It’s tough these days to find standout players who haven’t honed their skills on the AAU circuit. Most of the area’s top teams are loaded with AAU products, so those who aren’t among them find themselves competing for college opportunities against opponents with hundreds more games of experience and hours more of highly coached practices.
But Parkdale guard Kareema Conteh and her Panthers teammates are proving that AAU experience isn’t a prerequisite for high school basketball success. At 21.4 points per game, Conteh, who doesn’t play AAU ball, is the third-leading scorer in Prince George’s County behind Potomac’s Myia Fletcher and Flowers star De’Janae Boykin. Parkdale (8-6, 7-6 Prince George’s 4A) is 7-6 against league competition, and was tied with No. 7 Flowers heading into the final minute before the Jaguars pulled away.
“We just have to want it more, be hungry for the ball a little more, because the other players are more experienced than we are,” Conteh said. “We’re not intimidated at all. We don’t say, ‘Oh my God, it’s Bowie, oh my God, it’s Flowers.’ We just see it as a group of girls that want to play basketball just as we do, so we go in very competitive, very aggressive, and try to do the best that we can.”
Parkdale Coach Lawrence Watson says the Panthers’ aggressive mentality begins with Conteh, who leads her younger teammates more with actions than words.
“When we’re down, I just say, ‘Hey, Kareema, we need five baskets,’” Watson said of his 5-foot-6 guard, who has scored 30 points or more four times this season. “She’ll go out and get us the five baskets or more. And then she just continues to drive the team, gets everyone involved, and that leads into what everyone else is doing. They get more pumped as she goes.”
Conteh didn’t begin playing basketball until seventh grade, a recent arrival in the game common to her Parkdale teammates. Watson has seen Conteh, a four-year varsity player, make up for lost time with a constant willingness to absorb information. That eagerness has translated to better on-court decisions and an increased scoring ability.
Conteh says she’s been “a sponge” for information from Watson and other coaches, and spent hours of every summer day in whichever open gym she could find, honing her shot and improving her game. But for all the time she’s put into basketball, not playing AAU has helped Conteh maintain her focus on what she feels is most important: academics.
“Schoolwork comes first. I always tell myself I’m a student-athlete, not an athletic student,” said Conteh, who has a 3.8 GPA. “That’s really my motto. We have study hall almost every day, and I do my work, then go straight out to the court and do what we have to do for practice.”