By: Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan 33)
Photos: Kathy Leister
SOUDERTON, PA – Several local prospects took part in the inaugural Scholastic Play by Play Invitational on Monday at Souderton Area High School. Neumann-Goretti’s Chris Ings (Rider), Haverford School’s Jameer Nelson Jr. (George Washington), Bonner-Prendergast’s Isaiah Wong (Miami (Fl.) and Malvern Prep’s Deuce Turner were just a few of the players who competed in the star-studded affair, which was part of the Allen Iverson Roundball Classic.
Team Local pulled out a wild 165-153 overtime victory over Team U.S.A. despite trailing by 11 points with under five minutes left to play in regulation. Wong was the standout with a game-high 50 points including the game-tying basket as time expired at the end of the fourth quarter. He scored 12 of Team Local’s final 14 points in regulation then added eight in the extra period. Ings had 20 points, Maryland commit Hakim Hart (Roman Catholic) added 22 and Nelson Jr. had two points.
As a member of Team U.S.A., Turner scored 25 points which included three triples while Temple University commit Josh Pierre-Louis (Roselle Catholic (N.J.) poured in a team-high 39 points and Roman Catholic freshman Justice Williams chipped in four points.
The Play by Play Classic Invitational was one of the final high school games for several prospects before graduation and ultimately arriving on campus at their respective schools to continue their playing careers.
Here are some updates on a couple local players who participated in the event:
When St. Joseph’s decided to move on from Phil Martelli after 24 years, the program was clearly headed in a different direction and many members of the Hawks 2019 class knew this. Hakim Hart was one of those coveted recruits in Martelli’s final recruiting class and committed to St. Joe’s in September so he could focus exclusively on his senior season with Roman Catholic.
Hart averaged 20.0 points per game in helping the Cahillites lock up the number one seed in the Philadelphia Catholic League playoffs then scored a team-high 21 points to help Roman Catholic upend La Salle in the title game for their second consecutive league championship. After avg. 26.0 ppg in his sophomore season at Kingsway (N.J.), Hart scored 1,035 points in two seasons at the intersection of Broad & Vine and originally believed he would be continuing his career on City Avenue.
The 6-6 versatile forward decommitted from St. Joe’s on March 22 and it wasn’t long before he found his next stop: College Park, Md. as a member of the Terrapins. Hart committed to Maryland and head coach Mark Turgeon on April 18.
After everything that happened with Martelli and St. Joe’s, Hart said this was something that had been in the works for the one month he reopened his recruitment.
“It’s something I had in my back pocket,” Hart said. “I was having conversations with Coach Turgeon. I’m feeling great and I had the chance to watch them in the Big Dance.”
Turgeon and his staff reached out “after the NCAA Tournament,” as Hart said. The Terrapins finished 23-11 (13-7 Big Ten) this season and won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament over Belmont before falling to LSU in the Round of 32.
He became the second local prospect to commit to Maryland joining Imhotep Charter’s Donta Scott, who scored 21 points while playing alongside Hart in the Play by Play Classic Invitational.
Cahillites head coach Matt Griffin continually had conversations with Hart during the final month of his recruitment and was thrilled to see another one of his players get the opportunity to play at the next level.
“One of the reasons why I coach is to help young men reach what I call their ‘hoop dreams,’” Griffin said. “It’s great to see one of your players get a tremendous opportunity. He had a tremendous opportunity at St. Joe’s but this is something that came about and we’re very happy for him and his family.”
When Hart arrived at Roman Catholic from Kingsway, “the scouting report on Hakim was that he was a deadly shooter and could really score the ball,” as Griffin noted. By the time his high school career was over, he had expanded his game particularly with his rebounding, ball handling and defense.
#13 Roman Catholic senior guard Hakim Hart will now be playing for the University of Maryland next season - PSD Photo by Kathy Leister
#13 Senior Hakim Hart scored 1,035 points during his two years at Roman Catholic - PSD Photo by Kathy Leister
Griffin has been impressed with how far Hart has come as an all-around player.
“As a senior, there were a lot more possessions where was forced to be the playmaker,” Griffin said. “He was not only a threat in the post but also in ball screens and in transition. He can really score inside and out pretty much at well. In terms of his growth, he went from being what everyone considered a shooter to essentially being able to do it all.”
In the District 12 Class 6A title game against Boys’ Latin, Hart poured in 40 points, becoming the first Cahillites player to score 40 in a game since former Minnesota Timberwolves forward Eddie Griffin had 41 against Archbishop Carroll in 1999. He became the second member of the Roman Catholic 2019 class to commit to a Big Ten school along with Seth Lundy(Penn State). Hart and Lundy have been instrumental to Roman Catholic’s success over the last two seasons which includes the PIAA 6A title in 2018.
