Drew Kelly returned from vacation last week to a voice-mail box filled with messages.
Many of the missed calls for Kelly -- the men’s basketball coach at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., -- were in regard to sophomore Berend Weijs. The 6-foot-10, 210-pound center from the Netherlands had recently become a hot commodity on the junior-college recruiting trail.
“Just in the last four-to-six weeks, it really started heating up with other schools,” Kelly said Thursday. “[When I was gone] I had calls from Virginia and North Carolina. I don’t know if I’d say Virginia and North Carolina were recruiting him, but it’s funny. [Once word got out that Weijs] was visiting Maryland, then everyone wanted to get involved. He was underrecruited all season. Nobody knew about him. He had a bunch of mid-majors [that had offered], but he was really being underrecruited. It’s funny how things worked out that way.”
Things worked out well for Weijs on Thursday. During an official visit to College Park, the Maryland staff offered him a scholarship and he promptly accepted, signing a letter of intent before leaving. Weijs, who will have two years of eligibility remaining, is the sixth member of the Terps’ 2010 recruiting class. He joins Oak Hill (Va.) Academy combo guard Pe’Shon Howard, Montverde (Fla.) Academy small forward Haukur Palsson, St. Anthony (N.J.) power forward Ashton Pankey, Miller School (Va.) small forward Mychal Parker and Tucson (Ariz.) Santa Rita point guard Terrell Stoglin.
“Berend is a 6-10, very agile and mobile post player,” said Maryland coach Gary Williams in a news release. “With his size, skill and athleticism he will be able to contribute to our team immediately. He played on a very good junior college team and for a very good coach. We are extremely excited about Berend joining our program.”
Kelly discovered Weijs almost two years ago. It was August of 2008, and the Bears were in need of a post player. Harcum assistant coach Barry Uzzell played professionally in Europe and still had overseas contacts, one of whom recommended that he check out Weijs. The Harcum staff got its hands on some film, and soon after Weijs made his way from the Netherlands to Pennsylvania. Kelly said Weijs was a lanky big man with potential, but his transition to basketball in the states would be an ongoing process.
“For any level of basketball, when you’re getting a 6-10 guy who’s pretty athletic, that’s going to be of interest,” Kelly said. “I think one of the big things for Berend when he first came over was just the adjustment of living in America and adjusting to the way we play basketball here, which is definitely different than how they play in Europe. It’s more physical and officiated differently. It’s a big adjustment period for freshmen anyway in how we play the game.”
Going into Weijs’ sophomore year, Kelly said he didn’t quite know what to expect. The Bears were coming off a 22-10 season, their first in the top division of the National Junior College Athletic Association. Weijs had shown flashes as a freshman, but Kelly wondered what kind of second-year improvements he would make.
“You could see there was a lot of skill there. The main thing with him was just the adjustment factor,” Kelly said. “Coming into this year, I didn’t know exactly what to expect from him. But the best thing is he’s a great kid, he works hard and he plays hard. When you do that over a period of time, you’re going to reap the benefits of that. What we saw with Berend was he passed three or four guys on our depth chart. He outworked them. Those things go a long way. He’s someone that certainly could have not adjusted to America at all. He could have gone back, signed a pro contract in the Netherlands and that probably would have been the easy thing to do. But he stuck it out and he was great for us. I think he’s going to keep getting better. His best days are ahead of him.”
Weijs was part of a three-post rotation for the Bears this season, sharing time with a UMES recruit and a Robert Morris signee. In the backcourt were a point guard headed to Longwood and a shooting guard bound for Utah State. Kelly’s four-guard offense – and 13-man rotation – pressed the entire game
Harcum, which led the country in scoring (109.6 points per game), 3-pointers made and 3-point percentage, finished the season 26-3, ranked No. 3 in the country. The Bears held the No. 1 ranking for a week in the middle of the season, becoming the first Northeast junior college to do so since 1974.
Kelly said Weijs averaged 6.1 points and 5.6 rebounds, while shooting 65.7 percent from the field in his 17 minutes per game. On the defensive end, Weijs shined, setting a Harcum record with 119 blocks – an average of 4.1 per game. While Weijs’ numbers were modest, Kelly said he was the best post player on the team and he was integral to Harcum’s success.
“His best strength is that he’s 6-10, really coordinated and really athletic. He runs the floor like a guard and he can do some things that most people his size can’t do,” Kelly said. “Definitely the biggest thing at the table is his ability to block shots. He really goes after the ball aggressively. He has great timing, he hustles and plays hard defensively. He has really long, long arms. That’s his No. 1 strength. For us, he was definitely a force. We’re very aggressive in our full-court trapping ... and if we give up the break, he’s the guy back. But it’s not a guaranteed layup because he’ll block a shot or change a shot. He’s definitely a presence back there.”
Weijs will graduate with his associate’s degree Saturday, probably spend some time in the Netherlands later this spring, and start his Maryland career this summer. His biggest priority, Kelly said, will be adding weight to a noticeably lean frame. A “super-fast metabolism” has made it challenging for Weijs to add weight in the past, but Kelly hopes the Terps’ strength and conditioning program will remedy that problem. Kelly won’t make any predictions on Weijs’ two years in College Park, but he is confident, at the very least, that he’ll fit in well at Maryland.
“I think if he continues to progress the way he’s progressing and continues to work hard, [take advantage of] an obviously great coaching staff down there and be able to do things we can’t do at this level in terms of strength and conditioning, it’s just going to help him play at the highest level,” Kelly said. “I couldn’t tell you what his potential is, because I’m not really sure I know that. There are a lot of unknowns there. ... But they’re getting a great kid, a great student that’s worked his butt off. He’s going to be a great teammate and buy in totally to the Maryland program. And that’s what you ask for.”
Photo of Berend Weijs courtesy of Harcum College.