Kevin Durant and beyond, Prince George’s County’s basketball shines

Prince George's County
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The DeMatha Catholic High School basketball program has been renowned for decades. Longtime coach Morgan Wootten won so much, he made the Basketball Hall of Fame. His most famous victory came in 1965, when DeMatha snapped the 71-game winning streak of Lew Alcindor and Power Memorial (N.Y). DeMatha has produced several NBA players, including Adrian Dantley and Danny Ferry.

Victor Oladipo grew up near DeMatha, attending elementary school just down the street.

Yet, he never even heard of DeMatha until eighth grade.

“Growing up, I was a little anti-social,” Oladipo said. “My parents didn’t really let me go anywhere, go out, hang out with friends. That’s not really our forte. That wasn’t really our speed.”

After attending a DeMatha game with someone, Oladipo was intrigued. He researched the school, became impressed with its pedigree and wanted to enroll. He went to the office to get a registration form and bumped into current DeMatha coach Mike Jones. Jones asked whether Oladipo was signing up for summer league.

“What’s summer league?” Oladipo replied.

Oladipo learned quickly about the basketball scene in Prince George’s County, Md. – the elite talent, year-round infrastructure and deep passion. For anyone else unfamiliar with PG, a new documentary (“Basketball County: In The Water,” 9 p.m. Eastern on Friday, Showtime) showcases the county’s rich basketball legacy.

PG boasts eight current NBA players:

With a population of about 900,000, Prince George’s County sits just east of Washington D.C. PG is one of America’s wealthiest majority-black areas. Though the wealth tends to be concentrated outside the Beltway (a highway that encircles D.C. and cuts through Prince’s George’s), there’s plenty of socioeconomic diversity throughout the county.

A common link: Basketball.

The documentary explores several key reasons basketball thrives in PG – including a population shift from D.C. (which took to basketball from the early days of the sport), a robust parks-and-rec system and a strong network of support.

Writing for ESPN in 2008, Chris Palmer described PG as a place where “a new status symbol has gained traction: a son who is a big-time prospect.” Beyond parents, there are legions of coaches willing to help (and share in the glory).

Curtis Malone stood out.

Curtis Malone
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Co-founder of D.C. Assault, Malone built one of the nation’s strongest AAU programs. He helped numerous players, guiding some through rough childhoods, many to college and even some to the NBA. He was also a drug kingpin. His complicated tale is the most fascinating section of the documentary.

“Y’all can say whatever the f— y’all want about him. Y’all can talk dirt,” former Assault and NBA player Michael Beasley said in the documentary. “He always had the kids first, man. He always put the kids first. He always fed the kids before he ate.”

Not mentioned in the documentary: Beasley’s since-dropped 2011 lawsuit against Malone, alleging an agent bribed Malone to persuade Beasley to hire that agent.

The documentary has an issue similar to that of “The Last Dance,” ESPN’s 10-part series on Michael Jordan and the Bulls. The subjects hold creative control. Durant, Oladipo and Cook are executive producers.

The documentary also curiously includes Steve Francis, who sometimes trained in Prince George’s but can more accurately claimed by bordering Montgomery County. There’s no need to exaggerate PG’s legitimately extraordinary basketball output. The county’s NBA ranks were even stronger just a few years ago, before Beasley, Ty Lawson, Thomas Robinson, Dante Cunningham, Roy Hibbert and Chinanu Onuaku fell out of the league.

But, overall, the documentary presents a highly enjoyable look into a hoops hotbed that rivals any in the country.

In many ways, that’s thanks to Durant.

Kevin Durant
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Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures is behind the film directed by John Beckham and Jimmy Jenkins. More importantly, Durant carries the superstar draw that boosts a project like this.

Durant fulfilled his promise unlike anyone else from PG. Many thought that’d be Len Bias, who tragically died of a cocaine overdose two days after the Celtics drafted him No. 2 in 1986. Other highly talented players like DerMarr Johnson and Beasley never optimized their potential for varying reasons.

But Durant became an NBA MVP behind a uniquely PG upbringing.

According to his business partner, Rich Kleiman (another “Basketball County” executive producer), Durant likes to tell a story. Durant would play all day in his local rec center. When the court was cleared to host bingo for senior citizens at night, Durant hid behind a curtain. After bingo, Durant emerged to shoot even more.

