Greg Levinsky (@GregLevinsky)
Lizzy Gruber says she's not a city girl, but Philadelphia, and the Saint Joseph's University women's basketball program in particular, still got her heart.
Gruber, a 6-foot-4 senior at Gardiner Area High School in central Maine, announced her commitment to Cindy Griffin’s program on Thursday. She's the Hawks’ third member in the incoming class of 2023, along with local products Gabby Casey (Lansdale Catholic) and Aleah Snead (Penn Charter).
Gruber (above) picked St. Joe's over more than a dozen other scholarship offers. (Photo courtesy Lizzy Gruber)
"Being from a small town in Maine, cities just aren't a big part of me," Gruber said. "I've been to a few cities where it was disgusting with smoke coming out of the ground, but Philadelphia, it's really a beautiful, beautiful city with great people.
"I'm excited to become a Philly girl."
As a junior last winter, Gruber earned Varsity Maine and Bangor Daily News all-state honors in hoops, averaging 18.3 points, 16.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.2 steals and 5.2 blocks per game. She's one of the favorites for Miss Maine Basketball, awarded to the top girls' senior basketball player in the state, heading into this winter.
Gruber chose Saint Joseph's over 13 other Division I suitors, in no particular order: Maine, New Hampshire, Army, Marist, Providence, Lafayette, Fairfield, Vermont, Wofford, Penn, Bucknell, Sacred Heart and Colgate.
Gruber unofficially visited Maine, New Hampshire, Providence, Vermont, Marist and St. Joe’s once, and twice unofficially visited Lafayette and Fairfleld. She took three official visits; Army (April), St. Joe’s (September 10-11) and Fairfield (September 16-18).
With a slate of offers ranging from lower majors to the Big East, Gruber simply sought the school that felt the most like a new home. Saint Joseph's checked all the boxes.
"People say the recruiting process is hard, but it's so much harder [than I expected]," Gruber said. "Every school that I talked to was so understanding... Every school I talked to all had wonderful people, but Saint Joseph's really just stands out in my mind as people who want to be a part of my next four years, and also my next 40."
Saint Joseph's reached the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 Championship tournament last season.
Griffin, a 1991 Saint Joseph's graduate, will enter her 24th season when Gruber joins the program. The Hawks have a potentially promising roster for Gruber's freshman year. A quartet of Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team selections will be juniors, including 2022 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year Talya Brugler. There is only one player on Saint Joseph's roster, graduate student Katie Jekot, who will exhaust her eligibility prior to Gruber's arrival.
Abi Davids, who coached Gruber's Maine Attraction AAU team and XL Thunder, said Gruber is just starting to realize her potential.
"Lizzy is one of those players who will improve tremendously in college and at Saint Joseph’s she will have an opportunity during her four years there to be the focal point offensively," Davids said.
Pat Carson, who also coached Gruber with Maine Attraction, said there were about 10 colleges who focused on improving both as a player and a person.
"There were so many that stood out, that in the end, Lizzy had a choice between places that all would've been a great landing spot for her," Carson said. "I think it really came down to when she visited and what she wants to do down the road, helping kids and leading them in a good direction," likely in counseling or psychology.
Gruber (above) is a three-sport athlete, including an all-state volleyball player. (Photo courtesy Lizzy Gruber)
Gruber too feels her defense and on-court communication are her calling cards. She said she doesn't expect to "walk in and be a starter," but expects to help improve the team – and herself – from the jump. Gruber said she'll contribute any way she can, in practice, in games and with overall team culture.
Always the tallest in her class growing up (she even stood eye-level with her pre-K teachers) and self-described "lean and skinny," Gruber anticipates putting on significant muscle mass with a college strength and conditioning program to "push people around in the post."
"I like it when every single person on the court is talking, and I'll always be the loudest on the floor no matter where I am," Gruber said. "I lose my voice after every AAU tournament. Talking on defense and having my teammate's backs are the things that I really focus on. Defense takes heart and scoring takes skill."
Gruber's official visit to Hawk Hill proved memorable. A scheduled bus tour of the city turned into a rain-soaked adventure, one that Gruber said helped her bond with her potential — and now all-but-guaranteed — future teammates.
"We had so much fun and made the most of everything," Gruber said.
Also a Varsity Maine all-state volleyball outside hitter, Gruber is currently finishing out her final campaign with the Gardiner program before turning her attention to high school hoops. She picked up volleyball as a freshman. She also plays lacrosse. Three-sport athletes are rare today, something that piqued the interest of prospective college basketball coaches, although Gruber said she doesn't feel like the skills from volleyball and lacrosse translate to hoops.
Gruber plans on celebrating her 18th birthday by signing her National Letter of Intent the second week of November.
"It's definitely going to be a big change, but I'm ready to go in and block some shots," she said.