aspects of his game, like the deep threes along with the ability to create for himself.
Summers is ready for more offers to flow in as he continues to show off his skills in front of college coaches. The first few offers have only given him more confidence and will allow him to play freer, knowing that there are eyes on him.
“I’ve been working so hard for that first offer and now I know people are looking at me and they’re going to keep coming, it’s amazing,” he said. — Zak Wolf
Connor Fleet & Nyle Ralph-Beyer (2024 | East Coast Power | West Chester Henderson)
With Henderson going 16-8 last year, Fleet and Ralph-Beyer have high expectations for the new-look Henderson squad in 2022, with a Ches-Mont championship in their sights.
Connor Fleet (above) will step into a starting role with Henderson this season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
With a handful of seniors graduating and their second-leading scorer from last season, Nelson Lamizana, transferring to Roman Catholic, Henderson’s team will look much different this upcoming season under the new head coach and former Downingtown West coach Jason Ritter. After lesser roles last year, Fleet and Ralph-Beyer understand that these moves will mean a major increased role for the two.
“Both of us are going to have to step up in just about everything,” Fleet said.
“Be leaders,” Ralph-Beyer followed up. “We have to make it our team and work together.”
Working together shouldn’t be an issue, as the two have played together their entire lives. The pair have played together locally since elementary school, and have been playing summer ball together since seventh grade. With so much experience playing together, they naturally click on the court. East Coast Power coach Mike Richards sees firsthand the connection they share.
“There was a play at the end of the half yesterday, Connor drives and kicks it out to Nyle, Connor could have had the easy layup. Nyle hits the three to end the half. I called the two of them over and made them hug and told them to realize how good the two of them can be together,” Richards said.
Even in a 68-55 loss to ASA Select on Thursday, Fleet and Beyer both showed what they can bring to the table. Fleet finished with 19 points, hitting three triples, and Beyer finished with seven points with a couple tough finishes at the net.
Nyle Ralph-Bayer (above) is already getting some college interest. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Playing in these tournaments against high-level competition is only helping the two get ready to carry the load for Henderson in the winter. Ritter will need to rely heavily on the two as Henderson brings in a young roster with minimal varsity experience.
With Henderson hiring Ritter, Fleet and Ralph-Beyer are both excited about the hire. The two expressed their liking for Ritter and how he coaches. Although they haven’t had any official practices yet, only a pair of weekends at Philly Live last month, Ralph-Beyer and Fleet are looking forward to getting to play under Ritte for real.
While it is still early for the two to think about the collegiate level, both have received some interest from schools. Fleet heard from D-III school St. Lawrence in New York, and Ralph-Beyer heard from one of his coaches that D-I Delaware State is interested.
For the present, the two look to win now in the summer.
“Hoop Group-wise, we are trying to make the final four at one of these tournaments this summer,” Fleet said.
East Coast Power will be heading to Summer Jam Fest at Spooky Nook Sports in Manheim, Pa. this weekend. They will also be at the New England Finale July 22-24 in Connecticut.
“We are underdogs,” Ralph-Beyer said. “Play hard, play as a team, and hopefully win a championship.” — Dennis Olson
Terrell Webster (2023 | Team Takeover Orange | McKinley Tech, D.C.)
Webster had to go through some adversity to get where he is today, but it’s only shaped him into the player he is right now. Webster played for Team Takeover squad up until 9th grade where he was asked to try out for the EYBL team.
Terrell Webster (above) is back on track after a stumble during the pandemic. (Photo: Zak Wolf/CoBL)
During the pandemic, Webster said he had gotten lazy and not worked on his game enough, while everyone was taking theirs to the next level, which led him to not making the EYBL roster.
“It was actually my first time being cut, so I just used it as motivation and I knew that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do, so it was a wakeup call letting me know I needed to get to it.” Webster said. “All the guys that made the team I played with before and I had done well against them before, so it was disappointing.”
Ever since then, Webster has been hard at work and has started to get looks from colleges in the D.C area where he lives. D-II schools like Virginia Union and the University of the District of Columbia have both offered the guard, with D-I schools like Radford, Davidson and some Ivies remaining in close contact.
For his high school team, Webster said he faces plenty of double teams and is often face guarded as the number one option, so it’s taught him to give up the ball at the right time and not force anything he doesn’t need to. Playing with other skilled players at the AAU level, it’s allowed him to pick his moments where he can be aggressive and when he can let his teammates do their thing.
