Unsung No More: Raritan Roundballers Surprise at Summer Jam Fest

Prospect-loaded programs set out to Philadelphia from as far as Canada and China, yet the one team that was continuously the hot talking point for visiting coaches was a little-known Jersey program from just 50 miles north on US-202.

The surprise story of the tournament that enthralled all attendees was the fantastic team play, and I emphasize the word “team,” of the Raritan Roundballers, as they unexpectedly worked their way to the 17U Championship game.

This group of unsung heroes was not on anyone’s list of must-watch teams or favorites to win, yet again and again they proved their worth and demanded attention in the final rounds of this highly competitive tournament.

The program was founded in 2010 by former Rutgers Director of Basketball Operations Dennis Gregory. The 17U roster was assembled of players from around the Raritan area, who have performed strongly both on the court and in the classroom. In fact, six members of the team had attended the Hoop Group Academic Elite Camp earlier this summer, which only allows entry to high school players with a GPA of 3.25 or higher.

The Roundballers’ Cinderella run at Summer Jam Fest began with them winning their team pool, which actually made for their fifth consecutive tournament pool they had won. The team drew a tough first-round draw against the Connecticut Basketball Club (CBC), who was favored to win their region of the bracket.

With a team effort the Roundballers controlled the game and won decisively, 72-49.

Rising senior guard, Steven Weidlich (Watchung Hills HS / Class of 2013) led the Roundballers with a 27 point (Seven 3PTs) attack. This impressive performance from beyond the arc was no fluke, as he had sunk eight and six 3-pointers prior in pool play. He continued on a legendary perimeter shooting run to be the tournament’s leading three-point scorer, averaging over 6.4 treys per game.

When asked what he thought of his Summer Jam Fest best three-point scoring average, Weidlich said, “My team is sharing the ball well, without that we wouldn’t be winning. That is the reason I am capable of hitting those threes”.

Steven Weidlich

Steven Weidlich averaged over six three-pointers per game at the Hoop Group Summer JamFest

As Weidlich’s thoughts reflect, each game they played unselfishly and as a team, with everyone doing their part to give the best chance of winning. The players trusted and believed in each other, and their performance showed it.

Ball movement was machine-like at times, constant vocal reinforcement was heard on both sides of the ball, and good shot opportunities were consistently being passed to a teammate for great shot opportunities. This team-first mentality was easily seen in facilitating point guard Matthew Farrell (Class of 2014) and high energy big man Riley Calzonetti (Class of 2013).

Not surprisingly, these two selfless players won Hoop Group’s Team Camp a week earlier as part of the Point Pleasant Beach HS fielded squad.

Three-point sniping Weidlich commented on how they’ve been beating their opponents by intensely saying, “Anyone is capable of beating anyone. Doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we believe we can win!”. Their next challenge would prove to be their most doubted and memorable one.

Powerhouse New Heights NYC had steam rolled to the Semi-Finals and a “David vs. Gloliath” match-up against the Roundballers. The 12:30 PM tipoff brought loads of curious onlookers, national media coverage, and over 60 college coaches from conferences ranging from the Big East to the Ivy League.

The New Heights team was much quicker and taller than the Roundballers, and its high-major talent littered roster was a major reason for several Division I recruiting coaches to be in attendance.

The team friendly pass-first mentality worked very well for the Roundballers as they had earned a large lead toward the end of the second half and fought off the aggressive full-court pressure of New Heights. This crucial 17U semifinal game went to the wire, but smart team decisions and a big block by 6-foot-6 forward Michael Rubayo (Montgomery HS / Class of 2013) with just 50 seconds remaining helped Raritan hold on for the surprise victory, final score 50-48.

Now that this central New Jersey team with players who had yet to pick up Division I interest had completely shook up the gold bracket and earned themselves a trip to the 17U Championship Game, it had everyone in the gym talking Raritan Roundballers basketball.

Director of the National Recruiting Report, Steve Keller, even tweeted out:

 

Although the Roundballers ended up losing in the finals to a very talented, athletic, and of course favored New Rens (N.Y.) team, they certainly made the most of their opportunity at Jam Fest and left a lasting impression on all involved.

Seconds after losing the much desired Jam Fest Championship, Roundballers Coach Kurzinsky emphasized to his players, “When we win as a team, we all win. Because we won as a team we had big time D-1 coaches watching our games thinking there’s gotta be something special about this team and its’ players that has them keep on winning!”.

This just goes to show that a team can achieve much greater things than a collection of great individuals.

Follow Craig Manfra on Twitter: @CraigManfra

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