Hart has had talks with his former teammate about playing one another for the next four years.
“Yeah we’re always joking around saying we’re going to guard each other,” Hart said.
As Hart and Lundy move on, Griffin emphasized what they’ve meant to the program and how they’ll be remembered.
“I think they’re some of the all-time greats at Roman Catholic,” Griffin said. “They’ll be remembered for winning back-to-back Catholic League championships. These guys wore the purple and gold so well and they’re always be remembered. One of the hardest things to do is go back to back in the Catholic League.”
While Hakim Hart was one of the most coveted prospects in St. Joe’s 2019 class, Jameer Nelson Jr. was the pièce de résistance. The son of the Hawks all-time leading scorer (2,094 points) and 2004 Naismith Player of the Year committed to Phil Martelli and St. Joe’s in September, following in his father’s footsteps and adding another local recruit to Martelli’s program. It was a homecoming of sorts of Nelson Jr. and his family but St. Joe’s chose to go in a new direction and relieved Martelli of his duties. Many commits immediately began to look for other options and the 6-2 senior guard was one of them.
He decommitted in March and looked at several other offers he had including Siena. Head coach Jamion Christian led Siena to a nine-game improvement in his lone season before taking the job at George Washington in March, around the same time Martelli was fired at St. Joe’s. One of Christian’s main objectives after taking over the Colonials and hearing of the news at St. Joe’s was to reach out to Nelson Jr. right away and that’s precisely what he did.
Nelson Jr. committed to George Washington on April 16 and stressed how Christian and his staff made a hard push to bring him in.
“I feel like it’s going to be a great, new home for me there,” Nelson Jr. said. They love me a lot. [Christian and his staff] were at Siena then they went to George Washington and still recruited me. Twenty minutes after I decommitted, they called me. I just knew it was the right fit for me.”
It was the culmination to a successful but trying career for Nelson Jr. As a junior at the Haverford School, he injured his hip in the second Inter-Ac game and was forced to miss the remainder of the season. He came back healthy for his senior year but hurt his knee in the season opener and had surgery on his meniscus. He missed 14 games but came back and helped spur the Fords to their second straight Inter-Ac title by avg. 14.7 ppg. He capped off his final year by scoring 17 points in the PAISAA Tournament title game victory over Westtown.
Bernie Rogers has had the opportunity to coach Nelson Jr. for his entire high school career and he could not have been more impressed with how the young man handled himself despite suffering multiple injuries.
“For him it was tough happening in back-to-back years,” Rogers said. “It’s been resilient on his part that he kept his head together. He’s such a great person and teammate. When you bring a guy back with 12-13 games left, that can hurt a team but he blended right in and made us better.”
#1 Haverford School senior Jameer Nelson Jr. will be playing at George Washington University next season - PSD Photo by Mike Nance
#1 Jameer Nelson Jr. averaged 14.7 ppg for the Fords during his senior season - PSD Photo by Mike Nance
Rogers understood how difficult it was for Nelson Jr. to have to reopen his recruitment after what happened at his father’s alma mater but he saw maturity in how he handled it.
“With St. Joe’s, he was so familiar with Coach Martelli and then when that happened he started to open up and listen to other schools,” Rogers said. “The George Washington staff did a really good job of recruiting him at Siena. They jumped on him right away and he visited there and really liked it. It fell into place and he was really comfortable with it.”
During all of this, the possibility of bringing in Jameer Nelson in to be the Hawks new head coach began to swirl around but St. Joe’s ultimately went with Philadelphia 76ers assistant Billy Lange. Still, Nelson Jr. knows his dad agrees with his decision.
“He’s just happy that I’m happy and that I feel like I’m at a place where I’m wanted the most,” Nelson Jr. said.
With Nelson Jr.’s commitment to play at George Washington, it guarantees that he and Fords teammate Christian Ray (La Salle) will see each other every year going forward in the Atlantic 10. The two teammates have grown so close over the last few years and Nelson Jr. and Ray, the two-time Inter-Ac MVP, are going to enjoy the experience.
“It’s always a competition with us,” Nelson Jr. said. “That’s my best friend. We’re always competing and saying, ‘I’m going to beat you next year.’”
The Colonials finished 9-24, 4-14 in the Atlantic 10 last year and will graduate six seniors, which should open opportunities for him. Nelson Jr. brings so much onto the court and Rogers described what will make him successful at the next level.
“For one, they’re getting a really good kid who is coachable and a good teammate so that makes life easier,” Rogers said. “I think his best days are ahead of him. He’s so athletic and I think he’s starting to scratch the surface of where he could be in the future.”
The Colonials want Nelson Jr. to come in and play his style from day one. They saw what it did for the Fords and they’re expecting a lot from the son of a former college basketball standout.
