The ability to change looks offensively was an encouraging sign, but what pleased Brian Coyle most about his team’s debut performance was the consistency with which it shut down opponents.
The NEPA Elite Coyle 17U boys team opened its first season with a 3-0 record in the Pennsylvania Tip Off at East Stroudsburg University Saturday and Sunday, holding each opponent in the 40s in scoring while winning by at least 18 points.
“I loved the way that we defended and rebounded the ball,” Coyle said. “I think that was the ultimate difference in the three games.”
Christian Fermin, Brandon Hall and Ethan Meuser each averaged at least 2 blocked shots per game in the tournament while 6 of the 10 players produced at least a steal per game.
“I think our defensive effort was probably our best attribute on the weekend all around,” Coyle said. “We really competed on the defensive end. We had guys that were getting after it. All the loose balls, we were diving for.”
Fermin, a 6-foot-8 rising junior from Pocono Mountain West, made such a strong impression that two days after the event, he received a scholarship offer from Hofstra University, which had qualified for the 2020 National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I tournament.
“Coming into the season, we knew that Christian Fermin was an elite defender,” Coyle said. “If he’s not blocking your shot, he’s definitely disrupting it.”
Fermin and Meuser, a 6-7 senior forward from Wyoming Seminary, each had a double-figures rebounding effort in a game. Fermin led the team in rebounds and blocked shots.
Justice Shoats, Gavin Bednarz and Cole Walker all averaged in double figures in scoring while Brandon Hall, Michael Rickert and Meuser each added at least five points.
“In selecting the team, we were lucky enough to have a group of guys who were very good at certain things,” Coyle said. “For instance, Justice is great at getting to the basket, finishing with either hand and having a great lay-up package. We put that with a good blend of some other guys who are great outside shooters, like Ryan Harder and Mike Rickert, then we have some mid-range guys like Cole Walker and Gavin Bednarz and post guys like Christian and Ethan.
“We knew that each guy has a certain skillset. And, depending on the lineup that we have, that’s what we’re looking for to attack the defense. I’m really just trying to figure out where our advantages are with each group that we have and trying to exploit that.”
Hall was a force in transition, getting to the rim for powerful dunks in each game, and Bednarz put together second-half scoring outbursts with the help of creating shots on the move.
Shoats, the Wyoming Valley Conference Division 2 Player of the Year as a sophomore at Holy Redeemer, averaged a team-high 14.3 points on 19-for-33 shooting (57.6 percent) and tied Hall for second on the team in rebounds.
Bednarz, a Scranton Prep senior, shot 70.8 percent (17-for-24). He scored 33 of his 38 points during second halves in which he shot 83.3 percent (15-for-18). Bednarz also led the team in steals with five.
Wilkes-Barre Area teammates Walker and Hall were next with 10 and 6 points per game.
Rickert, a senior at Riverside, led the team in 3-pointers with five.
Danville senior Jagger Dressler had a team-high assists.
The team’s first and last wins in the 17U Division Pool E came against teams it will compete with this season in the Hoop Group Showcase League.
A look back at the first three games:
NEPA Elite 60, York Ballers 40
Shoats finished with 20 points and led an offense that heated up in the second half.
NEPA Elite shot 50 percent from the floor, went 5-for-9 on 3-pointers and committed just 3 turnovers in a 35-point second half that the team used to overcome a halftime deficit in Saturday’s opener.
York stayed in front until nearly midway through the second half before NEPA Elite scored 24 of the game’s last 26 points.
Rickert finished 4-for-7 on 3-pointers, including one to put the team ahead to stay.
Bednarz had all eight of his points and Shoats added five in the closing run.
Fermin grabbed 11 rebounds.
Hall, who blocked three shots, and Shoats each grabbed six rebounds.
NEPA Elite 61, New York Lightning Black 43
NEPA Elite combined 16 offensive rebounds with the slashing ability of its guards to produce 41 points in the paint in Saturday’s second game.
Bednarz led the way with 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting while Walker added 16 points.
Meuser grabbed 10 rebounds, including 5 on the offensive end, while Dressler turned in a strong all-around effort.
Dressler pulled down eight rebounds, dished out a team-high five assists and made two steals.
Bednarz broke the game open with 11 straight points to cap a 15-2 run to a 48-32 lead.
NEPA Elite 68, South Jersey Hoops Elite 46
The highest-scoring effort of the weekend was largely the result of a defense that came up with 13 steals while forcing nearly 30 turnovers.
Bednarz had four steals while Lakeland’s Caleb Vigil, Walker and Meuser added two each.
Shoats led the way with 17 points, including 8 during a 14-2 start to the second half to open a 46-30 lead.
Bednarz scored all 12 of his points in a late, 19-4 run to finish off South Jersey after it had closed to within 10 points with 7½ minutes to play.
Walker also scored 12 points.