Steve Donahue (above) picked up his third commitment for 2019 just ahead of the July live period. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
There isn’t much at all that playing Fortnite will do to help a young basketball player improve his or her handle or vertical leap.
But a few games with the Penn coaches helped Jonah Charles know he’d found his future home.
After spending several hours with the Rutgers Prep (N.J.) rising senior, walking around campus and talking hoops, all the Quakers’ hoops staff had to do to seal the deal was fire up the Xbox.
“I played with [assistant coach Joe] Mihalich and he wasn’t that good, I’ve got to teach him a little bit, he was pretty bad,” Charles said with a laugh. “[Head] coach [Steve] Donahue knew a lot about the game. He knew everything because his son is 14, so I think his son tells him everything. He knew all the terminology and everything, so it was pretty cool to see that.
“It’s crazy how cool they were, all the coaches,” Charles added. “They all love each other, I really like the culture and how they’re playful but when it’s time to get down to stuff, they can get serious, so I like that.”
Okay, so perhaps it wasn’t actually the Penn coaches’ video game abilities that convinced Charles to make the Ivy league institution his future home. The 6-foot-4, 185-pound guard, known much more for his shooting ability on the court than with a controller in his hand, was enamored with the school’s high-level academics and history of basketball success, combined with the fact that University City was a simple train ride away from home.
He’d felt that way since the Donahue first offered him on a visit last August despite having only seen him on video.
“First time meeting the coach, first time being on campus, they believed in me and liked the type of kid I was and they offered me there,” he said. “I fell in love with it the first time I was there, I was thinking about committing as soon as I got the offer.”
So despite the fact that the July live recruiting periods and their 15 days of playing in front of dozens upon dozens of Division I coaches were only days away, Charles knew he’d found his spot. And so he pulled the trigger, committing to become part of Penn’s incoming 2019 class on Thursday afternoon.
“I just felt comfortable and at home there,” he said. “I like Philadelphia, I like the city, I just felt like I was meant to play there, at the Palestra. I was thinking about it, I was like, is there any other school I’d possibly rather go to than Penn, and is there any school that could possibly offer me, would I try to go there instead, and I couldn’t think of any, so I was like why wait, might as well decide now and take some of the pressure off.”
As a junior at Rutgers Prep, Charles was one of the leaders on a young-but-talented group, averaging 10 points, six rebounds and five assists on a team that went 16-10 overall and lost to the Ranney School in the New Jersey Non-Public ‘B’ state quarterfinals.
He also got the opportunity to talk about Penn with his head coach, Matt Bloom, a 2004 graduate of the school and former manager under Fran Dunphy who went on to join the La Salle staff before taking over at Rutgers Prep last summer.
“He told me a lot about the culture there, everyone’s supporting each other, even during the summer,” Charles said. “The pick-up games at Penn are crazy, because everyone comes down, everyone wants to play at Penn, from St. Joe’s and Temple, alumni from those schools, NBA prospects, NBA players.”
“I think Jonah would be a great fit on any team, anywhere,” Bloom said. “He’s a high-character kid, so he would add something that every team could use. I think it’s a really good fit, he’s an exceptional shooter, so that translates to the system very well and I think he’s about to have a breakout summer. It’s an exciting time, I’m very happy for him.”
Charles is the third rising senior to commit to play for the defending Ivy League champions, joining 6-5 Abington (Pa.) guard Lucas Monroe, who committed last month, and 6-6 North Arlington (Ohio) wing Max Martz, who started the class with an early commitment in January.
He's also the second member of his family to head to a Division I school in the last few years. His older brother Karl Charles, a 6-5 wing and 2015 Rutgers Prep grad, has averaged 10.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg and 3.1 apg in 89 games (87 starts) over three strong years at Holy Cross.
There's a strong chance that Martz and Charles could see each other very soon, as both play on the Hoop Group AAU circuit; Martz with NOVA-Russell out of Ohio and Charles with the NJ Shoreshots. Depending on the draws, they could face up in either the Atlantic City Jam Fest, Summer Jam Fest or several other events the next few weeks.
It’s a strong three-man group for the Quakers, who snapped an 11-year NCAA Tournament drought this spring by beating Harvard in the second-ever Ivy League championship game. And with rising juniors Ryan Betley (14.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and A.J. Brodeur (13.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg) set to be around for two more years to lead a strong group of underclassmen, Penn’s got its eyes on a return to the program’s heyday, when it was a regular contender to advance to March Madness.
“They’re back, Penn’s back, they’re back and ready to take over the Ivy League again for the next decade, hopefully,” Charles said.