Eyes On the Prize
After capturing last year’s WCAC championship, the Stags return all five starters from last year’s team. The expectations are crystal clear, it’s championship or bust. When I was at Gonzaga a few weeks ago, Coach Steve Turner told me something I kept in mind while watching DeMatha’s open gym. He said, “Everyone around the league lost a key player, except DeMatha.” It is completely true and has a bigger impact than you could imagine. While I saw new players step up for Paul VI and Gonzaga, they are still adjusting everyday. In the case of those two teams, they lost their leaders (Brandon Slater and Myles Dread) who were also their teams best player at times during the season. What makes DeMatha so special this year, is that they don’t have to figure anything out. Last year, Coach Jones told me that he was still trying to figure out who his leader was, the team ended up bonding together en route to a championship. And while everyone else is figuring out who they are this year, the Stags already know themselves. Their entire starting lineup grew up playing in the Takeover program and four of them played together on the Takeover team who won the Peach Jam championship this past summer. A huge part of being a good team is having an identity. This team has the chance to be great because they have the talent, and they know their roles. Everyone brings their piece of the puzzle, and when you put it all together, you have a team capable of anything. And while the expectations of another championship are palpable in Hyattsville, I don’t think this team is phased by any of it. They are lead by one of the best coaches in the country in Mike Jones, who has instilled a great balance of freedom and accountability within this team. They have been in the moment before, and they know what it takes to get there. This team truly has the chance to do something special. With all that in mind, here are some of the players you should look out for.
The Villanova commit has always been one of the best scorers in the area and he has only gotten better. He can get a bucket from anywhere on the court and is very good at creating space to get his shot off. His teammates do a great job of finding him for open kick out threes, but Moore can also create for himself, and is very crafty around the rim. He is also an underrated playmaker, since he knows defenses are keying on him as a scorer. Not that he’s interested in anything other that a championship, but Moore is on the short list of contenders for WCAC player of the year, and it’s something to keep an eye on throughout the season.
The recent UNC-Charlotte commit has only gotten better since I first saw him. Young has gotten a lot more confident in his jump shot, which has made all other facets of his game easier. Also, his teammates were not hesitant to say he has the “Most bounce” on the team. And despite only being listed at 6 feet tall, Young said his signature dunk is the windmill, and that we might even see a between the legs dunk at some point. He is the true point guard for this team and is always looking to push the pace and get his teammates involved; Young is the catalyst to the entire offense.
Although I’ve seen Dickinson multiple times in the past few months, he made the biggest impression on me during Wednesday’s short open gym. Everyone knows Dickinson has great touch and can dominate around the rim, but I saw him sizing up defenders from twenty feet out, consistently knocking down his jump shots and dishing out high IQ dimes from everywhere on the court. It is also clear that he really committed to getting in better shape, as he is running the floor better than I’ve ever seen him before. Dickinson’s all around game is very impressive for a guy his size, and I would be prepared to see his entire arsenal this year.
The Brown commit is one of my favorite players to watch in the entire league, not because he is going to throw down a poster dunk or drop his defender to the ground with a crossover, but because he plays basketball the right way. If there’s a loose ball on the court, Kogelnik will be the first one to dive for it. During the workout, he was embracing his senior leadership role while finding the balance of encouraging his teammates and instilling accountability. All of this aside, he can absolutely shoot the lights out and requires defenses to always need to keep an eye on him. Kogelnik brings heart, high IQ, shooting and leadership that has become a crucial part of DeMatha’s success.
Timberlake is the definition of a basketball Swiss-Army knife. He has everything you want from a player and can impact the game in so many different ways. Timberlake is a great athlete, which allows him to be elite in transition and finish above the rim. And when he’s not finishing with a dunk, he has a lot of finesse around the rim that allows him to finish around big men. His jumpshot is looking as fluid as I’ve ever seen it, as he is pulling up for three pointers and mid range shots with a ton of confidence. Timberlake also has a crazy work ethic, a DeMatha coach told me “[Timberlake] might’ve taken five days off all summer.” He brings a tough edge to this DeMatha team, and will always be one of the biggest competitors on the court, no matter who’s playing.
All of these players are great individually, but they also compliment each other really well. This team truly feeds off of each other and it is a huge part of what makes them special. Be sure to keep up with the Stags throughout the season on Jakeinthepaint.com and @Jakeinthepaint on Twitter. Also, keep an eye out for Coach Jones on my “Coaches Corner” podcast in a couple of weeks.