Prince George's County
Showtime

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

Leave a comment

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
Showtime

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
Showtime

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 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.”

Must watch: Lonzo Ball halfcourt alley-oop to Zion Williamson

Lonzo Ball Zion Williamson
Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Damn. This is just a thing of beauty.

Lonzo Ball and Zion Williams have a connection on the court and the Grizzlies got a look at it up close and personal Monday.

NBA TV has another angle

In a must-win game for 0-2 New Orleans, Zion played more in the first half than we have seen recently, but he was still under 10 minutes total. He had 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting, leading an energized Pelicans team that led by seven at the half.

Thunder’s Dennis Schroder leaves bubble for birth of child

Dennis Shroder child
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dennis Schroder was not in uniform when Oklahoma City lost to Denver Monday. He wasn’t even in Orlando.

Schroder left the bubble to be with his wife for the birth of his child, something the team knew was coming but came up suddenly Monday morning, coach Billy Donovan said pregame (reporting from ESPN’s Dave McMenamin inside the bubble).

 

“I’m not gonna leave my wife by herself while she’s having a second baby,” Schroder said when he talked about this with reporters previously. “(Dennis) Jr. is still 17 months old, so I’m for sure gonna go there and support her and try as much as I can to be there for my family.”

Congratulations to the Schroder family, we hope everyone is happy and healthy.

The Thunder will miss Schroder while he’s gone. He is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate averaging 19 points per game while shooting 38.1% from three. The Thunder are at their most dangerous when Schroder is paired with Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a rotation that we will not see for a while.

The first round of the playoffs starts Aug. 17. Schroder can return to the team, the question is how long he will be in quarantine when he does. If Schroeder has a negative coronavirus test for seven consecutive days before his return, he will be in quarantine for four days. If he does not get tested, or if he exposes himself to the virus unnecessarily while outside the bubble — for example, picking up wings from a strip club for dinner — he will have a 10-day quarantine.

The Thunder could use him for what will be a tight first-round playoff series in a very balanced West. Schroder may or may not be there, he has higher priorities right now.

Oklahoma state Rep. threatens to increase Thunder’s taxes for kneeling during national anthem

Oklahoma City Thunder kneel during national anthem
Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Oklahoma City Thunder – like all NBA teams (minus a few individuals) – kneeled during the national anthem.

That powerful protest calls attention to racism, particularly through police brutality. It is highly patriotic to work toward ending those shameful practices. Though some have distorted the underlying message, the protests have largely worked. In the years since Colin Kaepernick first kneeled, Americans have developed a heightened sensitivity to racism and police brutality.

Of course, there are still many opponents of anthem kneeling. The demonstration causes a visceral reaction (which is also why it has been so effective). At this point, it’s hard to stand out among the critics of anthem kneeling who keep making the same, tired arguments.

Oklahoma state representative Sean Roberts found a way.

Roberts, via Oklahoma’s News 4:

“By kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, the NBA and its players are showing disrespect to the American flag and all it stands for. This anti-patriotic act makes clear the NBA’s support of the Black Lives Matter group and its goal of defunding our nation’s police, its ties to Marxism and its efforts to destroy nuclear families.

If the Oklahoma City Thunder leadership and players follow the current trend of the NBA by kneeling during the national anthem prior to Saturday’s game, perhaps we need to reexamine the significant tax benefits the State of Oklahoma granted the Oklahoma City Thunder organization when they came to Oklahoma. Through the Quality Jobs Act, the Thunder is still under contract to receive these tax breaks from our state until 2024.

Perhaps these funds would be better served in support of our police departments rather than giving tax breaks to an organization that supports defunding police and the dissolution of the American nuclear family.”

This is outrageous.

It’s outrageous that the Thunder get such a targeted tax break. The franchise is a private company that should succeed or fail based on its own merits. While it’s easy for NBA fans (like readers of this site) to get caught up in the league, professional basketball isn’t actually important for the greater good.

It’s outrageous that a company’s tax status could depend on how its employees exercise their freedom of expression. The First Amendment still exists.

Ultimately, Roberts almost certainly doesn’t have the power to do what he’s threatening. This is grandstanding for political gain. It gets Roberts into national headlines and little else. Mission accomplished, I guess.

So, Roberts builds a reputation as another big-government politician – someone who wants to use the heavy hand of government to dissuade free expression.

NBA referee Brent Barnaky explains standing for the national anthem

NBA referee Brent Barnaky
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, Heat big Meyers Leonard and Spurs coaches Gregg Popovich and Becky Hammon drew plenty of attention for standing during the national anthem while nearly all NBA players, coaches and referees kneeled.

Referee Brent Barnaky also stood.

Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

This isn’t much of an explanation. Nor does it need to be. Barnaky explained that he wasn’t countering the message of kneeling players (opposing racism, particularly through police brutality). That’s sufficient for Barnaky to maintain his neutral positioning – important for an official.

For decades, nearly everyone stood for the national anthem. For many people, that was just about following norms. Even NBA players espousing social-justice messaging previously stood for the national anthem.

But Colin Kaepernick’s brave defiance caused some people to thoughtfully consider their national-anthem posture. So, while many people continued to stand for the national anthem because that’s just was done, some made deliberate choices based on their own values. Sometimes, that led to kneeling. Sometimes, that led to standing.

The thoughtful standers blended into the crowd… until kneeling became widespread in the NBA. Now, they’re the noticeable outliers within the league.

It can take courage to go against the grain. I commend Barnaky for that – and for voicing his support for social justice and peaceful protest.

Barnaky made a personal choice that can stand alone. It doesn’t undermine what anyone else is doing.