By CHRIS McMANES — Not too many middle school coaches can say they’ve coached three NBA players and an NFL Pro Bowler. Joe Sego can.
Sego, celebrating his 25th year coaching in Hyattsville, will lead his eighth St. Jerome team into the city championship game tonight against Washington Jesuit Academy at DeMatha High School. Game time is 6:30 p.m.
The Jaguars won their fifth Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) Mid-Atlantic Varsity A boys title over WJA in 2015. St. Jerome is 0-3 against the Panthers this season.
The Jaguars advanced to the championship with a 39-35 victory over Holy Family at Sprinbrook High School on Saturday. The Jags trailed 9-2 before reeling off a 26-2 run. They took a 28-11 lead into halftime and held on at the end.
Sego, who also guided St. Jerome to two other city championships and has several players in college, has turned down every offer to coach in high school. In 2015, he became the parish’s athletic director.
“I’ve got everything I need right here,” Sego said. “We’re producing top talent. We’ve got a beautiful gym. We’ve got a storied history and a great tradition. Why would I want to leave?”
Sego came to St. Jerome in 2006 after coaching baseball, basketball and soccer at St. Mark the Evangelist Parish on Adelphi Road. He assisted Dick Brown that first year during what would be Brown’s 40th and final season. Cancer claimed his life that July.
The team featured Victor Oladipo and Quinn Cook. Oladipo, who was having another great year for the Indiana Pacers this season until he was injured, is the only Jaguar to be selected in the NBA Draft. In 2018, he was chosen for his NBA All-Star game.
Cook, who graduated a year later, earned an NBA championship ring last year with the Golden State Warriors.
With Cook and Oladipo having moved on to DeMatha, Sego wasn’t expecting his 2008 squad to qualify for its third-straight city title game. Instead of Cook, then one of the area’s most talented point guards, he had an undersized Kameron Taylor leading the offense.
In the city semifinals, the Jaguars rallied from 17 points down at halftime to win by one over Our Lady of Mercy. They captured the crown two days later over an undefeated Holy Redeemer Kensington team. That squad was coached by Jack Buchanan, now the head St. Jerome JV coach.
“We played so well as a team, and they all were friends with each other,” Sego said. “We just went on this magical run. In the championship game, Kameron had an amazing game. And Devin Williams, my [Hurricane] Katrina survivor, was knocking down 3-pointers. It was amazing. We won by five points.
“That was my first city championship. That started everything.”
In the stands that day at Catholic University was a pudgy St. Jerome fifth-grader by the name of Marcus Derrickson. By 2011, he had grown into what Sego describes as the “most dominant” player he’s ever seen in CYO. He, Naji Marshall (Xavier), Kenny Wormley (Hofstra), Jeff Downtin (Rhode Island) and Kellon Taylor (Duquesne) teamed to lead Sego to his second title.
Taylor (Kameron’s brother) is playing football and basketball in college. Kameron is a hardwood professional in Hungary.
Derrickson starred at Paul VI High School and Georgetown and is now on a two-way NBA contract with the Santa Cruz Warriors and Golden State.
“Just think, within a two-year span in this building, there were three future NBA players in the hallways and going to classes,” Sego said after practice at St. Jerome Academy on Sunday. “It’s kind of hard to believe.”
Sego’s third championship club (2015) was also loaded with talented players. Three of them, Thai’re Vance (DeMatha), Devon Dunn (St. John’s) and Malcolm Dread (Gonzaga), played last week for teams in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference tournament semifinals.
Another team member, Nick Cross, was named All-American last season in football and is one of the top sprinters in the nation. He recently signed to play football at Maryland.
DeMatha basketball coach Mike Jones recently invited the Jaguars to participate in an elite middle school showcase.
“It’s impressive that Joe consistently produces top teams and has them in the discussion to be the best in the city,” Jones said. “His accomplishments deserve attention.”
St. Mark’s beginnings
Sego began coaching St. Mark’s 14-and-under C basketball team while still a senior at DeMatha in 1993-94. He needed service hours to graduate, and his mother urged him “not to wait until the last minute” to complete them.
“I went to the athletic director and asked him if there was anything I could do,” Sego said. “He said, ‘congratulations, you’re a head coach.’”
From 1996-99, Sego guided his own team and was a varsity A assistant under Mike Gielen, whose grandson, Justin, plays soccer at Maryland after a two-sport career at DeMatha. St. Mark’s was a powerhouse in CYO baseball, soccer and basketball.
The hoops team won city championships in 1996, ’99 and 2000. In the last two seasons, the club was 91-6. The 2000 squad punctuated the campaign by traveling to Wilmington, Del., and defeating teams from Baltimore and Philadelphia.
Cameron Wake was a member of that 1996 team. He blossomed into a Canadian Football League star after playing for DeMatha and Penn State. He is now a Pro Bowl defensive end with the Miami Dolphins.
Building a winner
Sego doesn’t go out seeking basketball players. He has developed such a good reputation that top players’ parents come to him. If a young man is not a St. Jerome student, to suit up for the Jaguars he has to be a member of a Catholic parish or school that doesn’t have a basketball team.
Sego’s program gives players exposure and often leads to several high schools vying for their services. If not, he can call one of the many prep coaches with whom he has developed a trusting relationship.
“The coaches know that players coming out of my program are going to be good citizens, are going to get the job done in the classroom, come from good families and can play,” he said. “They know that St. Jerome won’t tolerate any less.”
Jaguars’ point guard Harold Taylor, in his third year playing for Sego, will play for DeMatha next season. He speaks highly of his mentor.
“He teaches us a lot about fundamentals and how to work hard and strategize on the court,” Taylor said. “He’s preparing us to get into high school because when we get there, we’re going to have to learn twice as many plays as we run now.”
The key to success
Sego said having played for Mike Landi, who recently announced that he’s stepping away from CYO after coaching 43 years, and succeeding Dick Brown, who coached at St. Jerome from 1966-2006, has inspired him to continue leading the Jaguars.
“We had a lot of great teams and big-time athletes at St. Mark’s,” including former NBA players Danny Ferry and Jerrod Mustaf, “but we also had consistent coaching,” Sego said. “Before Mike Gielen, it was Roy Cornelius. And Mike Landi was coaching fifth and sixth grade at the time. They were both there for years.”
Sego cites coaching longevity as the key to success at St. Mark, St. Jerome and Holy Family.
“In the last 20 years, we have the most successful programs,” he said. “And what do we all have in common? Long-term, consistent coaches that weren’t looking to jump to high school but care about their CYO programs. The formula is there.
“That’s what I’m most proud of outside of the winning.”
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) coaches baseball and basketball at St. Jerome Parish.