Gonzaga will look to repeat as WCAC Champions. [Charles Matthews]
The air is getting crisp, the sun goes down earlier, and college basketball feast week has begun. All of these things mean that the high school basketball season is ready to kick off.
December is a time where there are an abundance of good basketball being played all around the DMV, with no shortage of showcases. The Morgan Wooten Classic kicks off this weekend, with the DMVelite NoVa Tip-Off Classic and National Hoopfest and up December 7. After that you have the DMV Tip Off held at North Point High School and mixed between these events are several other high-level events taking place prior to the Governor's Challenge after Christmas, including the Jump Ball Showcase Series by More Than Basketball and the annual Sleepy Thompson Tournament at St. Stephens & St. Agnes.
With all these great events being held there is a lot of good basketball to watch. Here are some early things to check out for in the early high school season:
1. DeMatha, Gonzaga, Paul VI and ???
The WCAC is perennially at the top of high school conferences in the country, with multiple teams normally in the mix to be nationally-ranked. This year is no different, with the likes of DeMatha, Gonzaga and Paul VI all being in the preseason rankings. Outside of them, who will be the other team to emerge? At McNamara, 2nd year coach Keith Veney looks to build on a solid first year with highly-rated Favor Aire, rising junior Terrance Butler and impact transfer David Brown. Look for them to make a huge push this year. St. Johns College lost Darius Maddox to transfer to Oak Hill but look for Rhode Island signee Ish Leggett to shoulder a greater load. If the young players can pick up the slack for Coach Pat Behan’s team St. Johns could be as dangerous as anyone this season. The sleeper team to watch will be St. Mary’s Ryken led by Coach Walter Booth. His team has talent, experience and continuity which should give the Southern Maryland school a shot to make a huge push to be in the upper echelon of the conference.
2. Who stands out in the Beltway League?
On paper Rock Creek Christian may have one of the Top 5 most talented rosters in the DMV headlined by 2019 DMVelite 80 MVP Milton Matthews and 6’7 Forward Zaakir Williamson. However a team to keep an eye on is National Christian Academy led by blue chip recruit Jakai Robinson. NCA isn’t a one trick pony as they have depth, size and an impact transfer at the point guard spot in Yuri Covington from Clarksburg (Md.). Look for Trevor Brown’s team to push the pace and wear teams down with its defense and length, a staple of NCA teams in the early 2000’s. Look for new league member New Hope Academy to make some noise as well, with a Devon Savage-led Riverdale Baptist squad also in the mix.
3. Can Poly make it four straight?
Coming off its 3rd consecutive Maryland Class 3A state championship, Poly will look to make it four straight with yet another talented group. Coach Sam Brand returns four-year starting point guard Rahim Ali and Marquette-bound star forward Justin Lewis, as well as key contributors Brandon Murray and Ian Wallace.
4. Bulldogs Rising
Eleanor Roosevelt and Henry A. Wise may be the favorites in PG County but don’t count out Coach Tremaine Price’s team in Bowie. No big names, but they have good guard play and decent size. Look for them to make a push late in the season as the younger players get accustomed to new roles.
5. Can anyone in the DCIAA knock off Wilson?
Angelo Hernandez has had one of the more impressive runs in the DCIAA winning multiple titles and sending numerous players to the Division 1 level in recent years. With Jay Heath and the Mitchell twins Makhi and Makhel gone, Dimingus Stevens transferring, this may be the year Theodore Roosevelt knocks them off…. Or maybe the Coolidge Colts who boast size and speed. Wilson is the early favorite but look for a more competitive DCIAA this season.
6. Can St. Frances continue its run of dominance?
Nick Myles and his St. Frances Panthers had a banner season last winner, winning the MIAA A and Baltimore Catholic League titles. SFA lost some key pieces from that team but return the bulk of their talent (Ace Baldwin, Jordan Toles, Jamal West) and added even more via transfer in Julian Reese (New Town), Byron Ireland (Annapolis) and Jahmal Banks (Bishop O'Connell). St. Maria Goretti gave the Panthers a challenge last year, and will look to do so again behind D-I bound seniors Matt Rogers (American University) and Briggs McLain (Hartford).
7. New Challengers In NoVa?
Schools like Potomac, South County and Wakefield have established themselves as the teams to beat in Northern Virginia in recent years, with teams like Freedom-South Riding, Lake Braddock, Loudoun Valley and Potomac Falls also emerging. This year a few more contenders will try to join that mix. TC Williams made major strides in its first season under coach Daryl Prue, and will look to improve with the addition of a few transfers, notably 2020 wing Torrence "TJ" Horton from Paul VI. Look for Battlefield, Fairfax, Osbourn, Osbourn Park and a few others to vault themselves up. Don't sleep on Patriot, either, which is coming off the most successful season in its short history and is looking to reload on the fly.
8. Saints Look To Repeat Success
St. Stephens & St. Agnes graduated a ton of talent from last year's IAC and VISAA championship squad, including DMVelite Nova Player of the Year Charles Thompson (Towson). They didn't miss a beat this offseason though, winning the Capitol Hoops Summer League at DeMatha and showing they've still got plenty of firepower. Andre Screen (Bucknell), Xavier Lipscomb (Radford) and Jared Cross (Army West Point) will lead the way as the Saints look to repeat. Nearby rival Episcopal and an improving Bullis squad will lead the charge to unseat them.
9. Sleeper teams to watch
Everyone knows the big names in the area but here are a few teams that should be strong in their respective conferences:
New Hope Academy
10. Players to watch:
Earl Timberlake, DeMatha
After an impressive run this summer with Team Durant, look for the Miami commit to be the engine for a nationally rated DeMatha team this winter. He will be firmly in our All-DMV Player of the Year watch.
Jeremy Roach, Paul VI
After sitting out a year due to an ACL tear, all rumors say Jeremy is back and better than ever. Look for the senior guard and Duke commit to lead a talented PVI team on a deep run into the WCAC.
Jakai Robinson, National Christian
Jakai has been the headliner for NCA since his freshmen season. Look for big numbers from the multi talented guard who will be asked to score, defend, facilitate and lead for a National Christian team that looks to be one of the better teams in the area on paper.
Jamel Melvin, Potomac School
Under the radar for many years but looks to be tapping into his size and length. If he puts it all together, look for the Potomac School to contend for a MAC championship and for him to be in the running for an All-DMV selection at year end.
Benny Williams, St. Andrews
Skilled, long and athletic are all adjectives used to describe the junior wing. Consistency will be the key for the junior forward who looks to solidify himself as one of the premier players in the DMV.
Quincy Allen, Maret
Every time out Quincy looks to be more confident and more assertive. Always a skilled player, the nationally rated junior looks to lead a Maret squad who graduated 4 year star EJ Jarvis. Look for Quincy to put up big numbers and lead Maret to some huge wins this season
Zaakir Williamson, Rock Creek
“ZaZa” had an impressive run this past summer, leading DC Premier to the UA Association 16U title game. The do it all forward has an improving skill set and has been dominant at times. If he is consistent, Rock Creek will be the favorite to repeat as Beltway League champions.
Rodney Rice, Bullis
The Super Soph has a chance to be special. He put up big numbers at times as a freshmen and led the charge for an ultra-talented Team Durant squad. He should only be better this season.
Marcus Helton contributed to this report.