By CHRIS McMANES — Mike Jones could easily put together a non-conference schedule that would almost guarantee his DeMatha basketball team wins every game. But that isn’t why young men come to play for such a storied program.
“We schedule as tough as we do because we know in the long run it’s going to benefit us,” said Jones, whose team plays at Eleanor Roosevelt on Thursday night.
DeMatha (4-1) played two tough games on Dec. 8-9 in the ARS/Rescue Rooter National Hoopfest Washington, D.C. The nationally sixth-ranked Stags fell to No. 3 IMG Academy before bouncing back to down Roman Catholic.
The showcase event, played at DeMatha’s Looney Convocation Center and streamed live by Monumental Sports Network, largely matched top local programs against some of the nations’ finest teams. Montverde (Fla.) Academy entered and departed No. 1 in the USA. One of their weekend victories came against No. 7 Sunrise Christian of Wichita, Kan.
Although college coaches usually come to events such as these with a targeted player (or two) in mind to scout live, they often discover another potential recruit. If that player, particularly an underclassman, is unsigned or uncommitted, he is now on the radar of at least one coach bearing a college scholarship.
“Events like this are great exposure for our kids,” Jones said. “I like to think that’s one of the reasons they decide to come to DeMatha. They know they’ll get to play in [a great] environment against teams from around the country.”
Saturday night’s game was played in front of a standing-room-only crowd. Numerous people were unable to buy a ticket after the fire marshal declared the facility at capacity. You couldn’t blame people for wanting to catch a close-up of nationally ranked opponents loaded with Division I prospects.
The Stags entered with its starting lineup intact from a 32-5 team that finished atop The Washington Post’s final rankings and won the school’s 40th Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship. Three players have already signed: Jahmir Young (Charlotte), Carsten Kogelnik (Brown) and Justin Morris (Villanova).
IMG, in Bradenton, Fla., attracts athletes from the world over to a school that offers what it considers to be a superb combination of, among other things, coaching, training, nutrition and national competition. Its supremely talented basketball team features Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (Villanova), Josh Green (Arizona) and Armando Bacot (North Carolina).
Jones is proud to host the prestigious basketball extravaganza: “At DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, on Madison Street, as we say, basically the high school basketball world converges here and gets to watch some of the country’s best players.”
Competing against great players provides a measuring stick to gauge your game and see where improvement is needed. For WCAC teams, it also helps to prepare them for the rigors they will encounter in the nation’s strongest basketball conference.
“It was good to play in this environment,” Kogelnik said. “IMG was really physical. Roman Catholic was physical as well. It was definitely a big stage.”
The Stags weren’t the only WCAC program to benefit from auditioning for college coaches against high-level competition. No. 11 Paul VI, Bishop McNamara, St. John’s and Archbishop Carroll also participated. Paul VI, which has lost two star players to ACL injuries, defeated a solid team from Wisconsin, Nicolet, by 11 points.
“You’ve got all these teams from the same league going against the best teams from around the country,” Jones said. “… And IMG and Montverde, their kids come from all over the world. So, the fact that our league, with all the homegrown players, is able to compete on that level with them … that’s what DMV basketball is all about.
“I can’t wait to do it again next year.”
Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams, who has led North Carolina to three national championships, attended DeMatha’s game against IMG with one of his assistant coaches, Hubert Davis. They were primarily posted at courtside to see Bacot, a 6-foot-10 center who will play for the Tar Heels next year.
On Sunday, head coaches included Patrick Ewing of Georgetown and Mark Turgeon of Maryland. Kentucky’s John Calipari was hoping to attend a game or two Saturday.
“Coach Cal was trying to get here after they played in New York,” Jones said. “But I know [a] Kentucky [assistant] was here. North Carolina [was] here. Patrick Ewing and Mark Turgeon were both here.
“And it’s all happening on Madison Street.”
The Stags will play in the ARS/Rescue Rooter National Hoopfest Dallas this Saturday night against Guyer High of Denton, Texas.
IMG Academy 75, DeMatha 68
The No. 3 Ascenders rallied from an early 12-point deficit on Dec. 8 to hand the host Stags their first loss. Jeremiah Robinson-Earl led IMG with 26 points on 11 of 18 shooting and 13 rebounds.
Armando Bacot added 12 points, 13 boards and three blocks. Jaden Springer had 14 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
DeMatha junior Earl Timberlake scored 20 points, and Justin Moore 16. Seven-foot junior center Hunter Dickinson tallied nine points, 10 boards, three blocks and two steals.
The No. 6 Stags hit four of their seven 3-pointers in the first quarter to build a 21-9 lead but entered the fourth period with a one-point deficit. The Ascenders scored the next seven points to lead, 62-54. DeMatha cut the advantage to four on two Timberlake free throws with 37 seconds remaining.
Stags Coach Mike Jones said his team did not have the defensive intensity it needed to win.
“Going forward, we learned a lot of lessons from what happened,” he said. “We definitely are good enough to play on that level with teams like that. We look forward to the next opportunity.”
DeMatha 70, Roman Catholic 61
Hunter Dickinson made 9 of 14 shots and finished with 20 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks to power the Stags on Saturday, Dec. 9. He was honored as game MVP.
Hakim Hart led the Cahillites (2-1) with a game-high 22 points.
Justin Moore added 19 points for DeMatha. Earl Timberlake had 11 points and seven rebounds. Carsten Kogelnik made all three of his 3-point attempts in the second half and tallied 10 points. He was pleased with his team’s overall defensive effort, while also recognizing room for growth.
“There were times we didn’t rotate well and a couple times on a ball screen we didn’t play it well,” Kogelnik said. “But overall, our second-half defense was really good.”
The Stags broke from a 44-42 deficit early in the third quarter with a 9-0 surge to move ahead 51-44. Timberlake sank two free throws during the run and took a charge. Kogelnik took a pass from Moore and nailed a three-pointer from the top of the key.
The punctuating play belongs on a highlight reel. Dickinson snared a rebound and passed ahead to Timberlake, who drove deep to the basket before passing back to Moore for a slam dunk.
Roman Catholic, of Philadelphia, fought back to trail by just one with 2:39 left. Dickinson answered with a pair from the line, and Kogelnik used a drive-and-kick from Josh Wallace to drop in another 3-ball.
After going just 1 of 5 from beyond the arc against IMG, Kogelnik was happy to finally ring up some 3s. He said the key to the victory was DeMatha’s commitment on the defensive end: “We learned if we play defense, everything comes easier for us.”
Jones said he was “happy to come away with a win against a talented team. Coming off of a loss, you always worry about your team’s mentality, especially when they have such lofty goals. I thought we responded.”
DeMatha Christmas Tournament
DeMatha will host an eight-team tournament on Dec. 27-29. Teams will come from Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina. DMV squads include Baltimore Poly, Rock Creek Christian, Wilson, Bowie and Riverdale Baptist.
Former Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell’s alma mater, Granby High of Norfolk, Va., and J.L Mann of Greenville, S.C., round out the field. Mann is coached by Mike Morrison, who played at Hyattsville’s Northwestern High School and in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns.
Here is the quarterfinal schedule for Thursday, Dec. 27:
Granby vs. Baltimore Poly, 3 p.m.
Wilson vs. Rock Creek Christian, 4:45 p.m.
DeMatha vs. Riverdale Baptist, 6:30 p.m.
J.L. Mann vs. Bowie, 8:15 p.m.
The consolation and championship semifinals are the same times the following day. The championship game is slated for Saturday, Dec. 29, at 8:15 p.m.
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) covers DeMatha basketball for the Hyattsville Life & Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChrisMcManes1.