“We’ve talked about it but they just want me to play the way I play,” Nelson Jr. said. “Obviously, I feel like I’m going to have the ball in my hands and be able to make plays for myself and other guys.”
When watching Deuce Turner, one thing immediately jumps out: he can score early and often. He’s been doing it since he came into Malvern Prep as a freshman and was inserted into the Friars starting lineup. He’s only continued to increase his scoring output and he became the first junior in Inter-Ac history to surpass 1,500 career points in three seasons. He scored a school-record 48 points against Bishop Shanahan as a sophomore then avg. 26.6 ppg this season.
He showcased that scoring ability in the Play by Play Classic Invitational on Monday and expressed how he’s using that facet of his game to improve in other areas.
#4 Malvern Prep junior Deuce Turner became the first junior in Inter-Ac history to surpass 1,500 career points in three seasons - PSD Photo by Zamani Feelings
“I’ve built my game around scoring,” Turner said. “I’ve never been a primary ball handler or a distributor. I learned a lot from watching my favorite players like Kobe and Allen Iverson. While watching those guys, they had the mentality that they were going to attack and find their teammates from there. I’ve built my game around that. I’ve been having the ball more and learning when to attack and when to relax.”
Turner’s scoring prowess nearly won the Friars an Inter-Ac title this year as they finished 19-8 overall and 8-2 in the league. They lost both matchups to the Haverford School with the margin being a combined four points between two games including the first which went to overtime.
With Turner and sophomores Rahdir Hicks (15.5 ppg) and Fran Oschell (11.4) returning, Malvern Prep looks to be the favorite but the senior knows there’s a lot of work to do before that discussion commences.
“We’re going to be expected to win,” Turner said. “Powerhouse Haverford School is losing some big pieces this year and we’re going to be expected to run the table but there are some tough teams. We can’t have that mentality that we’re expected to win so the other team is going to fold or not come out and play. We’re hoping to be on top and they’re coming for us. One loss in the Inter-Ac can be a huge deal. We have to come out, play hard and secure wins.”
The 6-1 combo guard currently holds offers from Bucknell, La Salle, Lehigh, Delaware, Mount St. Mary's and St Joe's. Harvard and Princeton have also shown interest. With a plethora of offers, a strong senior campaign could add more to this list.
Turner is hoping he continues his development and adds another aspect to his game just as he has in each of his three seasons with the Friars.
“I came in as a freshman and got the chance to start,” Turner said. “I learned from everybody then continued to learn the system as a sophomore. As a junior, I began to teach all of the younger guys how we play. We have bunch of young guys and we’re only losing two seniors. We’re still young but going forward we should be good.”
Few players have had as much success in the Philadelphia Catholic League as Bonner-Prendergast’s Isaiah Wong did over the last two seasons. He became the first player to win league MVP in back to back seasons since St. Joe’s Prep’s Steve Vasturia in 2012 and 2013.
He led the Friars to the PCL title game in 2018 as well as back-to-back trips to the state semifinals which included Bonner-Prendergast’s first trip to a state title game in school history this year. Additionally, he helped the Friars win two District 12 titles in that span while scoring 1,281 points in two seasons.
On Monday at the Play by Play Classic, he racked up a game-high 50 points for Team Local. That surpassed the school-record 44 points he scored for Bonner-Prendergast against Neumann-Goretti in the regular season. Along with Ajiri Johnson (Rider) and Tariq Ingraham (Wake Forrest), Wong helped put the Friars program back in contention not only in the PCL but in the state playoffs.
He was just happy to be able to enjoy one more electric scoring outburst in a high school game with so many players he’s grown with in the past two seasons.
#21 Bonner-Prendergast senior Isaiah Wong was named MVP of Team Local after dropping 50 points - PSD Photo by Kathy Leister
#21 MBAP senior Isaiah Wong was named two-time Catholic League MVP - PSD Photo by Kathy Leister
“From the start, I was trying to get as many shots in especially in the warm up,” Wong said. “In these types of games, that’s how I get my shot ready. It was all going in from there, especially the first bucket I got. I kept on trying to shoot and I thought we did a great job.”
Wong becomes the latest PCL product to play at Miami (Fl.) joining Neumann-Goretti’s Ja’Quan Newtown, who played four seasons and surpassed 1,000 points as a member of the Hurricanes. Head coach Jim Larranaga’s squad finished 14-18 (5-13 Atlantic Coast Conference) this season and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014-15.
Wong said he expects to arrive on campus on June 29 and begin making himself familiar with the Hurricanes program right away.
“Hopefully, I’ll be a big player for us,” Wong said. “I’m hoping to come in and be ready. I want to be mentally focused and work every day. I feel like we’re going to have a good season this year.”
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Photos by: Kathy Leister