By MARCUS HELTON (firstname.lastname@example.org)
BOWIE – The creation of the Maryland Trailblazers AAU organization stems from Marcus Verrine’s desire to give back.
“I’ve always wanted to be a coach, to be honest,” Verrine said. “I’ve played basketball all my life. I had chances to do something with it, and I took chances that I really shouldn’t have took, you know what I’m saying? So I always wanted to give back to the community and help the little kids that do have a chance to do something with themselves.”
As a result, Verrine and his uncle Dereke Shepherd started the Trailblazers earlier this year. The organization currently fields just one team - a 15U squad - but the new program has shown steady improvement, highlighted by a runner-up finish in the 15U Gold Division championship game at the DMV Elite National Championship Tournament earlier this month.
“I’m happy for my team,” Verrine said. “This is our first year in it, and every tournament that we play in, we’ve improved. A lot of these people have a lot of years into it; this is our first year. We’re still getting our players into it. We’ve got football players on our team that we’re making basketball players, you know what I’m saying? That’s how we’re doing it.”
The Trailblazers’ roster is comprised of players from throughout Prince George’s County and D.C. Making up this year's group are:
# 1 Damon Chandler (Suitland)
# 2 Shamar Jones (Henry A. Wise)
# 3 Aaron McDaniel (Fairmont Heights)
# 5 Tizlaam Jones (Henry A. Wise)
#6 Barry Giles (Spinarn)
#7 Shawn Coleman (Fairmont Heights)
#8 Jamal Crews (Fairmont Heights)
#9 Paris Jones (DuVal)
#10 Daquan Brewington (Fairmont Heights)
#24 Rodney Johnson (Caesar Chavez)
#25 Joseph Jackson (C.H. Flowers)
The Maryland Trailblazers pose with their runner-up trophy at the DMV Elite National Championship Tourney on August 14.
A D.C. native, Verrine moved out to New Carrollton and then to Landover, and made connections with young players in the area through pickup games at Columbia Park and Cedar Heights Community Center.
“The guys in the neighborhood that I knew and that knew my little cousins, I was just spreading the word out over the internet, you know?” he said. “And going up to the recs and passing out flyers and going like that. And then going on the AAU website, to the recruiting database. I did this thing from the ground up, just me and my uncle.”
The early going was rough, as Verrine said the Panthers took their lumps against more established AAU programs. Among the biggest problems, Verrine said, was getting his collection of individual talent to work together as a team.
“Some of them had attitudes,” he said. “A lot of their parents aren’t involved – like, I would love for a lot of parents to be involved with my team – but we had to just stick with it. It’s just coming together, and we had to be strong-willed. I couldn’t catch an attitude with them dudes, you know what I’m saying? They’re kids. I’m 26 years old, I say, ‘I could be your big brother. I know I can’t be your father, but I could be your big brother. Understand, I’m not going to steer you wrong.’”
The work seemed ready to finally pay off in the Gold final of the DMV Elite tourney, as the Trailblazers jumped out to a 14-point point lead with eight minutes remaining against Team Sizzle out of Baltimore.
Team Sizzle battled back, though, and tied the game in regulation before eventually earning a 74-71 victory in double overtime. The Trailblazers’ chances took a big hit when Jackson fouled out in regulation after scoring 25 points and hitting seven 3-pointers.
Despite the disappointment though, Jackson said he and his teammates knew they were on the right track.
“It feels good,” he said. “We won our games and we made it to the gold championship, and we had an opportunity to win a championship.”
If the Trailblazers’ steady growth continues, those opportunities should present themselves more often in the future.
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