Third in an occasional series on how area high school athletes are spending their summers with hopes of continuing their sports careers in college.
See that tall, slender body coasting gracefully in the open court? See the 6-foot-7 John Flowers handle the ball like a point guard a foot shorter than he is? See him finish the fast break with a smooth tomahawk jam?
See all that? Flowers doesn't think enough people do.
"I don't know how to get colleges to notice me," said Flowers, a rising junior at Thomas Stone and a basketball talent many believe is the best Southern Maryland has produced in recent years. "I'm not sure what I need to do."
The summer between a high schooler's sophomore and junior years is considered the most critical time for those who aspire to play in a major college basketball program. After a season of shoe-company-sponsored camps, leagues run at local schools and AAU tournaments nationwide, the pecking order for the junior class is established, and colleges can begin phoning recruits monthly.
Flowers, 16, thinks he should be highly regarded in the local and national recruiting circuits. He has played with and against some of the Washington area's elite. He sees these players get pounced on afterward by college coaches. He hears about the boatloads of recruiting mail they receive. He reads their names on recruiting Web sites.
And he wonders.
"I'm just as good as those guys," the 185-pound Flowers said, "and I'm not getting squat."
This is Flowers's goal for this summer: persuade recruiters to look at a talented player from a region that seldom produces Division I basketball players, let alone one with the potential to play in a high-profile program.
"It's too early to tell, but do I think he has the potential to be as good as anyone? Absolutely," said new Westlake Coach John Mappas, who has coached at five other Southern Maryland Athletic Conference schools and two junior colleges since 1969. "The difference between this kid and other kids [who have come out of Southern Maryland] is he's 6-6, 6-7 who can be a 2- or 3-man. And he may not be done growing."
But how are college coaches going to know about that? After Chopticon made its second straight appearance in the Maryland 3A tournament -- losing to Friendly in the 2003 state championship game -- its top two players, guard T.J. Carter and forward Jonathan Pease, signed with UNC-Wilmington and Towson, respectively. They are the only SMAC players to go directly to Division I basketball programs since Westlake's Greg Jones committed to the Citadel in 1999. Some observers think Flowers needs to play more games outside Southern Maryland. To do so, he would have to transfer, because state rules limit schools to no more than 20 regular season games, and SMAC teams play a 16-game conference schedule. That leaves Thomas Stone with four chances to play opponents that might be familiar stops on the recruiting trail.
Flowers is also mindful of the recent standout Stone athletes who graduated without meeting NCAA academic requirements. No matter how talented Flowers might be, no matter the statistics he puts up over the next two seasons, he won't play college basketball unless he qualifies academically.
"His situation is a lot different than any player we've had come out of Stone," Cougars Coach Dale Lamberth said. "We tell him all the time he's going to be the one who sets the new standard."
Flowers said: "People . . . are putting stuff in my head. You should stay. You should go. It's too much."
So Flowers is considering transferring. He looked at the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, whose teams include DeMatha, Gonzaga, O'Connell and St. John's, schools that routinely produce All-Mets and send them to top 25 college programs.
Flowers is talking to St. Mary's Ryken, a program entering its third season in the WCAC and looking to make a name for itself. Flowers, a first-team all-SMAC selection last season, knows he would give the program instant credibility in Southern Maryland. He also knows he would be playing against Washington's best every week in gymnasiums across the metropolitan area.
"I want to play against the top players," Flowers said. "If I drop 20 [points] and play good defense on one of the top players, I'll get recognized. In the WCAC, you get a lot of looks. [College] coaches are always there. Even if they're not there looking at you, you could have a good game and then they'd want to talk to you."
St. Mary's Ryken Coach Danny Sancomb said, "If he had that [all-conference] type of success in our league, he'd probably be having a much different summer than he is having."
Lamberth contends that the lack of tangible recruiting buzz should play into Flowers's favor. Especially with the Internet's presence in recruiting, no capable player goes unnoticed.
"If I'm a recruiter, I don't want to make a lot of noise," Lamberth said. "I want to keep him hidden. You think that if I'm [Georgetown Coach] John Thompson III I'm going to brag to people that I'm going to see this kid? No way. I'm going home to sip some tea and be quiet.
"I understand the argument, but I don't agree with it."
Flowers doesn't have to go far for some perspective. His older brother, Nathan, who graduated in June and was a two-time All-SMAC selection, had academic troubles and did not qualify. John Flowers said that has made him focus on class work.
Also, Flowers's mother, Pam, was a three-time all-American at Louisiana Tech from 1980 to '82. When John hears praise at games, his mother is there to set him straight.
"People will tell him how good he is," Pam Flowers said, "and I say to him, 'Get in there and get a rebound.' "
Although her son is experiencing a different recruiting scene than she did, Flowers understands her son's abilities and limitations on the court, unlike most players' mothers.
"Everybody tells us college coaches don't come to Southern Maryland for basketball," Pam Flowers said. "But if he [transfers], it's whether or not he's going to play. You don't get any exposure if you don't play.
"If we decide he goes somewhere, we hope it's the best decision."