When they walked into the gym for their game against No. 4 Riverdale Baptist at the DMV Tip-off Classic Saturday, every member of the DuVal Tigers basketball team wore a black hoodie with the words “Started from the bottom” written in orange across the front.
Besides a shoutout to rapper Drake, the sweatshirts are a perfect fit for a team enduring a trying start to a once-promising season: not only did the Tigers lose leading scorer Michael Cunningham to a non-academic eligibility issue before the season, but they’ve also lost five of their first six games. Internal and external expectations for DuVal didn’t provide for “starting at the bottom,” but that’s exactly where the Tigers find themselves.
“We’re just really getting settled with a young team,” Coach Lafayette Dublin said. “We’ve got two seniors. But I’ve seen the effort, and effort is what keeps you in ball games.”
That effort is what makes the Tigers’ 1-5 record deceiving. Two of their losses came by a combined seven points, and the Tigers disrupted No. 4 Riverdale Baptist throughout the first half of Saturday’s game before succumbing to the Crusaders’ size late. The same script played out against then-No. 12 Wise, who DuVal troubled with ultra-athletic defense and constant scrappiness before big plays inside allowed the Pumas to make a second-half move.
“We’re playing a lot better than where we started,” Dublin said. “From where we were last week and the week before? A lot better. We’re going to be fine in the second half of the season.”
If the Tigers are to steady themselves and avenge early season losses in their second trip through the league later this season, they’ll need to rein in explosive forwards Edward Polite and A.J. Wilson. The 6-foot-5 junior and 6-7 sophomore, respectively, are highlight-reel threats on every possession, but jump high, fall hard, and occasionally take an ill-advised shot or make an over-aggressive turnover. Given their ability to disrupt defensively, though, that duo and a similarly quick backcourt have all the tools to shake up the Prince George’s 4A standings as the season goes on.
“We’re definitely getting better,” Wilson said. “We’re learning how to play together. We try to use our athleticism as much as we can. We don’t rely on it, but we know we have it as an asset.”
“We just have to play,” he added. “Stop thinking about it so much, go out there and play.”
Potomac guard Dion Wiley rolled his left ankle in the Wolverines’ 69-49 win over Gwynn Park last week. Though he played in Potomac’s highly-anticipated matchup with O’Connell and fellow Maryland commit Melo Trimble Saturday, Wiley was visibly hobbled, and limped heavily out of the locker room with an ice bag on after the game.
Coach Renard Johnson said he hadn’t expected Wiley, who scored 11 points in the game, to play at all, and that he was unsure about Wiley’s status was for Potomac’s next game, Friday against Baltimore’s Poly.