Sixth-ranked DeMatha hosts No. 3 team tonight in National Hoopfest tournament

DeMatha High School, which won its 40th conference championship last season, begins the year ranked sixth in the nation. The Stags host No. 3 IMG Academy tonight in Hyattsville. Photo courtesy of Ed King

By CHRIS McMANES — DeMatha Basketball Coach Mike Jones tried something new in preseason practice this season.

“We toned it down in terms of wear and tear,” Jones said. “Last year was a long season. With so many guys returning, and a lot of those guys having long summers with their AAU organizations and things like that, we scaled it back a little this preseason just to try to keep them fresh for a longer period of time this season.

“So, I won’t say we’re behind because it was by design, but we definitely have our best basketball in front of us.”

The Stags, coming off a 33-5 season and ranked sixth nationally by MaxPreps, have opened the season with three convincing wins. Their level of competition rises considerably tonight when they host No. 3 IMG Academy in the Looney Convocation Center at 8:45.

The game is part of the three-day ARS/Rescue Rooter National Hoopfest Washington, D.C. It began last night and continues with six games today and five Sunday. Action gets underway at noon.

The Monumental Sports Network is streaming the games live. Admission is $15.

The three-day showcase event also features No. 1 Montverde (Fla.) Academy. The Eagles improved to 5-0 last night with a 68-41 victory over No. 7 Sunrise Christian of Kansas. Montverde plays Washington Catholic Athletic Conference stalwart and No. 11 Pope Paul VI tonight at 7 p.m.

In addition to DeMatha and Paul VI, other WCAC schools include Archbishop Carroll, St. John’s and Bishop McNamara. The Stags will play the final game of the Hyattsville extravaganza Sunday at 7 p.m. against Roman Catholic of Philadelphia.

IMG Academy, based in Bradenton, Fla., features Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Villanova), Josh Green (Arizona) and Armando Bacot, a 6-foot-10, 235-pound center who has signed with North Carolina.

DeMatha will counter on the blocks with 7-footer Hunter Dickinson, a junior who is evaluating offers from around the country. One of five returning starters, Dickinson is surrounded by a talented cast that includes junior Earl Timberlake and seniors Carsten Kogelnik (Brown), Jahmir Young (Charlotte) and shooting guard Justin Moore (Villanova).

“We’ve got new faces, experienced faces; we’re a very versatile team,” Jones said. “They’re all good. I love them all. My job, our job, is to push them daily to improve as individuals because that makes our team better.”

IMG is coached by former St. John’s head man Sean McAloon. He was coach when the Cadets downed the Stags in the 2016 WCAC final.

“They’re extremely talented,” Jones said. “We know that we better be ready to play.”

He said being familiar with how McAloon coaches is not an advantage.

“I know that his team is going to be very well coached, very well prepared,” Jones said. “We still have to do what we can control.”

Tournament proceeds benefit sick children

National Hoopfest, founded by President and CEO Travis Haddock and former NBA great Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, hosts four events around the country. DeMatha will play Guyer High of Denton, Texas, on Dec. 15 in the Dallas suburb of Waxahachie. Other areas include Tampa, Fla., and Memphis, Tenn.

“High school basketball is really in its glory right now, with social media and great coverage, and it’s taken very seriously. It’s great,” Haddock said.

Haddock said National Hoopfest makes about $50,000 a year to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.

“We’ve raised over $100,00 for St. Jude’s so far,” he said. “This year, we’re at $20,000 already before event number one.”

Haddock speaks highly of Hardaway, now head coach at the University of Memphis.

“I’m very proud of him,” Haddock said. “He does so many good things for people that you don’t even hear about. I’m really proud of that friendship and that relationship.”

Chris McManes (mick-maynz) covers DeMatha basketball for the Hyattsville Life & Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChrisMcManes1.

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