With the high school and college basketball seasons finished, The Washington Post will use the coming weeks to look ahead to next season, when some of our area’s prep stars will bring their skills to various campuses across the nation. This is the first story of the series.

George Mason men’s basketball coach Dave Paulsen was in the bleachers at Oxon Hill in March 2019 when Ronald Polite received a pass while cutting to the paint. There were teammates around Polite, but the Clippers guard saw a small opening to the left side of the basket. He attacked the gap, jumped around a defender and finished a layup through traffic.

It was only the second quarter of Oxon Hill’s Maryland 3A playoff game against Potomac, but Paulsen had seen enough. He told assistant coach Duane Simpkins that he was sold on Polite, and he offered him a scholarship in the locker room after the Clippers’ win.

Paulsen said the intuition Polite displayed on that play is unteachable, and it’s one of the most important skills the senior will bring to George Mason, which finished this past season 17-15, including 5-13 in the Atlantic 10.

“As good as Ronald is, he’s going to come to a program that really values player development,” Paulsen said. “The Mason program’s a sleeping giant, and I think he’s a sleeping giant.”

Though not a coveted prospect nationally, Polite emerged as one of the area’s top players this season, averaging 22.5 points and 5.5 assists while leading Oxon Hill to its first Prince George’s County 3A/2A/1A title since 2010. The first-team All-Met selection’s season ended with a loss to Southern Maryland Athletic Conference champion St. Charles in the second round of the 3A playoffs.

Polite made a big jump athletically this season, even throwing down one of the area’s best dunks over a Potomac defender in February. His intelligence, though, is what has stood out to his coaches.

He grew up studying former NBA stars while watching “Hardwood Classics” on NBA TV. In middle school, Polite observed opposing players’ tendencies during warmups. And while playing quarterback as a kid, he could roll out and still find open receivers on the opposite side of the field.

“The thing that’s super exciting for me about him is his ability to pass, his vision and his unselfishness,” Paulsen said. “Passing and vision and basketball IQ are at shorter supply now than ever. He brings that right to the table right from Day One.”

Polite grew up as a facilitator, but he developed into a go-to scorer entering his junior year by improving his midrange jump shot. Oxon Hill Coach Lewis Howard sold George Mason’s coaching staff on the fact that Polite plays fast and doesn’t become rattled under defensive pressure. Polite believes his skill set translates well to George Mason’s up-tempo, pick-and-roll-heavy offense, which is similar to Oxon Hill’s.

“As time went on, I had to become a better scorer, create by myself a little more, because that’s what was best for my team,” Polite said. “I had to learn how to create plays from nothing.”

In July, Polite verbally committed to George Mason, partly because it was the first school to offer him a scholarship. He also considered William & Mary, James Madison and Delaware. He signed with the Patriots in November.

George Mason graduates two players and expects to return most of its scoring. Former local high school stars Jordan Miller (Loudoun Valley) and Xavier Johnson (Episcopal) should remain key contributors in the backcourt.

Polite will have to earn a spot in a rotation that usually went nine players deep this season. Paulsen said he doesn’t know what Polite’s role will be during his freshman year, but he predicted Polite directing the offense at times and forcing turnovers with his 6-foot-3, 162-pound frame.

“If you just look at him and you didn’t see him play, you wouldn’t think that he could do the things that he can do,” Howard said. “The unteachable things that he has is his feel for the game.”

Howard believes Polite has a high ceiling and could become the Atlantic 10’s top player during his George Mason tenure. Paulsen does, too.

“I don’t think it’s a question of if he’ll be an elite player for us,” Paulsen said. “I think it’s a question of when.”

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