Durant wasn’t alone in his dedication. Many PG County kids grow up dreaming of playing at DeMatha or another area private-school power. That instills focus and determination from a young age. Well-organized teams and leagues offer opportunities for passionate players to advance.

“Basketball is, in our area, a way for us to separate ourselves,” Oladipo said. “People from our area, we’re very confident. We believe in ourselves.

“We believe in the game of basketball.”

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.

Cavaliers reportedly extend Dean Wade for three years, $18.5 million

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This could be a steal for the Cavaliers — Dean Wade could be the starting three for the Cavaliers by the end of this season and he’s got a genuine upside.

The Cavaliers have extended Wade for three years, $18.5 million, a story where multiple sources were on top of it, including Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Wade’s counting stats aren’t eye-popping — 5.3 points a game and shooting 35.7% from 3 — but he is a quality wing defender who has improved as a floor spacer (sometimes setting picks and popping out). He’s a two-way player who has put in the work and could pass Isaac Okoro on the depth chart this season.

The Cavaliers have four All-Stars who will undoubtedly be starting for them — Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell in the backcourt, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley up front — and the looming question is at the three. Wade has a chance this season to step into that role.

Which makes extending him at a little over $6 million a season a potential steal for the Cavaliers.

 

Warriors GM Myers reiterates he would like to extend Green, Poole, Wiggins

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Andrew Wiggins is entering the final year of his contract and the Warriors want to extend him. Jordan Poole is up for a contract extension and if it isn’t worked out by the start of the season he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. Draymond Green is eligible — and wants — a four years, $138.4 million extension (the max they can give him).

Bob Myers said again this week that he wants to keep all three of those players — all critical parts of the Warriors run to a title last season — but financial reality could intrude upon that dream. Here’s what Myers said Thursday, via Kendra Andrews of ESPN:

“We want all of those guys,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said at a news conference Thursday. “Can we get all of them? I don’t know.

“It depends on what the money ends up being. What the ask is what we can end up doing. We’re not at a point to make those decisions yet. Some of these decisions may be made in the next two weeks, some might be made in the next seven, eight months.”

The Warriors turned heads around the league paying more than $350 million in player salaries and luxury tax last season — and this season they will be in the same ballpark. Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob has said even with the cash cow that is the new Chase Center, this is not a team that can spend $400 million. Some expenses are locked in, such as Stephen Curry and his $215.4 max contract extension. Klay Thompson is at the max for a couple of more years.

Poole is part of the future in Golden State — along with Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, and maybe Jonathan Wiseman — and they can’t let him go. Wiggins was the Warriors’ second-best player in the postseason last year. That has led to some speculation Green could be the odd man out — something Myers has denied. Green will make $25.8 million this season but is  expected to opt out of the $27.6 million player option he has next season. It leaves the Warriors and Green with a choice.

Something’s got to give, but the Myers and the Warriors seem ready to kick that financial can down the road until next summer, and for this season get the band back together and chase another ring.

Poole would be the first up (there is an Oct. 17 deadline to extend him). Whatever happens, this will be an undercurrent of a story all season long in the Bay Area.

C.J. McCollum inks two-year, $64 million extension with Pelicans

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After helping New Orleans return to the playoffs for the first time since Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers, C.J. McCollum earned a two-year, $64 million extension with the Pelicans. He will remain under contract with the team through the 2025-26 season, and there isn’t a player or team option in the deal. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news Saturday afternoon.

New Orleans traded Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, a 2022 protected first-round pick (turns into 2025 first-round pick that is top-4 protected), and two future second-round picks for McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., and Tony Snell.

New Orleans now has their core of McCollum, Zion Williamson, and Brandon Ingram under contract for the next three seasons.

The expectations will be high for the Pelicans for the next few years. After starting last season 1-12, first-year head coach Willie Green helped turn the team around, and they finished 36-46 before beating the Spurs and Clippers in the play-in tournament. Their season ended after losing to the Suns 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs.

McCollum averaged 24.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.7 triples per game after the trade to New Orleans.

The return of Zion this season, along with the success of last year’s team, has the team expecting a return to the playoffs. Locking up their star guard in McCollum emphasizes that their rebuild is over. After missing the playoffs during their first three seasons in the post-AD era, they don’t expect to return to the lottery for a long time. The big question surrounding their potential success will be Zion’s health.