Sam Caldwell remained in his metal chair on New Hope’s bench most of Wednesday night, hardly feeling the need to yell at the officials or his players. When his team’s 71-55 victory over T.C. Williams was complete, New Hope’s coach unfastened his red bow tie from his blue dress shirt, stood and strolled through the postgame handshake line.
When Caldwell started New Hope’s girls’ basketball program in July 2017, he didn’t expect to feel so relaxed at the end of games so soon. But in just his second season, Caldwell has transformed the No. 15 Tigers into one of the area’s best teams with five Division I signees.
Even No. 14 T.C. Williams (3-1), one of Virginia’s top programs, couldn’t keep it close.
“I knew we were going to be good,” Duke signee Jennifer Ezeh said, “but I didn’t think it would happen this fast.”
Riverdale Baptist fired Caldwell in March 2017 after a five-year stint. Caldwell is an adjunct professor at Bowie State, so his students who had attended New Hope told Caldwell about his high school.
New Hope (10-1) is focused on academics, so while the Landover Hills school offered recreational sports, it didn’t have a varsity sports team.
“They wanted to grow, too,” Caldwell said, “so it was a perfect match.”
Caldwell brought Ezeh with him from Riverdale Baptist. Caldwell has been coaching in the area for 23 years, so he reached out to local coaches and trainers and filled his wallet with new blue business cards. New Hope is an independent private school, so Caldwell can recruit freely.
The Tigers went 14-15 last season with nine varsity players, but their national schedule attracted talent. Caldwell added players from top local public schools and even convinced Lithuanian native Elze Motekaityte, who was on his AAU team this past summer, to remain in the United States.
This year, varsity players at other schools transferred to New Hope while knowing they might play on the Tigers’ junior varsity squad, which also travels cross-country. Vanderbilt signee Demi Washington and Virginia signee Kylie Kornegay-Lucas, both of whom transferred from out-of-state schools, teamed up with Ezeh.
New Hope is constructing its first basketball court, so the Tigers practice and play at an Upper Marlboro recreation center.
In November, New Hope beat teams from Texas and Alabama. New Hope can prove itself as one of the nation’s top teams Saturday against No. 2 McNamara.