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Lower Merion's Jack Forrest commits to Columbia

09/10/2018, 12:15am EDT
By Josh Verlin

Jack Forrest (above) committed to Columbia on Sunday, a day after returning home from an official visit. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

It was while with his parents on the train ride home from New York City late Saturday afternoon that Jack Forrest started to mentally unpack his weekend at Columbia University, where he’d been on his first official visit to see the Lions’ basketball program and the school itself. By the time he unwrapped his Chipotle burrito back at home in Lower Merion that evening, Forrest decided one visit was all he needed.

“It took a little while to resonate,” he said. “I didn’t immediately say, ‘oh this was the place.’ But the more and more I thought about it, I knew that that was the place.

“I was talking to my mom, and talking to my dad, and I just told them how I felt and they said they’re very comfortable with I think that’s the place for me.”

Wanting a little more time to mull it over, the senior at Lower Merion High School took a night to sleep on it. When the morning brought no change, Forrest called up Columbia head coach Jim Engles and became the first member of the Lions’ 2019 recruiting class.

“I went in with an open mind and I think it was more reflecting afterwards about how I can really be a big part of their program, and they really emphasized that more than anybody else I was getting recruited by,” Forrest told CoBL on Sunday afternoon. “So just their needs and their wants, for me, just set it off.”

Forrest is the second Lower Merion player to go to the Ivy league under 29th-year head coach Gregg Downer and the first since ‘98 LM grad Alai Nuualiitia, who scored over 1,300 points at Brown between 1999-2003.

A 6-foot-5, 180-pound wing guard, Forrest averaged 18 ppg as a junior for a Lower Merion squad that captured its second consecutive Central League championship and advanced to the District 1 6A semifinals and PIAA Class 6A second round. Though he’s best known as an outside shooter, Forrest has developed an array of scorer’s moves off the bounce in the last 12-18 months.

“They’re getting a player whose best basketball is in front of him,” Downer said. “An athletic, really good shooter who, if he can get better in some other categories, should be a really, really good Ivy League player.”

In the summer, Forrest was one of the featured pieces for the Jersey Shore Warriors’ 17U squad, ending the July recruiting periods with eight offers from Division I programs, including locals Drexel and Penn; the Quakers, which had been one of the first schools involved, took commitments from three other wings before Forrest was ready to make his decision.

Forrest cut his list down to four schools last month: Columbia and Bucknell, which he’d planned on visiting next weekend before his commitment; Boston University and Brown would get their chance if neither of the first two schools were convincing enough.

But Forrest was impressed by a weekend in the Big Apple that included a night of bowling with the Lions and Italian food at Carmine’s, a visit to Madison Square Garden, watching an early-season workout and of course a meeting with Engles and the rest of the Columbia staff, where they made their biggest pitch yet to the sharpshooting guard.

Just as strong for Forrest was the pitch on the academic side. He met with former FIFA and United States soccer executive Sunil Gulati, now an economics professor at Columbia, as well as Columbia basketball alum and former Goldman Sachs exec John Vaske.

It was a one-two punch that Forrest couldn’t resist.

“Every program says they want you,” he said, “but just through their actions, and the way they treated me over the weekend -- I’ve been on a bunch of visits, and it was nothing like any of the other visits I had been on. I know they had spent a lot of time thinking about this visit.”

At Columbia, Forrest will be joining a program that hasn’t won an Ivy League title -- and thus hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament -- since 1968, the most recent of its three Ancient Eight championships. Engles, entering his third year in Morningside Heights after a seven-year run at NJIT, has guided the Lions to a 19-35 record so far, going 5-9 in the Ivy both times around.

With some of the Lions’ best shooters, including senior Quinton Adlesh, slated to finish up their collegiate careers this season, Forrest knows he has an opportunity to be an impact freshman right away. It’s what he’s counting on.

“Obviously it takes a ton of hard work, it’s not like you’re just going to be able to sit around the next year and then play at a Division I college level, because you’re playing against grown men,” Forrest said. “But with a lot of work, I’m going to be able to fill a role that they need. And so, the way they explain it, my skills are what they need so I’m going to be able to come in and play.”

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