Kevin Durant, Victor Oladipo, Marissa Coleman, and Micheal Beasley; it’s just something in the water of Prince George’s county that creates top tier, basketball players. The DMV has been a staple landmark known to create some of the greatest musicians, actors, writers, and so many other categories of talent. Specifically, a small area right outside of Washington DC, known as Prince George’s county, considered the “the heart of Maryland ”, is where talent seems to blossom. It is arguably noted that PG county builds character beyond just basketball. Living in such a suburban area; it was either residing in the wealthiest parts of the county or the poverty-stricken neighborhoods; there was no in-between. Being that there weren’t too many outlets for youth, basketball was the only option for many young kids living in poor neighborhoods.
The history reaches back to 1904 when Edwin B. Henderson, the first black physical education teacher, learned to perfect the sport from its creator, James Naismith. Mr. Henderson (considered the father of black basketball) brought the techniques back to the infamous 12th Street YMCA venue creating the Washington 12th Streeters team. He taught young men the proper way to play basketball hoping this would increase college access and social mobility. Not only did the team win championships, but he also coached people who changed the world. People like Charles Drew, who created the first blood bank as a physician, and Duke Ellington, the composer who redefined American music.
This opened up an expansion for basketball as the decades passed. PG is known to have the nation’s best recreation centers gaining over 400 parks to this day. The crack epidemic in the 80s made it a priority to keep young men off the street and away from drugs. This frame of mind attained basketball traditions like the Goodman summer league at Barry farms or the Capital Classic games before it was dismantled.
The competitive edge PG county has is why basketball is more than a game. It builds character and creates a toughness that is naturally adapted. Earning respect as a young kid playing against old heads, you had to earn your stripes on the court. Games could go on all night to the point where people had to use their headlights to shine the court. This sport was not just for fun, the ball was life. University of Maryland women’s coach Brenda Frese said “I recruit all over the country. The players in PG County are second to none. Those players have the toughness, the grit, and all the intangibles to help you win.” The leagues that PG county created was a reflection of the tough competitive edge established. A prime example is the DC assault team and the rise of DeMatha basketball players.
Dematha Catholic high school created a powerful PG county institution. Considered one of the greatest high school coaches is coach Morgan Wootten. He decided to train the best players regardless of race. Racial tensions were high in the 50s but Wootten was apathetic to the subject. He influenced many of his players who already had the mindset that they can change their life from basketball. This guidance set up all of his players over a span of 15 years to go to college with basketball scholarships.
The staple of how resilient this team has happened when they played against Power Memorial Academy. This team was considered the best out of New York, was on a 71-wining game streak and had 7’1 high school senior by the name Lew Alcindor AKA Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Time magazine, local radio/news stations, and press from all over attended this game creating national news. With an outstanding season and being named the number 1 high school team of the century; everyone assumed the game was undeniably in favor of the away team. Dematha won this game 46-43 deeming themselves as an elite national team and a force to be reckoned with.
The capital classic is another example of how the world couldn’t keep up with the talent out of PG county. USA all-stars from around the country playing the best all-star players around the area at the Capital Centre in 1974. Some of the best, elite prime players participated in this game like Micheal Jordan and Magic Johnson. There was one particular power forward from Northwestern high who played in this cap classic in 1982. One of the most tragic and impactful stories in Prince Georges County, but this tale went beyond basketball. His name is Len bias. Len bias played at the University of Maryland and was considered to be the first greatest player out of PG county. His basketball skills were known to come naturally but dominant with contact dunks showing no mercy. Len was drafted to the Celtics in 1982 becoming the protege of a PG county basketball dream. Tragically 2 days later, Len bias died of a heart attack from a cocaine overdose. Thousands mourn the death of this superstar. His story became a national tale of what could’ve been and how the use of crack cocaine can deteriorate a life. In Maryland, he will forever be known as a legend in the making we will never stop talking about.
Another legend out of the DMV was Curtis Malone. Curtis Malone was the founder and coach for DC Assault; a powerhouse AAU team. The intensity and competitiveness is what this team unified making everyone tune in to the talent. Aside from coaching, Malone was a father figure and role model most did not have in their life. He took players under his wing like Demarr Johnson, Nolan Smith, Quinn Cook, and Michael Beasley. Demarr Johnson even gave thanks to Malone describing himself as a kid who was” in the streets and he [malone] put me on an AAU team and that was it for me”. Malone even said he saw lots of potential in Demarr as if he was a hidden gem who hasn’t tapped into this potential. Johnson under Malone’s development became the number one high school that turned into the number one 2000 draft pick. A true testimony to the character of Curtis Malone. Malone opened doors to anyone in need whether it was the gym or his home; he became The Godfather of D.C. basketball. Curtis put so much into D.C assaults where the brand became an enterprise eventually contracting a sponsorship with Adidas. Unfortunately, Malone was arrested on drug charges for distributing heroin and cocaine. Most DC natives were shocked, some didn’t judge, and some believe he wasn’t a role model at all. Malone is currently serving his time in jail for the charges. According to a phone recording from in the water, Malone said he “let his ego, pride, and my greed get in the way”.
The impact the game of basketball had was more than just shooting a ball, it was a way out for some. It was something that unified the community blossoming some of the world’s greatest NBA/WNBA players. The perseverance, competitive edge mixed with the rich culture and history is what produced the extraordinary players to come out of Prince Georges county. It’s just something in the water.