Thurgood Marshall Academy Coach Lafayette Dublin began to realize he was onto something this winter during the postgame handshake lines. After each victory, the opposing coach would sheepishly admit he expected an early-season tune up, not a loss.
They weren’t alone as the Southeast Washington charter school stockpiled wins. Dublin kind of agreed.
“If you look at us come out of layup lines, we’re not that impressive,” he said. “But we get out there and we’re pitbulls.”
Thurgood Marshall (13-3) is the biggest boys’ basketball surprise in the D.C. Public Charter School Athletic Association this year, beating opponents it rarely has in the past. The Warriors finished with an above .500 record last year, but five of their losses came by at least 24 points to charter school league teams, including a 95-22 loss to National Collegiate.
Even as recently as this summer, Thurgood Marshall went without a win when Dublin entered them into The Rock summer league. But with a new coach fresh off a successful two-year run at DuVal, the Warriors beat National Collegiate, 47-33, on Jan. 12.
“They were so used to losing that now they’re shocking themselves,” Dublin said. “They were demoralized by some of the losses last year. Now they feel they can play with anybody.”
Dublin’s presence has helped. Two former DuVal junior varsity players with parents living in Washington followed him to Thurgood Marshall, including key addition junior point guard Desmond Rene. But leading scorers Malik McMillan, who played just two games last year due to eligibility issues, and Dewaine Green are both returning seniors.
Last year, DuVal fell one game short of the state semifinals, losing in the Maryland 4A South final to eventual state champion Wise. With a new administration coming in at the Prince George’s County school, Dublin chose to leave for more resources and fewer restrictions at Thurgood Marshall.
Dublin took his entire coaching staff from DuVal with him, most notably former George Mason star Lamar Thomas.
“We have a lot more money. We take charter buses to the game — 69 seats, TVs,” said Dublin, who coached Radford signee Edward Polite and Division I prospect A.J. Wilson last year at DuVal. “As for recruiting, I can get any kid in D.C. It changes the parameters from having to get five kids within a five mile radius to the whole District of Columbia. I have free reign to do a lot more.”
“We’re trying to build the same culture here. I had more talent at DuVal, but these kids play harder.”
This budding reputation, McMillan added, is the biggest difference considering six of the team’s nine rotation players were on the roster during all those setbacks in 2013-14.
“We play harder now than we did last year because our coach is more supportive and he pushes us more in practice,” McMillan said Sunday, less than 24 hours after a 64-42 win over Friendship Collegiate. “As he pushes hard in practice, we go out there in the game and it just shows. We just work harder than everybody.”