Some of the Washington area’s top boys’ basketball teams returned home with holiday tournament championships and will hit the road again this Saturday for one-day showcase events.
Top-ranked DeMatha and fourth-ranked Gonzaga, which won tournaments last week in Torrey Pines, Calif., and North Charleston, S.C., respectively, will be joined by third-ranked Paul VI Catholic in the Cancer Research Classic in Wheeling, W.Va.
Second-ranked Montrose Christian, which won the Iolani Classic in Honolulu just before Christmas, plays undefeated Kecoughtan of Hampton on Saturday in the 7 Cities Roundball Classic in Newport News, Va.
“The event we’re playing in every year has grown and gotten better,” said Gonzaga Coach Steve Turner, whose team plays Whitney Young of Chicago in a game that will be broadcast on ESPNU. “For all of us, it’s a chance to test ourselves against national opponents.”
While Paul VI took last week off after losing to national powerhouse Oak Hill in the championship game of the Chick-Fil-A Classic in Columbia, S.C., DeMatha and Gonzaga each won eight-team tournaments out of town.
DeMatha forward Jerami Grant was named tournament MVP as the Stags won The Holiday Classic, while Gonzaga forward Kris Jenkins won the same honor in the Piggly Wiggly Roundball Classic in North Charleston, S.C. Teammate Nate Britt was that tournament’s most outstanding player.
“One of the biggest things you get out of a trip like that when you go away is team bonding,” Turner said. “Having a chance to go on the road and play a team you haven’t seen is one thing, but the other thing is your team gets to bond when you travel. You play in a national tournament and it gives yourself a chance to get ready for our league because it is [tough] every night.”
Few may have been more surprised with Wilson’s 10-4 start — which includes a Pohanka Chantilly Classic title and early wins over strong and talented teams such as Spingarn and Sidwell Friends — than Tigers fourth-year Coach Andre Williams.
That’s because four of Wilson’s top players — guard Marcus Coates, guard Dimitri Gaither, guard DiAngelo Preston and wing Dre Williams — have only been together since August after spending last year at different schools. So the fact they jelled and played so well together quickly was an accomplishment in itself.
“I didn’t know that they would mesh together and I didn’t know that it would be this early,” Andre Williams said.
Williams had heard about Dre Williams, who saw little playing time at St. John’s last season, and eventually met him, telling him about the opportunity to come to Wilson. Then, Andre Williams was introduced to Coates (also at St. John’s last year), Gaither (formerly of now closed KIMA) and Preston (formerly of Cesar Chavez). All four players were on the same AAU team, Team Chaos, and essentially recruited each other to come to Wilson together.
“They kind of fell in my lap,” Andre Williams said. “I’m really happy that happened.”
Williams said he didn’t expect much from his team early this season because it lost 11 seniors to graduation and returned only one player. But the four players’ familiarity with each other has proved to be a winning formula for the Tigers.
Wilson defeated Green Run, from Virginia Beach, 56-46, for the first holiday tournament win under Williams behind 18 points from Gaither, 15 points from junior guard Cedrick McFadden and 12 points from Coates.
“We always came close but these guys closed it out,” Andre Williams said. “It really sets the stage for us going into league play. It makes me proud that these guys are playing well together. I’m excited.”
The goals were the same for the Thomas Stone boys’ basketball team last season, but the results were very different.
The No. 16 Cougars had won at least 21 games in four consecutive seasons before last year, but after the top six scorers graduated from the team that went to the 2010 Maryland 3A finals, they struggled through a frustrating 13-10 season last year that ended with a disappointing one-point loss to Huntingtown in the first round of the Maryland 3A regional playoffs.
“I had the same expectations last year as I do every year,” Thomas Stone Coach Dale Lamberth said. “A lot of these guys saw the guys before them, and they are playing in the exact same system. It was a matter of working hard enough to take the baton and create their own destiny.”
The playoff loss – in which Stone led by 12 points at halftime – was a wakeup call, and the Cougars entered this season with a newfound maturity.
Led by standout junior guard Michael Briscoe and senior forwards Brelin Elliott, Emeka Embakwe and Anthony Chesley, the 8-0 Cougars enter January as the last remaining undefeated team in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference.
They snapped defending Maryland 4A champion North Point’s 30-game winning streak on the Eagles’ home court last month, and are once again one of the teams to beat in the SMAC.
