The Ivy League Factory: Northfield Mount Hermon proof some prep schools are more than just hoops

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Northfield Mount Hermon Basketball Facebook page

For the third time in six weeks, John Carroll took out his iPhone, opened Twitter and began drafting a familiar tweet.

He was more than 700 miles away from the Northfield Mount Hermon campus in Gill, Massachusetts, where he has turned the basketball program into a perennial prep school powerhouse during his seven years as head coach.

Carroll has used the team’s Twitter account, @NMHbasketball, to stretch the team’s recognition beyond the 215-acre scenic campus and past the borders of Gill, a small, rural town on the banks of the Connecticut River located 10 miles south of where Vermont and New Hampshire meet. Those 140-character updates are shared with his more than 4,300 followers, which doubles Gill’s population combined with NMH’s enrollment.

The account is a must follow for college coaches, recruiting gurus and hoop junkies, alike, with the most compelling of tweets beginning the same exact way.

“He’s a … ” followed by the nickname of the college program his player just committed to. At a school like NMH, scholarship offers from high-major to low-major schools ranging from coast to coast make their way on campus. However, during Carroll’s tenure, more times than not those college-bound tweets end up being only one of eight mascots.

He’s a Quaker! Collin McManus ’15 commits to #UPENN.

He’s a Bear! Chris Sullivan ’15 commits to @BrownBasketball.”

He’s a Quaker! Jackson Donahue ’15 commits to #UPENN.

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Laurent Rivard (Getty Images)

In the fall of 2015, when that trio joins their respective Ivy League programs, there will have been 24 players – in only eight years – to pass through the Northfield Mount Hermon-Ivy League pipeline that Carroll has constructed.

“I think it’s the best league in the country when it comes to the whole package,” Carroll said. “Having the academic program we have at Northfield Mount Hermon, our kids are looking for that when they go to college. So, it’s a really natural fit as far as Northfield Mount Hermon and the Ivy League.

“Then with the basketball side, a lot of it was timing. What we were doing, and what the Ivy League was doing were lining up hand-in-hand. The league was getting better as we were getting better. It all just matched.”

The school’s academic structure has made it a hotbed for high-academic programs. In order to get prospective student-athletes into school, Carroll must make sure that each individual can succeed socially, academically and athletically at NMH.

In that order. No exceptions.

“We never sacrifice character or academics for talent,” Carroll said. “Not every kid is interested in going to a school in that order, and that’s fine. For a kid who is coming here, it’s absolutely, positively in that order because they will be challenged in those areas.”

The Northfield Mount Hermon School, formed in 1971 when the Northfield School for Girls and the Mount Hermon School for Boys merged, offers a broader educational experience to its students, under its own College Model Academic Program (CMAP). At NMH, class periods are longer – 80 minutes – compared to other public and private schools which typically last up to 50 minutes. NMH students take an additional core course while also completing a year’s worth of coursework in one major class in a single semester. All in an effort to help students adjust to the college lifestyle.

“There are very few prep schools that prepare you as well as Northfield Mount Hermon does for the Ivy League,” said Sem Kroon, a 2014 graduate who will suit up for Yale next season. “Just the combinations of academics and athletics. Coming into Northfield Mount Hermon, I felt comfortable going to the Ivy League because of how the schedule is here.”

The influx of NMH players choosing the Ivy League has occurred simultaneously with the conference’s improvement. The university that has tapped into the pipeline the most often has become the conference’s dominant program as of late.

In 2007, the same year Carroll moved over one seat and became the head coach of his alma mater, Tommy Amaker was hired at Harvard, tasked with changing the culture of a program with no tradition, at an institution known for excellence. Amaker has revamped basketball at Harvard, as the Crimson have won at least a share of the last four Ivy League titles, made three straight NCAA tournaments appearances and notched two tournament wins.

Every single one of Amaker’s teams at Harvard have included at least one NMH graduate on the roster. From Dan McGeary, a University of New Hampshire transfer in 2007, to the quartet of Matt Brown, Evan Cummins, Zena Edosomwan and Laurent Rivard on this past season’s school-record, 27-win team.

