By Jordan Hall
After the graduation of one of Rider’s all-time greats, Jason Thompson, who since has entered the NBA, men’s basketball Head Coach Tommy Dempsey knew an eye-popping freshman class was a top priority.
Last season’s MAAC Coach of the Year came up with just that, compiling for the 2008-2009 campaign one of the best collections of freshmen Rider has witnessed in years.
“This is a recruiting class that I’m very excited about,” Dempsey said.
The group consists of three Pennsylvania products: Novar Gadson and Brandon Penn from Philadelphia, and Jermaine Jackson of Reading. The trio is a bundle of talent.
“All three have great size and athletic ability, and that’s exactly what we wanted,” Dempsey said.
Gadson, Penn and Jackson were stars in high school, achieving tremendous personal and team success.
Gadson was a stud at John Bartram High, giving himself a big name in high school basketball in the City of Brotherly Love. The swingman put up amazing numbers his senior year, averaging well over a double-double per game: 23.8 points and 12 rebounds. And when the opposition focused on shutting him down, he developed into a solid passer, averaging six assists per game.
The former Brave accumulated 1,346 points in his career, becoming Bartram’s all time leading scorer, surpassing the previous record set by Kobe Bryant’s father, Joe Bryant.
Gadson’s rewards were Division A Conference Player of the Year honors, first team All-Public League honors and second-team All-Philadelphia honors.
He was heavily recruited by Central Connecticut State and Morehead State, both Division I programs.
Gadson is what most people identify as a “big guard.”
This season, he’ll be a match-up nightmare because of his size, standing at 6’7” and weighing 213 pounds. The lefty’s ability to shoot the 3-pointer and go off the dribble, finishing above the rim, makes him extremely dangerous. Gadson will face plenty of mismatches against smaller guards who don’t size up to him and his capabilities.
Penn, the Paul Robeson graduate, is a prolific scorer who dominated every level of competition he faced at his tiny school in Philadelphia. He poured in five 30-plus-point games his senior season, one of them a 40 point outburst. Penn was a double-double machine, averaging 27.4 points per game and snatching 16 rebounds while collecting plenty of blocks and leading the Huskies to a playoff appearance.
The remarkable end to his high school career earned him Division D Conference Player of the Year honors, first-team All Public League honors with Gadson, and third-team All-Philly.
The 1,000-point scorer was recruited by many Division I institutions such as Central Connecticut, Morehead State and MAAC rival Marist, but Penn chose Rider for multiple reasons.
“The coaches are really serious about the players’ education as well as basketball,” he said. “It’s not too far from home and when I visited, I really felt comfortable with the coaches and the role I would have.”
Penn is exceptionally effective inside and out, and can play both sides of the ball very well. He does everything a coach desires. The 6’7” standout scores in bunches and is an excellent rebounder and a solid defender who can cover both the guard and forward position.
“I see myself as instant offense and an energy guy,” he said.
Unlike his counterparts, Jackson never put up mind-blowing numbers at Reading High School, but his consistency was more than impressive. The multifaceted forward had started for the Triple A powerhouse Red Knights since the first game of his freshman year.
As a senior, Jackson went out a champion. He led Reading to an outstanding 30-1 season, capturing the District III Championship and participating in the Pennsylvania state tournament.
The rising star averaged 13.1 points per game and 8.5 boards per contest, while being named Berks County Player of the Year.
Jackson registered 1,400 points during his high school career, and was a three time All-Berks selection, capping off an extraordinary résumé.
Many feel Jackson is one the best recruits Rider has ever seen, and they have great reason to believe so. ESPN.com ranked the 6’8,” 205-pounder as the 51st best power forward in the national freshman class.
“Jackson can run, jump, defend and rebound above the rim,” according to the Web site. “Everyone was impressed with the aggressive play around the basket both offensively and defensively (2008 Harrisburg Showcase). He is a real worker.”
Jackson has multiple weapons in his arsenal because of his great versatility. The high-flying southpaw thrives in transition, is a force in the paint and has legitimate shooting range beyond the three-point line. State rival Rutgers also recruited him, as did Atlantic 10 powers St. Joseph’s and Xavier.
“The guys will be solid role players this season,” Dempsey said. “They just need to focus on doing the little things for us. They’re going to be a huge part of our future, but right now they’re a small but important piece to our puzzle.”
The Broncs will continue their schedule on Sunday, Nov. 23 at Lafayette at 1 p.m., and later in home opener against Cal State Northridge on Nov. 29 at 3 p.m.