Gertrude’s coach on newest Wahoo: ‘He has just scratched the surface’

By Jerry Ratcliffe


There is absolutely no drama in the basketball locker room at Hudson Catholic in Jersey City, N.J.

Coach Nick Marinello, who cranks out standout basketball players the way the state of Mississippi produces Miss Americas, never has to worry about drama on his team because of players like Elijah Gertrude and Tahaad Pettiford, two of the nation’s highest-regarded prospects.

“I don’t have locker-room issues because my two best players don’t have egos,” Marinello said Wednesday, the day Gertrude announced his commitment to Virginia. “They are team guys first, which is refreshing in this day of athletics.”

Gertrude, who is just crazy athletic, is a 6-foot-3 talent who chose UVA over Kansas, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Rutgers. Those are just the final five. Gertrude eliminated several others some time ago, but even more suitors came knocking late in the process.

“There were a lot of other schools that wanted to get involved, but Elijah was very comfortable with his schools,” Marinello said. “Schools from all over the country wanted to come in, but he wasn’t fixated on coming into college as a heralded player. He just wanted to work harder to get better.”

Marinello said that a year ago, the only recruiting attention Gertrude was attracting came from schools in the northeast and some Middle America Conference level programs. Man, did that change.

Gertrude leapfrogged from the No. 157 overall prospect in the nation a few months ago to No. 36 in the recruiting class of 2023, according to the 247Sports rankings. He is also rated as the No. 3 shooting guard in the country for ‘23.

“He went from almost unknown to that recognition by having a very good junior year and junior spring/summer,” Marinello said. “The intriguing thing about Elijah is that he’s young. He just turned 17 in April. In a world with kids reclassifying and graduating at an older age, he doesn’t turn 18 until April of his senior year.”

What triggered that rapid rise in Gertrude’s game? Marinello said no magic wands were involved, just hard work.

“I think just the process of development,” the coach said. “These [recruiting] rankings start so early and they identify kids at such a young age. I’ve been [coaching] for a while, but I see kind of an old-school mentality in Elijah. With him, it’s the process, the process, the process. He wasn’t worried about wanting it now, just when it was time.”

Marinello would know. Just in recent years he has produced Luther Muhammad (Arizona State guard), Jahvon Quinerly (Alabama guard), both of which were offered by Virginia, and now has Gertrude and Pettiford, who is rated the No. 2 point guard in the nation (No. 24 overall prospect).

Marinello said that what separates Gertrude from most players is his elite athleticism, and that he has remained humble. Some longtime UVA hoops observers believe Gertrude is the most athletic player the program has landed in the Tony Bennett era, including Justin Anderson.

“He’s a freak athletically,” Marinello said. “His dunks … his elevation to the rim is on another level. It comes out of nowhere and you’re kind of in awe of it when you see it transform and the plays he can make.

“I will definitely say this — Elijah’s best basketball is ahead of him. He has just scratched the surface.”

Gertrude’s strengths are many, but his coach believes other than the athleticism, it’s his player’s willingness “to defend at a high level, compete at a high level and being a good teammate.”

Gertrude helped Hudson Catholic to a 23-3 record last season against a good schedule, with an even tougher schedule set for this season, but Marinello isn’t worried because his best players are also his best leaders and remain humble.

Bennett is getting another standout player who should not only be a great fit on the floor, but in the locker room and away from the game.

Gertrude will join another UVA commitment who also experienced a great leap in the recruiting rankings, in big man Blake Buchanan, who rocketed from No. 161 overall to No. 67 (94 spots) after he chose the Cavaliers over Gonzaga. Buchanan is the No. 9 ranked center in the class of 2023 after having been rated No. 15.