Rivard, the 6-foot-5 sharpshooter from Quebec, had an impact on the Harvard program unlike any other NMH alum. The senior connected on 287 3-pointers in his career — five of which came in the 2013 NCAA Tournament Round of 64 game against No. 3 seed New Mexico. Rivard finished with 17 points, but, more importantly, Harvard captured its first tournament victory in school history.

“It’s just shows that it’s possible to go to an Ivy League school, which is not necessarily recognized as one of the best leagues in basketball, yet you can still compete on a national level, and have a lot of success,” Rivard said.

In a three-year span, Harvard has gone from making its first NCAA tournament in 66 years to being a trendy upset pick come March. On the other side of the state, Rivard’s former team was also reaching unprecedented heights.

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Graphic by Terrence Payne

Northfield Mount Hermon plays in arguably the best basketball league in the country, the New England Prep School Athletic Council (NEPSAC), which produced NBA lottery picks Nik Stauskas, Noah Vonleh and T.J. Warren this past June. The six-team Class AAA, the most difficult of the NEPSAC divisions, has no shortage of talent.

In the 2012 NEPSAC Class AAA semifinals, Northfield Mount Hermon ran into what Carroll regards as the greatest prep team he’s ever seen in Brewster Academy (New Hampshire), which entered the game undefeated. That team eventually sent four players — Warren, Mitch McGary, Semaj Christon and JaKarr Sampson — to the 2014 NBA Draft; three of whom were drafted.

Behind 31 points from Ethan O’Day, who committed to Vermont, and five free throws to ice the game from Spike Albrecht — a preview of future clutch postseason performances — NMH upset Brewster, 87-83, in overtime. That win included contributions Cummins, who at that time had already committed to Harvard, and soon-to-be Ivy Leaguers Pete Miller (Princeton) and Anthony Dallier (Yale).

Two days later, NMH defeated St. Thomas More (Connecticut), 74-70, for the program’s first NEPSAC Class AAA championship.

The next season, NMH failed to repeat as NEPSAC champions, but still had a shot at adding another banner in the National Prep Championship, an eight-team, single-elimination tournament held at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, Connecticut. After thrilling finishes in the quarter and semifinals, NMH found itself pitted against rival Brewster in the 2013 championship game.

The two teams had split the regular season series before Brewster avenged the previous season’s loss, eliminating NMH, 61-57, in the NEPSAC semifinals. In the fourth and final meeting, NMH led wire-to-wire for a 78-73 win, with strong performances from four Ivy-bound players.

“It’s mostly Ivy League guys against two Syracuse guys, West Virginia, N.C. State; stacked squad,” said Edosomwan, who enrolled at NMH for a postgraduate year in the fall of 2012.

Mike Fleming, who signed with Dartmouth, helped spark an early run to start the game with three 3-pointers. Edosomwan was a force in the paint defensively against a physical and versatile frontline. Miller, first off the bench, came up with timely plays on offense, and Dallier, the team’s fiery leader, scored 22 points, earning him MVP honors.

“For 2012, winning the New England championship was a breakthrough, and the National Prep Championship was a confirmation,” Carroll said. “It’s just further evidence that the talent in the Ivy League is growing by leaps and bounds.”

source:
Northfield Mount Hermon School

Those two seasons were a culmination of Carroll’s work, which began well before those players reached campus. He joined the coaching staff in 2001 as an assistant. That time on the bench, both as an assistant for six years and the first few seasons as a head coach, gave him ample time to learn the school and identify the type of players who would flourish in his system. The result is a 162-58 coaching record, and an unselfish brand of basketball.

“Our kids believe in one another, they develop a special bond. Chemistry is No. 1,” Carroll said. “We believe in ourselves as a group. That’s the way we are able to compete.”

A prospective student-athlete must not only prove he can thrive socially and academically at NMH, but also demonstrate a willingness to play a smart, team-first style.

In order to compete for championships, especially in a league as daunting as the NESPAC Class AAA, NMH relies on high basketball I.Q., knockdown shooting and ball movement. The team is taught to feed the hot hand, which led to nine different players scoring 25 or more points in a game during the 2013-2014 season.

“They really cheer and pull for the other’s success,” Carroll added.

