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Hoop Group Southern Jam Fest: Recruiting Notebook (Pt. 1)

05/20/2024, 12:30pm EDT
By Josh Verlin

By Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
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HAMPTON, Va. — The Hoop Group’s Southern Jam Fest was held during a live recruiting period for the first time this past weekend, with Division I coaches able to come watch a collection of HGSL-affiliated programs and some other independent squads hit the courts at the Boo Williams Sportsplex — and a few other area facilities — during the course of the three-day event.

Here’s the first part of a two-part coverage notebook featuring area prospects from the weekend: 

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Kevin Saenz (2025 | PA Coalition HGSL 17U)

Saenz almost left Exeter Township early.


Kevin Saenz (above) is going to do a post-graduate year at SPIRE Institute (Ohio). (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

The 6-foot-4 guard announced last summer that he was transferring to St. Benedict’s (N.J.) to play for the Garden State powerhouse, but ultimately decided he was better off staying home for his senior year after helping the Eagles to the PIAA 5A state championship game as a junior. 

Though Exeter went through a coaching change and didn’t quite have the same level of success as the previous year, bowing out in the District 3 quarterfinals and second round of the state tournament, Saenz was clearly happy he wore the blue and white for one more year. 

“I just didn’t want to leave my family, family as in actual family and my school family, my teammates, everybody,” he said. “And I knew coming into my senior year I was projected to have a good senior year; if I went to St. Benedict’s, who knows what would have happened, something I couldn’t really risk taking, going into my senior year, I had one year.”

After averaging around 20 points, six rebounds and six assists per game as a senior, Saenz had a good mix of college interest from Division II and Division III programs, with schools like Bloomsburg, Kutztown and Mansfield offering spots. 

Saenz decided he wanted to give it one more shot to land a Division I scholarship, so he announced recently that he’ll be doing a post-graduate year at SPIRE Institute (Ohio), a well-established prep program that’s produced a good volume of Division I prospects during its existence. 

“Honestly just [want to] master the point guard role,” he said. “I’m getting recruited to be a point guard at that next level so just tighten my handle up, make the right reads off screen and rolls. Just be a point guard in general.”

Saenz, who played for multiple grassroots programs last summer, said he’s sticking with PA Coalition for this one, working with a number of players from Philadelphia, Reading and the Lehigh Valley areas. He said so far he’s hearing from a couple low-major Division I programs, mentioning NJIT as one that had reached out, but also seemed confident that the schools recruiting him last year would still be in the mix during and after the next one.

“We haven’t really talked about offers as me being a ‘25,” he said, “but I’m sure if I talked to those guys, it would still be the same love.”

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Joseph Badejo (2024 | PA Hoops Academy HGSL 17U)

Most of the PA Hoops Academy’s top 17U roster are familiar local names, like the Devon Prep trio of Zane Conlon, Reece Craft and Mason Thear, Westtown’s Jahmare Memphis or Abington Friends’ Zamir Parker-Barnes. 


Joseph Badejo (above) just wrapped up his first year of competitive hoops in the States. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Badejo hails from just a little bit further away: Dundalk, Ireland, a city of around 50,000 people located on the country’s east coast, about an hour and a half north of Dublin. He came to the United States just this past fall to do a post-graduate year at Andrews Osborne (Ohio), playing under first-year head coach Elijah Gore

“I’ve always wanted to play basketball in America,” he said, “so I just decided to move to America the (last) year.”

Badejo ended up playing with PA Hoops Academy during the spring thanks to a connection with the team’s head coach, Paul Manning, an Irish native who also coaches at the Westtown School. He spent his spring break staying with Manning and working out with the team, and commutes from Ohio to wherever the team is playing for tournaments. 

A 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward, Badejo came to the United States with a fair bit of international experience. He qualified for the Ireland youth national team, playing in the FIBA U-18 EuroBasket championships last year against some high-level competition. 

That helped get him prepared for a post-grad year which saw his team travel around the country to play other prep teams, going 24-10 against high-level competition and winning the CanUnited Conference championship. He showed good fundamentals in a Friday evening win over NEPA Elite, showing good hands and good touch around the rim in post-ups, finishing with five points, seven rebounds, two assists and a block.

“It’s similar, but it’s a lot different,” Badejo said. “Basketball in America is a lot more quick-paced, FIBA is more organized and stuff. When I first came to America, I had to adjust, just playing quicker, more athletic and stuff.”

Badejo said that Manning has been helping him with his college recruitment; D-II Wilmington (Del.) has been involved, along with a couple other D-IIs, but junior college teams are also inquiring about the physical post. He’s waiting to see what things look like after the live recruiting period and then figure out his plans for next fall.

“I would love to go D-II, but if I go to JUCO I can work on my game for a couple years and then transfer out,” he said. “Hopefully after this weekend I can know where I’m going for sure, 100 percent.”

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Quick Hits
 


Donte Tisinger (above) holds a pair of Division I offers and looked the part this weekend. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

— One prospect from the western part of Pennsylvania who’s picking up steam this offseason is Donte Tisinger (2025 | Caveman Basketball 17U). The 6-foot-3 left-hander is coming off a junior year with Greater Johnstown where he led the Trojans to 22 wins, the District 6 4A championship and into the second round of the PIAA state tournament, the third-year starter surpassing the 1,000-point barrier early in the season. He rolled into the weekend with two Division I offers, from St. Francis and North Carolina A&T, but said he’s been hearing from a list of other programs including Virginia Tech and Pitt plus Lehigh, Boston U, NJIT, Marist, William & Mary and more. 

All of those programs know he can score, he said, so this summer is about showing off his point guard abilities. He said he’s working on “sharing the ball, creating more shots for my teammates [...] just passing more, try[ing] different things.” That was evident in a Saturday morning game against BW Elite, where his six assists, coming on a variety of pin-point passes he created thanks to his handle and court vision, were arguably as impressive as his 23 points.

— It was a good first season in the Catholic League for Brandon Russell (2025 | NJ Beasts HGSL 17U), as the junior helped Archbishop Ryan into the PCL championship game and the PIAA Class 5A semifinals. The 6-5 wing was one of the Raiders’ top reserves, averaging 3.5 ppg on 48.7% shooting off the bench, but he’ll be counted on a lot more as a senior thanks to the graduation of a huge 2024 class led by Thomas Sorber (Georgetown) and Darren Williams (FGCU).

Russell’s working on his game as he hopes to boost his recruitment — he said he’s hearing from Division I programs at various levels with some interest — but he’s also working on his leadership for next fall.

“Thomas and Darren definitely helped us a lot, especially during the Palestra run, they gave us many tools to use,” he said. “So replicating what they did and adding a twist to it, that’s going to be key for us.”

— One of the key players on Parkland’s run to the PIAA 6A state championship game, Zaire Smaltz (2024 | PA Coalition HGSL 17U) is among a healthy number of available seniors playing out the live period this weekend to get one final chance at college exposure before having to figure out his plans for next year. The 6-5 wing/forward has heard from a number of D-II programs during the course of his senior year, including California (Pa.) and Millersville, but said at the moment his primary college interest is coming from DeSales. Prep school is still an option, but not his primary focus at the moment.

“For right now, definitely [staying] in the 2024 class,” he said. “That could be changed later in May [...] but I really do want to go to college.”


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