North Penn, USA Science graduate Jess Huber is still a baller at heart
HORSHAM — Whenever she could have gone out, basketball kept bringing Jess Huber back.
That was the case again this summer as Huber helped her team of former USciences and other alumni win the 2022 Philadelphia/Suburban Women’s Summer Basketball League on Tuesday. The past two years have been a whirlwind for the former North Penn player, but basketball has always been there as an anchor.
Huber ended his college career with his best season, also one of the best in American science history and even now basketball is poised to bring it back and maybe even across an ocean.
“My parents and I were just talking about it, I thought I was done with it when COVID hit, but it’s been my life for so long,” Huber said. “I just couldn’t be done. After my fifth year, it was the same — I can’t take it anymore, but what else is there to do? So maybe it’s overseas.
On Tuesday, Huber had a team-high 12 points as his who’s who of homegrown standouts outscored Jefferson’s team of current and incoming players 62-54 to win the summer league title. The left-handed sniper, who joked she should have scored at least double her total, was one of the best players in the league with a five-game summer high of 20+ points, including a league-best outing with 27 points in the playoff quarterfinals.
All in all, it’s been quite a race for the Hatfield product given that in March 2020 the future of his career was a complete question mark. Huber’s junior season at USciences was cut short when the COVID-19 pandemic ended the varsity season ahead of the NCAA Tournament, then the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC), USciences’ home league, chose not to not have a 2020-21 sports season.
The NCAA granted all athletes affected by the pandemic an additional year of eligibility and for Huber, basketball brought it back again.
“I knew straight away I was going to go back,” Huber said. “I love him too much, I couldn’t just give him up. Now was not the time to hang up the shirt.
As things unfolded, his final act in college basketball would unfortunately also be that of USciences. Last summer, the university announced it would merge with St. Joseph’s University, meaning the Devils athletics program would cease to exist.
For Huber and the other seniors and fifth years like Taylor Hamm, Shannon May and Kendall Keyes who chose to return, it was an incentive to send the program in the right direction.
In addition to earning his master’s degree, Huber had a career season averaging 17.7 points per game on 37.8 percent shooting 3-pointers in 33.7 minutes per game. She was named CACC Player of the Year and added CACC Tournament MVP as the Devils won the league tournament for one final time before ending their season and program in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“I give all the credit to my teammates and my coaches, they knew exactly where to place me and how to help me score,” Huber said. “Winning the CACC was the icing on the cake, not just for us, but for (USciences head coach Jackie Hartzell and assistant Jim Ricci), we wanted to come out in style for them.”
At North Penn, Huber was part of the Knights power trio that included Sam Carangi and Irisa Ye and helped the program win a 2016 SOL tournament title, PIAA semifinals in 2016 and state quarterfinals in as a senior. Ye also played at USciences, earning All-American accolades, but made the difficult decision to forgo a fifth year of basketball to start medical school, where she is on her way to becoming a podiatrist.
The two former Knights were back together this summer, with May, Hamm and Dayna Balasa serving as the USciences core of their summer league team. Rounding out the list are Archbishop Wood and Chestnut Hill, Cassie Sebold, Kate Connolly, a Souderton/Drexel graduate, Jen Kremp, a Jenkintown and Dickinson graduate, Lexie Edwards and Allie (Fedorowicz) Crone, a St. Basil’s Academy and 2010 Cornell graduate and cousin of May.
With Ye, the 2019-20 CACC Player of the Year, moving on, Huber knew she would have to take on a bigger role, but also knew she wouldn’t be alone.
“Throughout pre-season we thought ‘this is the last year, we’re going out with a bang’, we were going to let everyone know who we were,” Huber said. “That’s exactly what we did. We all supported each other, we played for each other and not for ourselves and that’s how we win.
“It was a bit under pressure, but I like the pressure. I knew what I had to do and all my team-mates supported me and even if I had a bad game they still supported me. When you have a group of girls behind you like that, you can just go out and do what you do best.
Along with scoring her 1,000th career point — mirroring a feat she accomplished at North Penn — and hitting the 200th 3-pointer of her USciences career last season, Huber made history on February 15, 2022.
Three days after a career-high 30-point outing, Huber looked set to warm up as the Devils prepared to face Goldey-Beacom. By the end of the game, USciences had won 64-56 thanks to a program-record 45-point run from Huber, who single-handedly beat the Lighting 32-24 in the second half.
It was only the third performance of 45 or more points in CACC history, the highest total in the league since 2014 and the eighth best in league history and only the second such outing. by a Division II athlete in the past two seasons. Huber was 14 of 22 overall, 6 of 11 from three and 11 of 11 at the line with a second-half effort of 9 of 13 overall, 4 of 6 from beyond the arc and 10-from- 10 from the foul line and also managed to lead the team with eight rebounds.
“Even in the warm-up Shannon was like, ‘Jess, you’re really good today,’ and throughout the first quarter I warmed up and knew it could be a pretty big game,” Huber said. “I thought I would keep shooting and it wasn’t like we were running them over, it was a close game so I kind of knew what I had to do.
“It was really a shock to me. One of my teammates told me in the fourth quarter that I had 43 or something and all I could think of was ‘we have to play defense, we’re going to lose if we don’t play in defence.” It was a big game for us and I’m just happy that we won.
When the season finally ended, despite all of the Devils’ accomplishments individually or as a team, it was still a heartbreaking conclusion. Huber called it a “horrible” feeling, but his immediate thoughts weren’t about the end of his career, but rather about his coaches and the underclassmen on the roster who were faced with an impossible choice of furthering their education at the place where they worked so hard to get without a basketball or without a transfer if they wanted to keep playing.
“I was lucky I played four years in college basketball and they didn’t,” Huber said. “I had to go out and play hard for them, not just this game, but all season.”
Huber couldn’t escape basketball even when her team’s season was canceled as she helped out as an assistant coach to William Tennent during the 2020-21 PIAA season. When May began to gauge interest in returning for another summer league, Huber was there right away and it turned out to be a dream opportunity to just have fun playing the game.
Even now, the game is trying to bring her back, although this time quite far.
She hasn’t made a firm decision yet, but Huber said she plans to sign an offer to play abroad in Barcelona, Spain in the coming weeks. It’s something she started thinking about shortly after the last USciences game while weighing the commitment to leave her family on a full season contract.
Overseas teams usually have a limit on how many American players they can have on their roster, which was already a barrier, and on top of that they usually look for post players before guards or wings. Also, Huber was coming out of a Division II program – albeit a very good one – but when she first broached the subject with USciences coach Hartzell and Ricci, they were right in the mix trying to help Huber find an agent and teams ready to sign her.
“It was a lot harder than I expected, Jackie helped me so much,” Huber said. “I was waiting, there is one and now I’m just weighing the pros and cons. Everyone keeps telling me “you’re 23, you can travel the world and play a little basketball while you do it”. I’m sure I’ll sign.
Whenever Jess Huber starts to think she’s out, basketball is there to bring her back.
She wouldn’t want it any other way.
“It shaped my whole life,” Huber said. “It’s become what I do, I want to do it for a living. In many ways I basically have. All the coaches, all the different teammates I’ve had and their experiences, it molds you into as a basketball player but also as a person.