With one week remaining before the playoffs in The Rock summer league at High Point, there seems to be a clear divide between the Washington area's top private schools and Prince George's County's public schools.
Entering this week, five private schools -- including county teams DeMatha and Bishop McNamara -- were undefeated in the league. (DeMatha and McNamara also are undefeated in their other summer leagues.) At the same time, the division composed primarily of public school teams did not have a team with a winning record; Oxon Hill and Northwestern were tied for first place at 3-4. (The league schedule has teams facing opponents exclusively from the other division).
Whether the disparity will carry over to next winter is up for debate, but at least one county coach thinks a message has been sent.
"There have been years where we've had some great public school teams," Eleanor Roosevelt Coach Glenn Farello said. "But right now, it is very clear that the private schools are stronger than the public schools for this coming year. There are some great teams in the [Washington Catholic Athletic Conference]. . . . The talent level in the private school teams for this coming year is as good as I've seen it over the last several years. And at the public school level, we don't have any dominant teams that we've had in the past."
Northwestern, which won the Maryland 4A title this season, lost many of its top players, including Georgetown-bound Jeff Green. Roosevelt, which is 2-6, has back several players but junior forward Jourdan Morris recently transferred to Montrose Christian. Oxon Hill's top players last season were seniors.
Farello and Northwestern Coach Tony Dickens pointed to the fact that unlike private school coaches, those in public schools cannot work with their players during the offseason. That means it might take longer for inexperienced players to learn what is necessary to succeed, the coaches said.
"It takes us longer to retool because we can't work with our kids," Dickens said, adding that he does not think summer results carry much meaning. (Northwestern, though, won The Rock title last summer before going on to win its state title.)
Of course, perhaps the county's best public school team does not play at High Point. Gwynn Park, which had only one senior on last season's team that lost in the Maryland 3A final, hosts its own summer league.
"There is no question in my mind that Gwynn Park is as good a team, top to bottom, depth, they've got shooters, they've got big guys," said Farello, whose team lost by 15 points to the Yellow Jackets this past Sunday at a team camp in Trenton, N.J. "They are as good as I've seen."
Another private school team enjoying success is Riverdale Baptist, which won the Falconers League championship last Friday and has lost only one game this summer.
The Crusaders, who were 23-6 last season, won the And 1 High School Basketball Championship's East Region II title and went 11-0 in the Falconers League that they host. Despite missing five key players last week, they were able to hold off Douglass, 42-39, in the championship game. Senior forward Irvin Jones scored a game-high 14 points, and senior point guard Kenny Burks scored all of his seven points in the second half as Riverdale rallied from a 25-17 halftime deficit.
"We've been pretty steady throughout my years here at Riverdale," Coach Lou Wilson said. "This is another team that is having a good tournament, good summer league and is priming for an excellent winter run."
The Crusaders will play as a team in the under-17 Amateur Athletic Union national championships that begin July 25 in Orlando. It will be Wilson's second trip this summer to the AAU nationals -- he coached Team Maryland to a sixth-place finish in the under-13 tournament.
Douglass in Search of Coach
Douglass is seeking a new head coach after Taft Hickman accepted an offer to become the boys' basketball coach at Kempsville High in Virginia Beach.
Hickman, who had worked in Prince George's since 1970, had been part of the county's retire-rehire program that brought retired teachers back to work. But with uncertainty surrounding the program, Hickman joined a growing list of coaches who opted to leave their positions, including Oxon Hill athletic director and volleyball coach Christine Johnson and High Point boys' soccer and girls' basketball coach Ken Griffith.
"I've been around [the county] a long time, but I'm looking at this change as a good change for me," said Hickman, who also was the head coach at Laurel and Potomac high schools and had three stints at Bowie State, two as a head coach. "I think sports are very big in Virginia Beach. I've been down there a couple times and met with the kids. They seem very hungry and excited."
Hickman, who grew up in Oklahoma, graduated from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, then moved to the Washington area because his brother was a teacher at Anacostia High School.
"I had never been in this area, so I decided to take a chance and drive up here," Hickman said.
Now, he is taking another chance.
Douglass Athletic Director Bill Hay said he is accepting applications to replace Hickman. In the meantime, junior varsity coach Lloyd Bryant has been supervising the team's summer activities. . . . Forestville Coach Glennard Johnson has been named the school's athletic director.