In the northern corner of Western Massachusetts, nestled along the New Hampshire border and the Connecticut River, amidst the cow pastures and state forests, there’s a small school. The school prides itself on academic rigor and an outstanding basketball program, competing with local rivals like Exeter on the former and Brewster on the latter.
Northfield Mount Hermon School has produced alumni that have gone on to become diplomats, athletes, and federal judges. Three of them play for Penn men’s basketball. Senior guard Jackson Donahue, senior center Collin McManus, and junior forward AJ Brodeur all attended NMH, and they report that the experience was formative and a crucial part of their path to Penn.
“I had a great experience at NMH. I have nothing but good things to say about the academics, the basketball. What they do really good there is blending it all together and really giving you the full experience, getting you ready to go to college,” Brodeur said. “It was the easiest way for me to get from where I was to where I wanted to be, which was a place like Penn.”
NMH is a member of the Eight Schools Association, a group of New England preparatory schools that are considered elite, and competes in the NEPSAC conference AAA division, where they play against a set of prep schools that regularly send athletes to Division I programs and occasionally the NBA. For its own part, NMH has nine alumni on Ivy League men’s basketball rosters, including one at Dartmouth, one at Princeton, one at Harvard, and three at Brown.
For the players on Penn’s team, this means nearly every game of conference play comes with a special kind of rivalry.
“NMH itself has always been a big production of basketball players going to the Ivy League. I have a buddy from my same year who’s at Brown. I knew a couple guys at Yale at one point, Harvard, Princeton now, so it’s always like a reunion at every game,” McManus said. “It’s great. NMH has a great production of high academic guys with high basketball experience as well.”
This camaraderie is ever-present for Brodeur, McManus, and Donahue. On the Penn team, their shared experience makes them feel more comfortable both on and off the court.
“It’s unreal. Let alone having other guys throughout the League, but to have them on your own team is even better. Collin and I have been here every step of the way,” Donahue said. “We’ve been together for like nine years, with AAU and high school and now even college. We’ve lived together, and it just made everything so much easier because you know you have at least one other guy that knows exactly what you’ve been through and what you need to do moving forward and knows what you’re capable of and knows what you can handle and everything.”
It also isn’t an insignificant part of recruiting. With forward Max Lorca-Lloyd committed to come as part of next season’s freshman class, the NMH to Penn pipeline is alive and well. Although there appears to be a strong connection between NMH and several Ivies, that doesn’t stop the players on Penn from working to strengthen their connection.
“I’m always talking to guys there,” Brodeur said. “Every year up to now I’ve been keeping in touch with all the guys, while they’re still in high school, when they graduate, when they’re in college. I’m definitely in touch with them, always trying to get Penn in their ear, because we know that the Ivy League coaches are doing everything they can to get in the ears of these NMH kids. I’m just doing what I can to give them a player’s perspective.”
There’s a good chance this won’t be the last that Quakers fans see of NMH alumni, either. Coach Steve Donahue, who took over a program with two former NMH players when he replaced former coach Jerome Allen, has since added Brodeur and Lorca-Lloyd. In addition to their obvious basketball talents, this was the result of a serious respect for the NMH program.
“I’ve been going up there for 30 years,” coach Donahue said. “The type of kid that they recruit, that values education, teamwork, playing hard, all the things that we look for and honestly the whole League looks for, they’re so well prepared for the Ivies after coach [John] Carroll gets them for four years, academically, socially, basketball-wise. I mean obviously you can see with the kids that we’ve got and that one next year as well.”
Although Brodeur, Donahue, and McManus are now far from that small New England prep school, NMH has had a profound influence in the lives of these three players and the Ivy League basketball scene as a whole.