That high level of chemistry shifts to budding rivalries at the next level. By the start of the 2015-2016 season, NMH will have former players on six different Ivy Leagues rosters.

“From 2008 on, there have been multiple guys committing to the Ivy League each season,” Carroll said.

The Northfield Mount Hermon Class of 2013 had seven Division I commits, four of them enrolled in different Ivy League programs.

Its Class of 2015 currently has three committed to the Ivies, though, that class could potentially have more on the way with rising seniors, like point guard Daquon Ervin and sharpshooter Aaron Falzon, still being heavily recruited by Ivy League schools.

At some point the pipeline fuels itself. When recruits visit schools, they’ll run into a former teammate, or share a connection with a past NMH player, bringing a level of familiarity and comfort to a program they are considering.

“It’s all one big family, even the players I’ve never met before,” Brown, the Harvard guard, said. “It’s a brotherhood.”

Carroll isn’t a product of the Ivy League. After graduating from Northfield Mount Hermon in 1989, he attended Assumption College, a Division II school in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he remains the program’s all-time 3-point shooter. He isn’t forcing the Ivy League on any of his players, in fact, the list of alumni includes plenty of high-major talent. That pipeline is merely a combination of similar academic values and timing. During each individual recruiting process, Carroll helps his players find the right fit.

Albrecht explored all of his options, entertaining an offer from Appalachian State to a meeting he had with the coaching staff at Williams College, one of the top liberal arts schools in the country with one of the best Division III programs. He became a late addition to Michigan’s recruiting class when John Beilein feared Trey Burke would bolt for the NBA Draft after his freshman season.

Sam Donahue, the older brother of Jackson, the 2015 Penn commit, always envisioned himself at Boston College, and ended up taking a preferred walk-on spot there in 2013.

On June 18, the night McManus pledged to the Quakers, Carroll was on the last leg of a midwest barnstorming tour with four of his upperclassmen, visiting 11 high-major schools in a week-long excursion.

The Ivy League has become a more viable option for basketball players in recent years, and will continue to be one moving forward. Recruits have taken notice of Harvard’s achievements. Jeremy Lin turned “Linsanity” in February 2012 into a respectable NBA career. In return, it has given NBA front offices a reason to look at the conference’s star players. Even exposure is better than in years past with 10 games aired on the NBC Sports Network during the 2013-2014 season.

But mainly, players like Edosomwan, the highest-rated recruit to ever commit to the Ivy League, have realized what a world-class education and access to alumni networks can provide for them once the ball stops bouncing.

“Especially with the league being as competitive as it is now, you get the best of both worlds,” Rivard said.

Harvard will be the favorite again next year, but the conference is more than the Crimson. Both Princeton and Yale have finished in the top half of the conference in each of the last six seasons. Brown and Columbia have made strides in the last few years under new head coaches. Cornell is four years removed from a Sweet 16 run, the last of three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. Penn’s back-to-back losing seasons don’t overshadow its longstanding tradition on the hardwood. And Dartmouth keeps landing NMH graduates with the same consistency as Harvard.

“I think this is the greatest group of coaches the Ivy League has ever seen,” Carroll said. “I have confidence in all eight coaches who are in the league.”

As basketball in the Ivy league grows, so will its pipeline from Northfield Mount Hermon.

One tweet from John Carroll at a time.

Elite 8 Preview: Sunday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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No. 4 FLORIDA (-3) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 2:20 p.m., CBS: If you’re a fan of uptempo, wide-open basketball, of teams running beautiful offensive sets, spreading the floor and using the three-point line like it should be used, this game probably is not going to be for you.

This is going to be as physical and as tough as any game you watched all season long. Both the Gamecocks and the Gators are top five teams in defensive efficiency, and both of them get out and pressure defensively, Florida in the full court and South Carolina in the half court. They shun shooters for the toughest athletes on their roster. They pride themselves in being tougher, both mentally and physically, than whoever they end up playing.

And they think that a game played in the 50s is beautiful basketball.

So bet the under if you can.

But the pick I like is Florida here. Their ability to defend is going to make it very difficult for South Carolina’s offensive renaissance to continue, and their guards will be able to make the plays offensively that South Carolina dares you to make.

