Etou isn’t alone in his assessment of the boys’ basketball talent in the region, one with roots of national prominence that reach back some 40 years. So far this season, five D.C. area teams (DeMatha, Gonzaga, Montrose Christian, O’Connell and Paul VI) have made appearances in ESPN’s top 25 high school basketball poll while DeMatha’s BeeJay Anya leads nine local players who hold a four-star rating or better across ESPN’s junior and senior class rankings. This weekend, DeMatha, Gonzaga and Montrose Christian will take to the national stage at the Spalding Hoophall Classic, an annual tournament known for drawing the country’s best teams onto the floor and top college coaches into the stands at Springfield College in Massachusetts for the nationally televised showcase.
The area’s perfect storm of nationally regarded talent, respect and expectations is why Marcus Derrickson, a Maryland native, found himself counting down the days until he could join the high school basketball scene. And now that he’s a sophomore at Paul VI with offers from Georgetown, Indiana and Maryland, Derrickson welcomes the prospect of facing a top team or recruit each time he takes the floor, as was the case for him and Paul VI in December.
After opening the season against Gonzaga , a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference rival featuring the nation’s No. 73 senior in Kris Jenkins, the Panthers knocked off national power Oak Hill Academy, 56-54, in double overtime five days later at the National High School Hoops Festival. The result marked the first loss in 56 games for the Warriors, who boast Nate Britt, a senior guard bound for North Carolina and a D.C. native.
“Before I started playing in high school, I knew the talent level in this area was high with guys like Kevin Durant playing at Montrose [Christian] and all the WCAC schools around, so there’s sort of a responsibility to live up to what they accomplished in high school,” said Derrickson, who averages a team-high 12.6 points. “Beating Oak Hill felt good. Nobody wants anybody to come in and outcompete them because we take pride in representing this area.”
How basketball took over
In the minds of many teenage players and middle-aged coaches, the D.C. region has always been a high school basketball hotbed. But before the likes of Durant, Elgin Baylor, Adrian Dantley and Rudy Gay graced this area, legendary DeMatha coach Morgan Wootten can remember a time when basketball was a one-season afterthought.