The D.C. Assault youth basketball program has seen a number of high-profile players and coaches roll through its ranks over the years, but just one photo appeared after clicking the “About Us” link on the organization’s Web site.
It was a picture of Curtis Malone, who founded the organization in 1993 and turned it into one of the nation’s most powerful youth basketball programs. By Tuesday morning, however, that photo had been erased and any connection between Malone and D.C. Assault was nowhere to be found on the Web site.
On Friday, Malone was arrested on drug-trafficking charges as part of a year-long investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration. Now, college basketball coaches are left to ponder how the local recruiting landscape will change with one of its most powerful figures facing serious criminal charges.
Former Virginia Tech Coach Seth Greenberg, who coached former D.C. Assault product Deron Washington, said the organization was known for having talented players with character issues a decade ago, but that its reputation had been rehabilitated in recent years as parents became more involved.
“They have good kids in their program. They really did,” said Greenberg, who also recruited D.C. Assault products Josh Hairston (Duke) and Eric Atkins (Notre Dame). “I thought Curtis helped a lot of kids, but if these allegations are true, he was also hurting the community. I’m in total shock.”
Malone operated more in a general manager role for D.C. Assault, which has produced nine McDonald’s all-Americans. He took great pride in the number of former D.C. Assault coaches who moved on to college jobs.
But in a statement released Monday, the organization said Malone had not been involved in its day-to-day operations in recent years and would have no affiliation with the program going forward. Malone told a Post reporter in April that he had been considering leaving youth basketball altogether because it had grown “too competitive.”
But until Tuesday, Malone was still listed as the president and co-founder of D.C. Assault, and he remained the face of the program for college coaches and for the shoe companies — first Adidas, then Under Armour — who courted his services. On Tuesday, Under Armour told The Post in a statement that it “is not in a position to comment at this time on the allegations against Mr. Malone or our sponsorship of the DC Assault program as we are currently gathering all of the facts and details.”
Damon Handon, who has taken over D.C. Assault’s day-to-day operations, did not respond to a cellphone message seeking further comment.
“A lot of programs have come and gone over the years and that one has had staying power because of Curtis,” said one ACC assistant coach who regularly recruits in the Washington area. The coach, who asked not to be identified in order to speak candidly, noted Malone is far from “the worst” youth basketball power broker college coaches had to deal with and that “he wasn’t as involved in recruiting as some would have you believe.
“There’s quality people still involved with the organization, so if they continue to get top players, coaches will still recruit them.”
Recent D.C. Assault standouts include Roddy Peters from Suitland High and O’Connell All-Met Romelo Trimble. Peters will be a freshman at Maryland in the fall, and Trimble has given the Terrapins an oral commmitment. Dalonte Hill, an assistant on Maryland Coach Mark Turgeon’s staff, both played for and coached D.C. Assault teams.
Through a team spokesman, both Turgeon and Hill declined to comment on Malone.
Turgeon’s courtship of D.C. Assault players stands in stark contrast to former Maryland Coach Gary Williams, who had a notoriously icy relationship with Malone. Williams declined to discuss Malone or D.C. Assault when reached for comment Tuesday, saying “there’s enough documented in the past.”
Whether players and parents will be turned off by Malone’s alleged crimes remains to be seen because the summer basketball circuit ended in July. D.C. Assault’s under-17 team this year included Trimble and Riverdale Baptist’s Chinanu Onuaku, a 6-foot-10 forward considered to be a top target of Maryland and Virginia, among others.
Greenberg believes the organization Malone built will need to take drastic measures to rehabilitate its image once again.
“I would change the name, without a doubt,” Greenberg said. “They may have to re-brand themselves, and the way to re-brand themselves is to change the name.”