PREDICTION: Florida (-3)

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-2.5) vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, 5:05 p.m. CBS: This is the rematch we all wanted, right?

Ever since that day three months ago, when Kentucky got 47 points from Malik Monk in a 103-102 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas, I don’t think there is a soul in the country that would have told you otherwise.

There are two major differences between these two teams now and those two teams then. The biggest is the presence of Theo Pinson, North Carolina’s best perimeter defender. Pinson has dealt foot injuries all season long, and when these two got together in December, he was not yet healthy enough to play. I assume that he will draw the assignment of Malik Monk, chasing around the man that had definitively been Kentucky’s most dangerous scorer. Pinson will make life more difficult for Monk than it was the first time around.

But is he going to spend the entire game on him?

Because after De’Aaron Fox’s 39-point outburst against UCLA on Friday night, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Pinson may be better suited to taking on the task of keeping Fox from getting into the paint. Whatever Roy Williams opts to do, the bottom line is pretty simple — if he needs to find a way to keep Kentucky’s back court in check.

The other difference between now and then is that Bam Adebayo has been playing up to his potential for the past six weeks. He was solid earlier in the year. He can be dominant at times now, and that is going to be critical for the Wildcats, who are going to be outsized by a significant margin by UNC’s front line. The Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and they are one of the only elite teams that thrives playing two bigs at the same time. In other words, one of Wenyen Gabriel or Derek Willis are going to have to deal with Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley. That’s a matchup that favors UNC, which is why Aebayo is going to have to play up to his size.

In the end, I think Pinson’s presence and North Carolina’s size advantage will be too much.

But if Fox and Monk play their game, they can carry Kentucky a long, long way.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (2.5)

Lawrence Police Department trolls Bill Self following Elite Eight loss

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Kansas had its season ended with a 74-60 loss to No. 3 seed Oregon.

The Jayhawks were the top seed in the South region. They were playing a de facto at the Sprint Center, which is 40 miles away from the school’s campus. As you can imagine, fans in Lawrence were likely unhappy, especially since it’s the second year in a row KU has been bounced one-game shy of the Final Four.

The Lawrence Police Department, while prepping for potential riots, couldn’t help tweeting a joke at the future Hall of Famer’s expense.

Bill Self’s teams have been eliminated seven times in the Elite Eight during his tenure at Kansas. He’s led the Jayhawks to a pair of Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2008.

Kansas finished the season 31-5.

Gonzaga passes the title of best program without a Final Four to Xavier in win

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In 1999, Gonzaga was not yet “Gonzaga”.

A No. 10 seed in just their third NCAA tournament, the Zags won three games against high-major competition, coming within a possession of reaching the Final Four in a loss to No. 1 seed UConn.

UConn, at that point, was one of the best programs in the country under Jim Calhoun, but the knock on the Huskies at that point was that they couldn’t win the big one. They had been to three Elite 8s and three more Sweet 16s in the previous eight seasons, but it wasn’t until they knocked off that Gonzaga team that they finally were playing on college basketball’s biggest stage.

For 18 years, Gonzaga tried and failed to get to a Final Four, becoming one of the nation’s premier basketball programs without having the postseason success to legitimize themselves in the eyes of idiots around the country. That ended on Saturday night in San Jose, as No. 1 seed Gonzaga ended No. 11 Xavier’s thrilling run to the Elite 8 and passing on the torch that UConn passed to them.

Xavier can now claim the title of the best basketball program that has yet to make a Final Four, which is both a compliment and a curse.

The Musketeers have been to the NCAA tournament 25 times since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. They’ve been to nine Sweet 16s and three Elite 8s. They had a winning record in NCAA tournament play until Saturday’s loss and now lay claim to the title of the team with the most NCAA tournament wins without an appearance in the Final Four.

Xavier is going to get there eventually. Chris Mack is one of the best coaches in the business. Hell, if Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner both return to school, it could very well be next season that they snap that streak. It’s coming at some point.