“The guys didn’t believe they could have success last year,” Lamberth said. “This year, guys are taking advantage of their opportunities and executing in their roles…We’re playing well but it’s still early. If you don’t stay focused this flame can go out real quick.”
Four Virginia AAA Cedar Run District boys’ teams reached the finals of holiday tournaments, signaling what could be an interesting district race when play resumes this week.
No. 17 Osbourn won the Glory Days Grill Tournament of Champions at Lake Braddock for the second consecutive year, beating Robinson, Hylton and Madison. Broad Run topped Stone Bridge and Briar Woods in winning the Honda of Dulles Holiday Tournament.
Stonewall Jackson reached the Mount Vernon Holiday Tournament championship, beating the host team and Ballou before falling 68-50 to a Florida Air Academy team that featured Texas signee Ioannis Papapetrou, a 6-foot-8 small forward.
Not a bad showing for a league that’s often squeezed out by its eastern Prince William County counterparts.
“I think we’ve been overshadowed by the [Cardinal District] for umpteen years,” said 12th-year Stonewall Coach Marcus Lawrence, whose team’s lone loss to a local opponent this season has been to No. 20 Gar-Field, a Cardinal team that won a holiday tournament in southwest Virginia.
“I think our district has proven early that we might be the toughest district in our region,” Osbourn Coach Mike Dufrene said. “When’s the last time [that happened]? We’ve always been the welcome mat for our region.”
Stonewall junior guard J.R. Washington turned in a 36-point championship performance, with an odd scoring line: one two pointer, six three-pointers and 16 for 19 at the line.
Washington, who scored all but 14 of his team’s points in the final, is now averaging 23.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.3 steals and 2.1 assists and has made 39 three-pointers, tied for the most in the Washington area.
It didn’t take long for Broad Run’s Nigel Johnson to establish himself as one of the area’s top scorers. After transferring from Paul VI Catholic before his sophomore season, the speedy point guard took the AA Dulles District by storm, averaging 25 points and leading the Spartans to a 19-5 record.
But for all his ability to put the ball in the basket, it’s the maturation of the rest of Johnson’s game that is setting the tempo for Broad Run’s fast-break offense. The Spartans swept local rivals Stone Bridge and previously-unbeaten Briar Woods at last week’s Battle of Ashburn and Johnson’s 28.5 points and 11 assists per game per game during the tournament were a big reason why.
“He worked hard to improve his strength and speed, and when he has the ball in his hands, it’s nearly impossible to stay in front of him,” Broad Run coach John Costello said. “But he’s made the other players on his team so much better this year. When guys run the floor with him, they get the ball. When he drives and kicks, they get open looks. He’s dominating the game.”
Johnson’s improved play is starting to draw attention from college coaches, too. He already made unofficial visits to Virginia Tech and George Washington, and last week, he landed an offer from Bucknell.
Defenses are also taking notice, providing a boon for players like senior forward Ryan McNamee. Stronger and fitter than he was as a first-year starter last winter, McNamee (16.4 points per game) provides an inside-outside threat to complement Johnson’s game. All-Met football players Connor Jessop and Jackson Matteo have also added toughness on the boards and a competitive attitude that has helped the team adjust to its first season in the AAA Cedar Run District.
But the Spartans have taken their lumps in the early going. Their lone wins against AAA opponents came against first-year Patriot and Stone Bridge (twice). They trailed Stonewall Jackson by two points heading into the fourth quarter, but gave up 34 in the final frame to drop their district opener. Five nights later, a sluggish start against Battlefield resulted in an 81-60 rout.
To get back into the district race, Broad Run must start stringing together victories in a hurry - with only six teams in the league, making up ground is no short order. The Spartans host Osbourn on Tuesday and get another crack at Stonewall Jackson on Friday.
“Last year, if we started off slowly, we could make it up. But in AAA, if you start that way, it’s almost impossible to get back in it,” Costello said. “Right now, we’ve got some momentum going, but we’ve got to come to play every night.” . . .
Johnson is hardly the only player piling up points this season in Loudoun County. Potomac Falls senior center Greg Graves and Woodgrove senior guard/forward Brad Gilson have already eclipsed 1,000 career points, joining Park View’s Ryan McCarter and Briar Woods’ Myles Tate in the exclusive club.
On Dec. 21, McCarter broke New Jersey Nets general manager Billy King’s 28-year-old single-game scoring record when he poured in 44 in a victory against Dominion. Two nights prior, Loudoun County senior Michael Anderson eclipsed the Raiders’ single-game mark with 43 in a win over Park View.
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