Written by Art Petrosemolo
I am a college basketball fan. I have been since grammar school in the late 1950s when my dad took me to Boston to watch the New England High School Championships and then a year later to the old Madison Square Garden in New York City to see the prestigious National Invitation Tournament.
There is basketball in my blood. My father, a college player in the 1930s, played in one of the first games where the center tap after each basket was eliminated in one of the early major rules change. As a teen, I attended the summer basketball camp of legendary Boston Celtics’ star Bob Cousy and as editor of the student newspaper at Springfield College (the birthplace of basketball) I was involved in some of the early planning for the Basketball Hall of Fame which opened in a modest building on the campus in 1968 right after I graduated.
So you may ask, Art, why are you into basketball this hot summer July? Well, as has happened to me for the past nearly three years, as I write for the local newspapers, stories—and in this case basketball stories—literally fall in my lap.
Let me explain. I started my career here in Lancaster at Franklin and Marshall in the early 1970s and became friends with the then (and still) basketball coach Glenn Robinson. Glenn lives in a late 1700s home in Peach Bottom that he and his wife Kathy renovated over the past several decades. I thought it would be neat to do a story about Glenn, who will enter his 49th season as the F&M coach this fall, and I wanted to see this 18th century farm-home. I convinced the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to let me write the story and made an appointment for late June to visit with Glenn.
While I waited for that date, the sports editor of the Ephrata Review called me and asked me to do a story on Whitey Von Nieda, an Ephrata sports legend who, it turns out, had become the oldest living alumnus of the National Basketball Association. I jumped at the assignment and did a fun story on Whitey that I blogged about earlier this summer.
Remember, I have said before, I truly believe there are no coincidences and I have been led from story to story since I moved back to Lancaster. Well shortly after the Von Nieda story, I sat down with Coach Robinson and in the process of the conversation, he talked about a company called Hoop Group from Neptune, New Jerseu. Well, I had never heard of them. I lived in Shrewsbury, New Jersey from 1996-2016, only 10 miles from Neptune, and visited there frequently to eat pizza at the shore’s famous Pete and Elda’s bar.
What I learned from Robinson was that Hoop Group has revolutionized recruiting for college basketball coaches from Division 2 and 3 and some Division 1 non-elite (ie. Duke, Kentucky, Syracuse), men’s basketball programs.
I was amazed as I had never heard of Hoop Group and their programs and it, as do a lot of things, intrigued me and I wanted to learn more. I did some research and when I found out (again for me, no coincidence) that they were hosting a huge event at Spooky Nook July 13 and 14, I immediately said to myself, “Art, this is a story…” and it was and is. I talked to the sports editors of the local weeklies (Elizabethtown, Lititz and Ephrata), found some local high school players who were competing in the Hoop Group Summer Jam Fest tournament with (off-season) AAU teams and I ran with it. The story ran in the July 17 edition of the weeklies.
So let me tell you a little about Hoop Group with a short basketball primer. In 1891, a physical education instructor—Dr. James Naismith—invented the game for students to play inside during the cold, winter months at the International YMCA Training School, now Springfield (Massachusetts) College and my alma mater.
He, nor anyone else, would have guessed that nearly 130 years later some 26 million of us are playing it, 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 playing the game.
As evidence of its popularity was the Hoop Group program at Spooky Nook where some 4000 high-school age boys playing on 400 boys AAU teams spent the past weekend competing in the Jam Fest. They played hundreds of games in a tournament format to test their skills against players from across the nation while also exhibiting those skills to college coaches (and fans).
The event was held during what is called the NCAA’s live, college recruiting period allowing college coaches to attend. It featured some 30 games underway simultaneously on regulation size courts at the huge Manheim facility.
Jam Fest at Spooky Nook is just one of hundreds of events run each year by The Hoop Group. The company is recognized as the leader in basketball instruction, skills programs and camps, as well as competition and exposure events. It started more than 50 years ago when Robert Kennedy, then coach at St. Anthony’s High School in Trenton, New Jersey, opened a basketball skills camp in the Poconos. There, even today, youngsters sharpen basketball skills working with experienced staff including college and NBA players and coaches.
Over the years, as basketball grew, Hoop Group 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. Hoop Group counts more than one million coaches and players as alumni.
Says my friend Coach Robinson, “For years, I would be running out to catch high school games during the season to evaluate maybe a player or two. Today,” he says, “my assistants and I 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.
Most Hoop Group programs are offered for both boys and girls, (including a mother-daughter program for girls as young as age 6. The Company’s major tournament exposure events, however, are currently for boys’ teams only although other groups like Blue Chip Basketball of Havertown, Pennsylvania, and USJN (United States Junior Nationals), of Bensalem, Pennsylvania offer similar programs for girls. 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. Oh, and yes, that sounds like a good story too and I’m on it for the fall.