ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – When the JB Hoops boys teams returned for the July portion of their schedule, two out of four stops were in events organized by The Hoop Group.
From mid-April to mid-May, two of the organization’s three trips were to Hoop Group events.
Although the Hoop Group is based in Neptune, N.J., it takes its show on the road. JB Hoops teams played in Hoop-Group sponsored tournaments in Pittsburgh, Lancaster County and Atlantic City.
In an JB Hoops Blog interview conducted during the Hoop Group Atlantic City Jam Fest, Director of Hoop Group Team Tournaments Dave Fedor provided some insight into his organization.
JB Hoops Callahan, the AAU program’s top boys team, competed in the Hoop Group Showcase League, making it to the championship game of the season-ending tournament.
The Showcase League is in its second year of bringing programs with similar aspirations together.
Prior to the start of bracket play, the top 17U teams that are regulars at Hoop Group events play one or two prescheduled games within the Showcase League. Those are extra games for recruiters to evaluate top talent playing against each other and records in those games position teams in the season standings that are then used to qualify and earn higher seeds in the tournaments that complete the weekends.
“This is the second year that we’ve done it,” said Fedor, a former college basketball assistant coach who joined Hoop Group in the spring of 2015. “It was a way for us to make sure we kept the talent level where we wanted for our events. It’s a unique opportunity for teams to showcase their kids, which are sort of right in the wheelhouse for our level, that sort of low-major to mid-major type kid.
“It’s to give those kids the same opportunity that some of the high-level kids have, to showcase their abilities and separate themselves from some other teams and some other groups and events.”
A total of 30 teams participated in this season’s HGSL. Although heavy on Mid-Atlantic teams, the HSGL includes entries from Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Virginia.
“It’s spread wide,” Fedor said. “Right now, we have teams from California and Arizona and we’re continuing to expand our reach to the west coast.”
In the final event at Atlantic City, 24 of the 30 teams were entered and 16 used their season performance, including the final two league games that weekend, to make the Elite 17U Championship bracket field.
JB Hoops Callahan then progressed through that bracket to finish second to Middlesex Magic Crotty, a high-powered Massachusetts team that was in the middle of a 22-1 run with multiple titles in July.
Fedor said Hoop Group is pleased with the HSGL, but there could be tweaks before its third season.
“I think we’re just refining what we’re doing a little bit, zeroing in on some new teams,” he said. “Each year, we look at the league. We really like the group that we have now – a lot of obviously, really talented teams, but good people, too. Coaches and teams that do it the right way are really important to us. They’re representing us as much as we’re helping them.
“That’s a really important piece that we’re looking for and each year we look at what we can do better the next – new opportunities, new venues, new teams, all that stuff is in play.”
Fedor said the original field of teams was carefully selected for invitation. Now it is a mixture of recruiting by Hoop Group and requests from interested teams.
“Teams from outside our region who come to our events see it and really want to fully become a part of our events,” he said. “It’s in a really good place right now. I think it’s going to continue to grow and continue to get better.
“We’re looking at different teams. We like to try to have representation from different states.”
The HGSL schedule runs in conjunction with tournaments that cover teams of several divisions and age groups. It is built around the NCAA recruiting schedule, which is part of what allows Hoop Group to land strong teams.
“You’re coming to NCAA Live period events where you have 150 to 250 college coaches,” Fedor said. “That’s worth the trip, that’s worth the investment.
“That’s kind of where we built the schedule around and we want to keep it there if we can.”
Northeastern Pennsylvania’s top high school players and college prospects are a good fit, according to Fedor.
“We’re just excited to have JB Hoops as a part of it and hope we can continue to grow the brand moving forward,” he said.
The biggest Hoop Group events run in convention centers and large venues like the Spooky Nook Sports Complex in Manheim, Lancaster County. The Atlantic City Convention Center was an addition to the list this year.
“It’s our first year here, so we’re working through some of the kinks,” Fedor said. “It’s a great set up, a great location, a good destination so to speak for teams to come and for parents to enjoy themselves and take advantage of some of the things that are outside of the event as well.”
Hoop Group also runs Elite camp for top recruits and an Academic-1 camp for players aspiring to play in the Ivy League, Patriot League and at other strong academic institutions. It also runs events from its base in Neptune.
The Hoop Group traces its roots to 1963 and the Poconos played a key role in its development.
Bob Kennedy, then head coach at St. Anthony’s High School, ran his first camp at the Trenton CYO in 1963. From that came the vision of a summer sleepaway basketball camp that he started a few years later after purchasing the Camp Dent Boy Scout camp in Stroudsburg.
The organization has evolved through the years, along with AAU basketball, adding leagues and tournaments to its camps and clinics. The list of those who have participated in Hoop Group events through the years includes Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Karl Anthony-Townes, Bob Knight, Carol Blazejowski, Sue Bird and Geno Auriema.