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Wilson basketball takes the court with a cast of transplants

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In the past three seasons, Ariel Watson has played for three different high schools. The senior bounced from Montrose Christian to Good Counsel to McKinley Tech in those years, with each program providing a haven for the 6-2 guard to develop his game and become one of the city’s best slashers.

But he left each school with an empty feeling. This past summer, after deciding not to return to McKinley Tech, he had one last chance at a home for his senior season. A teammate at McKinley Tech, Donte Carter, had spoken with Wilson Coach Andre Williams about transferring in August, and Williams jumped at the idea because he had just one returning varsity player (6-4 Wolde Jordan) and needed help. Soon, Watson followed, and became part of the package deal with Carter.

“We still had some holes. We were missing a leader,” said Williams, now in his fifth year at the helm. “I spoke with Donte first. He told me he wanted to come to Wilson, because he didn’t really care for Coolidge or Roosevelt on the court. And I was like, you know what? That’s what I like to hear.”

The two transfers have gone all in for their new program, which is 4-0 after beating Takoma Academy (1-2) Tuesday night. That win followed two important league victories to begin the season, over Spingarn (0-4) and Eastern (0-3). Watson and Carter have been at the core of the Tigers’ reboot, but aren’t the only transplants this season: Williams also has St. Albans transfer Larry Holmes at his disposal, as well as guard Chris Henderson, who attends School Without Walls, which doesn’t have a basketball program this winter and allows its students to play for other schools in the city.

“It’s been fun. Very fun,” said Carter. “I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t really know anybody.”

Working with new pieces is nothing new for Williams, who had six transfers on last season’s squad that won 23 games and contended in the DCIAA West. Williams has worked hard to develop his junior varsity program into one of the city’s best — a team that went 42-1 the last two seasons — and into a feeding ground that can provide stability for the varsity club in the years to come. But the reality is, he said, transfers are an integral part of the basketball landscape in the city, and can mean the difference for a school trying to compete for the coveted city championship.

“I don’t think it started in DCIAA. I think it started within Catholic schools. Catholic schools taking inner city kids and they’re now pulling them out to wherever they are, Maryland, Virginia. I think kids became accustomed to moving through that. . . . At the end of the day people want to win the ultimate prize, which is the city title,” said Williams, who played at Anacostia from 1995 to 1998. “It’s like a free agent market. . . . WCAC schools they have unlimited range. They can go out and get a kid from California, Canada, Africa, wherever. And we have to stay in this small city.”

Williams said he is thankful to give players like Watson and Carter one last chance to play within his program. Both have looked good in the early going, too; Carter has scored in double figures in three of the four wins, and Watson opened the season with 20 points against Spingarn and was key to keeping talented guard Jerome West in check during the 69-47 win.

“I think our team is still getting there,” Watson said. “I found a home here for this year, my last year. I felt like every team was going to be a home. It didn’t really work out that way.”

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