A year ago, the Cardozo boys lost to Bell and Ballou by a combined 45 points, averaging just 40.5 points per game in each of those contests and giving first-year Coach Charles Harrison a much-needed gauge on his basketball team’s direction. So it was understandable that Harrison and his boys were not only hyped to play the Griffins and Knights last week, but reveling after returning the favor. The Clerks were terrific in both road contests, beating Bell 93-85 in a shootout and edging Ballou 74-64 two nights later.
Cardozo (6-0) has been one of the city’s biggest surprises in the first three weeks of the season under a now-seasoned second-year coach in Harrison. It is the best start in at least five years for Cardozo, which started 1-5 each of the past two seasons and 2-4 in the two years prior to that.
“It’s just one of those things where everything is clicking, but we still have a long way to go,” Harrison said. “The kids have been working really hard on and off the court.”
At the center of the resurgence is junior Thomas Jackson, a 6-foot-5 junior swingman who may be one of the city’s best kept secrets. This winter marks the first time Jackson has played high school basketball. He was academically ineligible to play as a sophomore, and before that, his experience came on the either the District’s playgrounds or on the AAU circuit, he said. That unconventional experience has given Jackson the confidence to step into his new role with the Clerks.
“I heard they haven’t been 6-0 for a long time,” Jackson said. “I’m looking forward to being 7-0, 8-0, 9-0, 10-0, 11-0 — 20-0, if we can get there.”
But Jackson is fitting right in on the high school hardwood. He’s averaging 25.5 points per game, and he saved his two best games for the first two league opponents in Bell and Ballou last week, dropping 21 and 28 points, respectively. The Clerks have plenty of weapons surrounding Jackson, especially in the backcourt. Sophomore guard Kelvin Koonce (11.3) has shown flashes, including a 21-point game against Bell, and fellow point guard Jameel Waller (11.5 points per game) has averaged 18 points in the last two games and is one of only three seniors on the team.
The toughest adjustment of Jackson’s first year of high school ball has been meeting the defensive demands of Harrison. But Jackson certainly has the physical gifts to be an effective defender (“If we don’t play defense, [Harrison] gets on us,” Jackson said), and that will be the difference in Cardozo sustaining its run as league play approaches, he said.
“When you turn the ball over, you’ve got to make up for it on defense. You know what they say, defense wins games,” Jackson said. “That’s just the hard part, for right now.”
Wilson responded to two straight early season losses with two consecutive wins last week over Ballou and Eastern, the latter of which was a one-point win that could set the tone for the rest of the year. What the Tigers (4-2, 2-0 DCIAA) have this season, as opposed to years past, is the luxury of physical, durable post players that control the front court, according to Wilson Coach Andre Williams. Center Aaron Slaughter (6-feet-6) had 12 points and 15 boards in the win over the Knights, and Paul VI transfer Miles Gillette, a versatile 6-5 bruiser, has averaged 7.1 points per game this season (13 points against Eastern).
“We able to get points in the paint, and its just been awesome. It’s definitely different from a coaching perspective,” Williams said. “But that’s really what’s been helping us, is getting points in the paint.”
That type of presence on the blocks has also opened up the floor for Wilson’s guards, childhood friends Dimone Long III and Larry Holmes, who are averaging a combined 32 points per game the first month of the season. Holmes is the true point guard who picked up invaluable experience with the team as a junior last season, averaging eight points, six assists and three rebounds per game. Meanwhile Long (19.2 points per game) has seen his scoring opportunities increase, and he’s taking full advantage. He opened the season with an impressive 21-point performance against South Lakes, and last week he had one of the best offensive performances of his career against Ballou, scoring 31 points. Long had seven three-pointers in that game, all chances that are a byproduct of the chemistry he has with Holmes on the court, he said, and the amount of attention Wilson’s front court has been demanding.
“I’m a shooter, so as soon as they double down on our bigs, they pass it out. We have great passing bigs,” Long said. “They have a great feel for the game. It’s been nice.”