DeMatha basketball punctuates one of its finest seasons with three championships

DeMatha basketball players celebrate the program's 40th conference championship. Photo courtesy of Ed King

By CHRIS McMANES — DeMatha Catholic High School has one of the nation’s finest basketball traditions. It has helped develop several All-Americans, won six national championships and produced five former players currently in the NBA.

Morgan Wootten, the man who built the program during his 46-year coaching career (1956-2002) on Madison Street, is enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Adrian Dantley, a four-year (1969-73) starter for Wootten, was also inducted into the Hall of Fame.

So, for the DeMatha program to do something it never has is quite an accomplishment. The Stags did just that in 2017-18 by becoming the first Stags’ club to win three postseason tournaments.

DeMatha capped a 33-5 campaign by capturing the Alhambra Catholic Invitational Tournament (ACIT) title at Bobcat Arena in Frostburg, Md., on March 10.

Mike Jones, the man who succeeded Wootten, could sense early on that his current crop of Stags was going to be something special. After the first game of the year, he told his players, “if we’re going to be that unselfish, we have a chance to accomplish a lot.”

That they did.

The Deer Men brought their 24th ACIT championship back to Hyattsville by defeating WCAC rival O’Connell, 69-57. They added it to their 2018 Maryland Private Schools Championship and Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) titles. A season that opened with nine straight victories closed with 10 in a row.

Seven-foot sophomore Hunter Dickinson won his second postseason Most Valuable Player award in the ACIT final after posting a game-high 18 points and 10 rebounds. Justin Moore added 16 points, while Earl Timberlake had 13 points, 10 boards and seven assists.

The trio make up the nucleus of The Washington Post’s No. 1 team. All five starters are expected to return next year. Jones calls his squad “young, experienced and versatile.”

The private schools tournament is the newest of the three DeMatha won. In 2014, it replaced the D.C. City Title Game, which the Stags captured 22 times. Dickinson totaled a career-high 31 points and 21 rebounds in the championship game and was named MVP.

Moore, a 6-foot-4 guard, scored a personal-best 34 points in the WCAC semifinals against O’Connell. Dickinson had 12 points and nine boards in the WCAC championship game. His late steal helped seal DeMatha’s 54-53 victory over Gonzaga for its 40th Catholic league title. Moore and Dickinson were named first-team All-WCAC.

Jones said his players were able to withstand the burden of trying to win the Stags’ first WCAC crown since 2011. “They really embraced that and wanted to be the team that got us off the hiatus,” he said. “I’m extremely proud of them. I know how much they worked for this.”

Winning the WCAC is a major accomplishment and the primary focus of DeMatha’s team goals each season. Many consider it the finest high school basketball league in the country.

“One good thing about playing in the WCAC,” Stags senior Justin Gielen said, “is that you get to play against very good teams in a big-time atmosphere.”

The basketball training and competition players receive at DeMatha has helped Victor Oladipo, Jerian Grant, Quin Cook, Jerami Grant and Markelle Fultz ascend to the NBA.

These and other former Stags, as well as local prodigy and NBA All-Star Kevin Durant, often work out at the school’s Looney Convocation Center during the summer.

Mike Lonergan, the only man in college basketball history to win an NCAA Division III national championship and the Postseason NIT, played at rival Archbishop Carroll in the 1980s. He has worked at summer camps run by Joe and Morgan Wootten.

“DeMatha basketball is a dynasty,” Lonergan wrote in an email. “From Coach Wootten to Mike Jones, their teams continue to win championships and 25-plus games a year. Several players go on to compete in major college basketball and graduate.

“I’m not surprised to see Mike’s team back on top.”

For more on DeMatha’s latest conference championship, see http://bit.ly/2plcGUQ.

All-Metropolitan Stags

Junior Justin Moore was named first-team All-Met by The Washington Post. Sophomores Hunter Dickinson and Earl Timberlake were also honored. Dickinson was named to the third team, Timberlake to the fourth.

Chris McManes (mick-maynz) covers DeMatha basketball for the Hyattsville Life & Times.

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