I don’t even think it’s an insult to say this about Xavier. I don’t think it’s a shot at the program or the coaches that have come through it. Getting to the Final Four is hard. Bill Self is a lead-pipe lock to be a Hall of Famer, and he’s been to just two Final Fours in his career. He’s 2-7 in the Elite 8, and if Derrick Rose could make his free throws, the discussion of just how good of a coach Self is if he can’t win a title would be raging with the Jayhawks flaming out of the tournament on Saturday night.

But as with Gonzaga and UConn before them, Xavier is going to have that monkey on their back every time they suit up in March.

VIDEO: Tyler Dorsey hits dagger after dagger in upset of Kansas

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Tyler Dorsey is building himself quite the reputation for being a big-shot maker.

He hit the game-winner that got Oregon to the Sweet 16. He hit two threes at the end of the first half to push Oregon’s lead to 11 points over Kansas. And he hit this three, the dagger through the heart of Kansas:

Dorsey finished with 27 points. He’s scored at least 20 points in every game since the NCAA tournament began.

No. 3 Oregon heading to first Final Four in 78 years

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Oregon, the No. 3 seed in the Midwest region, made what looked to be a smooth path to Phoenix into a bumpy road. But after 78 years, the Ducks are going back to the Final Four, defeating No. 1 Kansas, 74-60, in Elite Eight on Friday night in Kansas City.

Everything went right for the Ducks in the first half. Josh Jackson was called for two fouls in the less than three minutes. The Jayhawks were limited in transition. Tyler Dorsey’s two 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds gave them a double-digit lead at halftime. Oregon stretched it to as many as 18 in the second. Kansas couldn’t buy a basket from three (a far cry from the 3-point barrage it put on Purdue two nights earlier). When the Jayhawks drove to the basket, it was Jordan Bell (11 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks) who either blocked or altered their shots.

However, the Ducks not only left the door open for the Jayhawks, they held it open. Kansas’ comeback attempt was a mix drink that was equal parts KU putting the clamps on defensively, Oregon playing a bit of hero ball, and the Ducks playing not to lose instead of to win. Up six with less than two minutes remaining, Dorsey (27 points) buried a dagger 3-pointer that all but sealed the win — and a spot in next week’s Final Four — for the Ducks.

Oregon will play the winner of the South region, which will either be No. 1 North Carolina or No. 2 Kentucky on Saturday.

The slogan of the NCAA Tournament is “The Road to the Final Four”.

Outside of Duke, the runaway preseason favorite, and it’s months-long narrative of “Is Duke back?”, you could make the case there wasn’t a Final Four contender with a journey filled with more ups and downs than Oregon.

Weeks following a season-ending loss to Oklahoma in the Elite Eight, Oregon learned that both Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey would return to school for the next season. In July, Dylan Ennis was granted a sixth-year of eligibility. With Chris Boucher and Jordan Bell returning, and Payton Pritchard joining the program, the Ducks were an easy choice for a preseason Final Four pick.

Brooks’ offseason foot surgery — and the recovery that followed — raised concern about whether or not Oregon could fully reach its preseason potential, entering conference play without a notable win. Brooks’ Pac-12 Player of the Year season put to rest the status of his foot, leading the Ducks to a 16-2 Pac-12 record.

Hours before Oregon was set to battle with Arizona, it was announced that Chris Boucher had torn his ACL and would be out for the remainder of the season. Not only could this have played a role in the team’s seeding by the selection committee, but Boucher offered more than rim protection, as he helped space the floor given his ability to step out and shoot from the perimeter.

After fending off a good fight from Iona, the Ducks looked to be part of a Rhode Island’s magical postseason run. Tyler Dorsey ended that. In the Sweet 16, Oregon was matchup with Michigan, dubbed as the team of destiny. Bell and Dorsey, Oregon’s two tournament stars, stepped up in critical moments once again. Slated as an underdog for the second straight game, Oregon proved its Final Four worth by handing Kansas its worst tournament defeat of the Bill Self era in a regional final game that was played 40 miles away from the KU campus.

“I’m happy for our team,” Oregon head coach Dana Altman said following the game. “I’m happy for, as I mentioned, our university and our state. It’s been a long time coming and now we just need to go continue to play well.”

For Oregon, its road to the Final Four has come full circle.