“I’m really a pass first guy, but I can also get to a bucket,” Webster said. “I may come out shooting one game and then when they get up on me, I can get it to a teammate. Or if I come out passing, then when they think I’m not aggressive, that’s when I can attack them.”
Webster has a good outside shot, using his threat from deep to attack the basket frequently. He wants to improve on his middle game whether it’s incorporating more of a floater, or a consistent mid-range pull up.
Basketball runs deep in Webster’s family with many of his relatives having played high school in the DMV area, which has had an impact on him throughout his life.
“Sometimes it can be a little pressuring just talking basketball all the time, but it’s also good motivation for me,” Webster said. “It’s always good to be better than your family, it’s something that you want to push for that you can brag about one day in a joking matter.” — Zak Wolf
— Six-foot-9, 250-pound center Thomas Sorber (2024 | Team Final 2024 | Archbishop Ryan) has heard people say he’s a smart player like NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and plays hard like MVP runner-up Joel Embiid. Sorber showed those traits in Team Final’s 62-49 victory Thursday over PK Flash, finishing with 14 points.
Throughout the game, Sorber showcased his skills in the low block and had several finishes at the basket that showed his great footwork. Sorber was a bully in the paint and used his size and strength to help propel his scoring.
The big man has recently just received an offer from George Mason and has interest from Providence, Penn State, Villanova, Auburn, and other schools as well. With no visits at the moment, Sorber said they are coming soon. All the interest wasn’t something Sorber was necessarily expecting.
“Surprising,” Sorber said. “I would have never thought they would be calling me this early, but it is cool though.”
In the summer, Sorber has his eyes set on one goal: success in North Augusta later this month at the Nike EYBL Championships, the most coveted prize in grassroots hoops.
“Try to make it to the Peach [Jam] Championship and take home the peaches,” he said. — Dennis Olson
— Josh Eli (2023 | East Coast Cyclones | Deptford HS, N.J.) has been hearing from schools at the Division one, two and three levels, but has yet to receive an offer. Eli has heard the most from D-II’s like Wilmington, Chestnut Hill and East Stroudsburg and D1’s like Princeton and Army. The 6-6 wing likes to use his length and size on the offensive end, punishing smaller guards when he gets into the paint by finishing over top of them.
Eli has some pretty good athletic genes, with his dad being the all-time leading scorer at Deptford High School, which is where he goes to school. His dad ended up playing defensive end at Maryland before trying out in the NFL.
“He trains me, works me out and gives me a lot of advice,” Eli said. “He tells me what to do and have the right mindset and to be a team player.”
Eli wants to become a better shooter, citing his 0-3 performance from the free throw line in what was a close game for his team, saying that he wants to continue to work at the little things to improve his game.
— Ryan Zan (2023 | East Coast Cyclones | Perkiomen School) currently doesn’t hold any Division One offers but has been offered to play at the D-II level by Millersville, West Chester and Jefferson. There is interest from plenty of D1 schools from the Ivy and Patriot Leagues as well as some A-10 schools like Columbia, Princeton and Penn, Colgate, Bucknell, Lafayette, George Washington and La Salle.
To try and get an extra year of exposure, Zan will play for the Perkiomen School, who are coming off their best season in history where they made the PAISAA state championship. Zan will get to play with recent Florida commit Thomas Haugh and has already spent a couple weeks training with teammates Bobby Rosenberger and Preist Ryan on campus, along with playing with them during the June live periods at Blair and Hun.
“I’m excited to just play basketball there, it’s going to be amazing,” he said. “Sunday-Thursday we’re playing from 7-10 every night.”
— Tyler Tejada (2023 | NJ Shoreshots | Teaneck HS, N.J.) is able to hurt defenses in a number of ways, which has caught the attention of multiple Division I schools. Tejada has offers from LIU, Robert Morris, Towson, Fairfield and Saint Peters and has drawn interest from Siena and Monmouth as well.
Standing at 6-8, Tejada’s combination of size and scoring ability is what sticks out most about his game. In his sophomore season, hit a growth spurt and added six inches going from a guard to a big, which took some time to adjust to.
“The transition at first was hard, because my feet also grew so I was trying to get the balance right and getting used to being taller than everybody else.” Tejada said.
The wing/forward now uses his previous guard skills to his advantage, including his outside shot and handle. His ability to knock down shots from the outside allows him to pump fake past bigs when they overcommit and finish hard at the rim. He showed off his abilities, finishing with a team high 19 points in a 61-55 loss against Team Pennsylvania. — Zak Wolf