Taking college basketball recruiting to the next level

By on July 31, 2019

F&M College assistant coaches Nick Nichay and Nick Monroe are shown at Hoop Group Jam Fest at Spooky Nook. (Photos by Art Petrosemolo)


In 1891, a physical education instructor  — Dr. James Naismith  — invented the game of basketball for students to play inside during the cold, winter months at the International YMCA Training School, now Springfield (Mass.) College.

He, nor anyone else, would have guessed that nearly 130 years later, some 26-million of us are playing the game, including six million on organized school and college teams. It is the most played — and second-most watched  — sport in this country and ranks fifth worldwide in overall popularity with 300 million people who play it.

As evidence of its popularity, some 4,000 high-school age boys playing on 400 boys AAU teams spent a weekend recently competing in The Hoop Group’s Summer Jam Fest at Spooky Nook Sports in Manheim. They played hundreds of tournament games to test their skills against players from across the nation while also exhibiting those skills to college coaches.

The event was held during the NCAA’s live, college recruiting period. It featured roughly 30 games underway simultaneously on regulation size courts at the huge Manheim facility.

“If you thought this event was big,” said Matt Pooley, Hoop Group’s vice president, “it was, but it is not our biggest. Our spring Jam Fest in Pittsburgh attracts 500 teams and nearly 5,000 players and it is huge.”

Pooley explained that these events are so large that logistically it takes a staff of 500 including managers, coaches, trainers, scorers, timers, administrators and volunteers to make it all happen.

Jam Fest at Spooky Nook is just one of hundreds of events run each year by The Hoop Group, headquartered in Neptune City, N.J. The company is recognized as the leader in basketball instruction, skills programs and camps, as well as competition and exposure events. It all got started more than 50 years ago when Robert Kennedy, then coach at St. Anthony’s High School in Trenton, N.J., opened what is now called Hoop Group Skills Camp in the Pocono. There, youngsters sharpen basketball skills working with experienced staff including college and NBA players and coaches.

“Over the years, as the sport grew,” Pooley explains, “Coach Kennedy, working with his son, Rob, grew with it. They worked within NCAA guidelines to provide elite tournament events during sanctioned recruiting periods that provided exposure for the sport and its players helping revolutionize how college coaches evaluate and recruit talent.” HG counts more than one million coaches and players as alumni.

Franklin and Marshall coach Glenn Robinson said, “For years, my assistant coaches and I would be running out to catch high school games during the season to evaluate maybe a player or two. Today,” he continued, “we can watch dozens of players in multiple games all in one weekend at one location and many times see new players for the first time.”

The Hoop Group tournaments are organized by age and open to AAU teams with rosters of high school players who want to play competitively outside their regular school season. Local teams who played at the recent Jam Fest were (age) 17-elite teams from CATS Basketball coached by Doug Kraft, Central PA Elite Basketball coached by Scott Singer and 15 and 16-year old teams from Lancaster LA Elit3 under the direction of Matt Overbaugh, as well as teams from Spooky Nook Sports.

A panorama of 10 wood courts all with action at the Hoop Group Summer Jam Fest at Spooky Nook Sports. About 4,000 high school age boys playing on 400 AAU teams competed

Elizabethtown High School Coach Rocky Parise assists on the Central PA team that includes his son Ryan, a point-guard on the Elizabethtown High School team, as well as Zach Oldac from Manheim Township. Ryan’s high school teammate Elijah Eberly and Warwick’s Joey McCracken play for CATS. McCracken was not at the tournament as he prepared for the 2019 Warrior football season.

Coaches Singer, Kraft and Parise as well as Warwick coach Chris Christensen are enthusiastic about The Hoop Group organization and how it has worked with the NCAA and the AAU teams across the country to provide top competition and exposure for high school players looking to make connections with college coaches to play at the next level.

Coach Singer said, “Their events are well run and well attended providing the best competition. This year, we played exclusively in Hoop Group tournaments and it has been excellent exposure for our rising high school senior players.”

According to LA Elit3’s Overbaugh, the program’s founder, “We have found Hoop Group programs are a great experience for players, coaches and parents.”

Ephrata coach Jon Treese, who has attended Hoop Group tournaments in the past, said that this year there were no Mountaineer basketball players on AAU teams competing at the Spooky Nook event, although they have participated in the past.

The players echo their coaches’ comments about Hoop Group. E-town’s Parise said, “It’s important to get noticed as you look to play college basketball and there are lots of coaches at the events. And they have access to the recruiting materials that Hoop Group prepares for us.”

Parise is on the radar of several coaches and hopes to play basketball in college.

A poster at Spooky Nook features Hoop Group basketball alumni.

Eberly is playing for CATS this season to work with Coach Kraft who, he feels, can help him both on the court as well as in evaluating colleges that might be a good fit for him. As for the basketball, Eberly said, “It always is important to go head-to-head against new teams with good players and test your skills.”

LA Elit3’s teams at Jam Fest included Elizabethtown’s Brandon Lewis on the 16-year old squad, Warwick’s Avery Sapp, Ryan Fink and Chase Krall on the 15-year old squad, as well as director Overbaugh’s son Cole from East Petersburg.

Hoop Group’s Pooley said, “We pride ourselves on running the best programs possible for basketball players and teams and our mission is and will continue to be ‘Dedicated to fulfilling (their) dreams.’”

Most Hoop Group programs are offered for both boys and girls, (including a mother-daughter program for girls age 6 and up). The company’s major tournament exposure events, however, are currently for boys’ teams only. The comparable tournament and recruiting programs in girls’ basketball (in the area) are Blue Chip Basketball of Havertown, and USJN (United States Junior Nationals), of Bensalem. Both organizations have been active since the late 20th century and sponsor tournaments and shootouts to showcase emerging women athletes in competitive games in front of college coaches on the recruiting trail.

Photojournalist Art Petrosemolo is a graduate of Springfield College – the birthplace of basketball. As a teen, he attended the summer camp of legendary Boston Celtics’ star Bob Cousy. Art’s father, a college player in the 1930s, played in one of the first college games where the center tap after each basket was eliminated in one of the early major rules change. Recently, Art wrote the Ephrata Review story on Whitey Von Nieda, the NBA’s oldest living player.

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