Jalen Barnes vividly remembers his February 2010 visit to Maret as an eighth-grader looking for a high school home. He and his father watched from the steep cement seats that line one wall of the school’s gymnasium as the Frogs boys’ basketball team took on Georgetown Day in a sparsely-attended late-season contest.
“There was nobody there,” Barnes recalled.
The previous night, the two had sat elbow-to-elbow amid nearly 1,600 spectators at Trinity University for a matchup of perennial private school powers DeMatha and Gonzaga that featured 11 future Division I players.
“I remember seeing him and his dad sitting there and nobody was around them,” Maret Coach Garrett O’Donnell said of the Barnes’s visit to Maret’s Woodley Park campus. “I thought to myself, ‘they’re never going to come here.’”
Barnes, a resident of Prince George’s County, had the option to play under the bright lights in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. So, too, did fellow Prince George’s natives Steffen Davis and Drake Goddard.
But rather than join a WCAC team with a storied history, the trio decided — independently — to enroll at a school where basketball was far from the main draw. The Maret School is known for its rigorous academic curriculum and a diverse student body, 42 percent of which are students of color, according to the school’s Web site.
Four years later, Barnes, Davis and Goddard are the lone seniors on a revitalized 14th-ranked Frogs basketball team looking to claim its second Mid-Atlantic Conference championship in as many seasons while the trio thrives in the classroom.
“I felt like I had an opportunity to go to a school that had prestigious academics, and I really wanted to be challenged,” Goddard said. “Coming to Maret, I knew I would be able to play varsity right away, and I could develop my skills as a point guard.”
Maret has 306 students in its upper school, and last year the entire 84-student senior class went on to attend college.
The school’s rigorous curriculum forced Davis, Barnes and Goddard to adjust their study habits and time management their first two years. Goddard’s report card was solely C’s his first year, while Davis saw his honor roll grades from middle school slip dramatically when he arrived at Maret. Barnes struggled so much as a freshman, he said he was “embarrassed” to show his parents his initial grades.
“I didn’t have to study much in middle school,” Goddard said, “but I had to learn how to get into the habit of meeting teachers and building relationships.”
In the first trimester of their senior year, which spans September through November, all three seniors posted a grade-point average of 3.0 or better. They each scored better than 1600 on their SATs.
The trio pointed to math teacher and ninth grade dean Tiffany McBride as a guide to their growth as students. McBride, 35, has helped them set up appointments with other teachers and keeps an open-door policy.
She taught all three geometry and wrote Davis’s recommendation letter for the schools he has applied to.
“They are just genuinely nice people who want to do well,” McBride said. “They are willing to put in the work, and they’re going to pull themselves up when they stumble. And they’re willing to reach out and ask for help.”
Goddard is getting interest from Florida International, Cal State-Riverside and Northern Arizona. Davis has an offer from Quinnipiac and several Division II schools, and Barnes is receiving interest from Longwood, Lynchburg, Oberlin and Shepherd. All three hope to play basketball at the next level.
“I think the opportunity and the education got them here,” O’Donnell said. “I think the faculty and staff and students kept them here. And I hope when it’s all said and done, they say they made the right decision, and then it’d been worth it.”
After four straight losing seasons, Maret hired O’Donnell ahead of the 2009-10 campaign, and he immediately began scouting the area for talent. He and his staff familiarized themselves with the Prince George’s County basketball community, and they now host middle school tournaments to help pique the interest of players who might otherwise overlook the school as a basketball option.
In his first year, O’Donnell, who was previously an assistant in the WCAC at O'Connell, guided the team to a 13-10 finish, but returned only one senior and one junior from that roster, leaving him searching for talented ninth-graders to fill out his team.
Goddard, who played with Davis as 5-year-olds at Tucker Road Community Center in Fort Washington, spent his seventh and eighth-grade years at Montrose Christian, and expected to join a Mustangs varsity team with a growing national reputation. But Maret provided an opportunity to vie for a starting spot immediately.
Davis popped up on O’Donnell’s radar when a former assistant mentioned Holy Family had a good student who could really play. After one visit, Davis liked what he saw.
“It was great. I liked all the freedom they had,” said Davis, who discussed the prospect of attending Maret with both Barnes and Goddard before making his decision. “At a Catholic school, it was kind of restrictive, so I enjoyed seeing the kids eating and doing homework outside. The kids seemed cool and energized.”
Meanwhile, O’Donnell forged a bond with Barnes while watching him on the AAU circuit. Barnes said he knew he could help build the program while gaining a great education.
“I just think the school itself was different,” Barnes said. “I saw how the teachers assisted the students and that really appealed to me.”
As members of a four-man freshman class, Goddard, Barnes and Davis immediately made their presence felt. Goddard, now a 6-foot-2 guard, led the Frogs in scoring at 10.5 points per game while Davis also averaged double-figures and hit 27 three-pointers. Barnes played in nine games and averaged 4.2 points.
The Frogs went 18-10 in the trio’s first season and 15-13 in 2011-12. But last winter, led by current Binghamton freshman guard Marlon Beck and balanced production from Davis, Barnes and Goddard, Maret broke through with a 24-4 campaign that included the school’s first outright MAC title. The students have taken notice, too. With temperatures in the single digits on Jan. 7, a vocal contingent of about 50 students watched the Frogs roll past Georgetown Day.
Paced by Davis’s 17.2 points per game, Maret is off to an 11-6 start this winter with key wins over MAC rivals St. Andrew’s and St. James. And while the team is still searching for consistency, its trio of seniors is focused on furthering its impact on a blossoming basketball tradition at the tiny school in Northwest and continuing the relish their high school experience.
“If I didn’t go through this, I don’t know where I would be right now,” Davis said. “I love just being around the different people and cultures.Going to school here has taught me how to act and react to people of different races and ethnicities.”