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The distance between Philadelphia and Gill, Ma. is narrowed by the connection between Penn and Northfield Mount Hermon.

Credit: Esther Lim

Finding Boston on a map of Massachusetts is pretty simple. The city is clearly labeled according to its prominence. Similar to searching for Springfield, which is perhaps more difficult for anyone not from the area, but it isn't a tough challenge. Now, look for Gill – a town tucked away in the northern half of Massachusetts, nestled between the Connecticut River and I-91. It is two hours away from Boston, nearly five hours away from Philadelphia, and it’s almost impossible to spot on a map.

“What’s so special about Gill?” is what you are probably wondering. The answer? Northfield Mount Hermon, where many Penn men's basketball players, both current and graduated, fostered their aspirations to become Division I athletes.

Northfield Mount Hermon (NMH) is a small boarding school concealed within the rural parts of the state. While it may seem obscure, NMH is far from ordinary. The school is considered amongst the academically elite of New England, part of the Eight Schools Association, which includes the likes of both Phillips Exeter Academy and Phillips Academy, Andover.

And its basketball team has been the foundation of numerous Penn basketball players’ careers and friendships. Right now, the Quakers have two NMH alumni on its roster: junior center Max Lorca-Lloyd and freshman center Gus Larson.

The two played together for NMH during the 2018-19 season, back when Lorca-Lloyd was a senior and Larson was a sophomore. Together, they helped bring NMH another championship in the New England Prep School Athletic Conference (NEPSAC).

The championship was far from the only major factor that strengthened the bond between the two Penn centers. Their NMH connection developed greatly off the court as well, because back when Larson was still an underclassman at NMH, Lorca-Lloyd was his residential advisor. Spending that time together in Haggen Hall helped the pair forge a closer bond. 

Lorca-Lloyd reflects that the opportunity helped him grow as a mentor for Larson. 

“Seeing [Gus] grow up literally is crazy,” he said, right after musing on how Larson arrived at Penn’s campus this year taller than himself.

“I feel like I’m just trying to take him under my wing, show him everything that I didn’t know when I was at his point freshman year," Lorca-Lloyd said.

Larson shared similar sentiments about the value of the bond between him and the upperclassman. 

“What [our bond] did was [it] allowed me to have an immediate bond when I got here on campus,” Larson said.

Lorca-Lloyd found himself in that mentee role when he first arrived at Penn. When Lorca-Lloyd was a high school senior during the 2018-19 season and committed to Penn, there were three NMH alumni on the roster: Jackson Donahue and Collin McManus (both 2019 Penn graduates) and AJ Brodeur (2020 Penn graduate).

Brodeur, one of the Quakers' most decorated basketball players, acted as a mentor himself for Lorca-Lloyd when the latter arrived in Philadelphia.

“It takes a very specific style of a person – more so than a player,” Brodeur said when he reflected on the moment he knew Lorca-Lloyd was coming to Penn. “It speaks a lot to the culture that both of those schools built, and [because of it] I knew that when Max was coming in exactly what he was gonna give, how he was going to do it, and how he was going to integrate with the team.”

The natural cycle of mentorship and brotherhood amongst the players has been a driving factor for NMH players coming to Penn and adjusting well to the team.

“I knew [NMH alumni] had great success at NMH and at Penn and I figured if they can do it, why can’t I?” Lorca-Lloyd said. “Also, just having a great connection with them — knowing what type of guys they were. It made the decision way easier because I knew I’d be around good culture and guys who want to play hard and compete.”

Brodeur, who followed Donahue and McManus a year later to Penn, said, “[Donahue and McManus] were two of my closest friends when I was at NMH and I loved the way they competed. And I just liked hanging out with them, to be honest. I’m really glad I ended up at the same place as they did, because we just got closer in the three years at Penn.”

Overall, all the NMH alumni attribute their current role as successful student-athletes to the work ethic and environment that NMH fostered. NMH as an institution fostered character growth in everything they did, from the rigor in the classroom to their assigned chores. In particular, Lorca-Lloyd found himself exercising discipline and responsibility when he was tasked with the job of wrangling cows in the morning as part of his campus responsibilities one semester.

He did admit that one time, the cows ran down towards the river.

“It was bad,” is all he had to say for that particular experience.

On the court, the players’ work ethic and skill all started with the man in charge: John Carroll.

Carroll has served as the coach for NMH basketball for over 20 years now and is the winningest coach in the school’s history. Under his leadership, NMH won four NEPSAC championships and a national championship in 2013. In 2015, he was inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame.

“He’s a man with a plan. He always knows what’s going on and knows what to do whenever he needs to do it,” Larson said of Carroll. 

The preparedness of his coach is exactly what Larson believes he needed to help him achieve his long-time goal of competing at the collegiate level.

Lorca-Lloyd believes that much of his current success is thanks to Carroll’s leadership.

“What he’d always say to us was he’s not coaching us now — he’s coaching the best version of ourselves that he sees,” Lorca-Lloyd said. “I remember when I got there, he said he was coaching me from four years from now. And I had no idea what that was. And so I never really had any understanding of what he saw until I graduated.”

This mentality is what has fueled the success of the NMH alumni that have found significant roles on Penn’s roster.

But it is not just Penn’s roster that boasts NMH alumni. Carroll has sent players to numerous other colleges but has particularly found success in sending students to the Ivy League.

Currently, five other Ivies besides Penn have NMH alumni on their rosters. Columbia, Brown, and Dartmouth each boast one alumnus a piece: freshman Jake Tavroff, sophomore Zachary Taylor, and junior Cam Krystkowiak, respectively. Cornell has junior Greg Dolan and sophomore Darius Ervin. Harvard ties Penn with three alumni: senior Noah Kirkwood, junior Chris Ledlum, and sophomore Sam Silverstein.

The NMH ties clearly run deep amongst the Ivies. And Brodeur found this factor to make these Ivy matchups more special.

One of Brodeur’s closest friends from NMH, Ian Sistare, joined the Dartmouth Big Green, and the regular season games gave Brodeur a chance to not only catch up with one of his closest friends, but to compete against him.

“It just made the game so much more fun because I knew what I was getting into and I could really go at it on the court, but still before the game and after the game, we could catch up and just chat a little bit,” Brodeur said. “I do have very distinct memories of games like that where I go and meet up with some of [the] people I was playing with in high school, and it just makes it a little bit better.”

The connection amongst NMH alumni is undoubtedly a strong one, and this type of connection is the kind that can keep bringing in strong and skilled players to come play for the Red and Blue.