Ask any basketball fanatic in the Washington, D.C. area, and he will say the best basketball is played in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC). Of course, if you ask the same question of fans in a dozen or so other cities, they will identify their top league as the nation’s best.
Last season (2019-2020), though, the WCAC’s claim had more behind it than just local chauvinism.
Consider the way its top seniors are performing now as college freshmen. Let’s start with DeMatha, the city champions. Its two biggest stars were Hunter Dickinson and Earl Timberlake.
Dickinson is now one of the top centers in all of college basketball. Playing for Michigan, the number 2 ranked team in the country, he is averaging 14.4 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. The other night, he outdueled player of the year candidate Luka Garza of Iowa, who also played high school ball in D.C. but not in the WCAC. (However, last night he was outplayed by Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, another of college basketball’s top centers.)
Timberlake went to Miami in the ACC. Before sustaining an injury, he was averaging 9 points, 5 rebounds, and 2.5 assists as a freshman.
Paul VI was the runner-up to DeMatha in 2019-20. That team featured Jeremy Roach as its point guard. Roach went to Duke where he is playing starter minutes. Deployed mostly on the wing, he’s averaging just under 9 points per game.
Gonzaga College High School, a 15 minute walk from the Capitol, has three seniors from 2019-20 playing major college ball this year. Chuck Harris, a wing guard, starts for Butler in the Big East. He’s the team’s leading scorer at 12 points per game. He hits on 39 percent of his three pointers.
Gonzaga’s star player wasn’t Harris, it was Terrance Williams. After decommitting from Georgetown, Williams joined Dickinson at Michigan. He comes off the bench for that uber-talented team.
Myles Stute of Gonzaga is the WCAC’s contribution to the SEC. He’s at Vanderbilt. Stute plays about 15 minutes a game, averaging 4.3 points and 2.4 rebounds. He’s making just under 50 percent of his field goal attempts.
St. John’s College High School rounds out the WCAC’s big four. Last season, its star was Ishmael Leggett. He now plays for Rhode Island in the A-10.
Leggett averages 6.5 points in 19 minutes, and makes 44 percent of his three-point attempts. His overall shooting percentage — 48 percent — is the highest of any non-center on the team. Having watched a few Rhode Island games, my view is that Leggett, a high energy player, should be getting more minutes.
Mikey Square, the center for St. John’s in 2019-2020, plays 20 minutes per game for Farleigh Dickinson. He averages 6 points and 3.7 rebounds.
As good as the WCAC was in 2019-2020, it might have been better the year before, when the players discussed above were juniors (but Roach missed the season due to injury). Here is a rundown of the top seniors who graced the league that season.
DeMatha had Justin Moore and Jahmir Young. Moore averages 13 points per game for Villanova, ranked number 10 in the AP college basketball poll. Young, the fourth scoring option for DeMatha, averages 18.4 points per game at Charlotte.
St. Johns was led by Casey Morsell who, I believe, was WCAC player of the year. At the University of Virginia, a top-25 program, Morsell hasn’t scored much. However, his stellar defense has kept him in Tony Bennett’s rotation to the tune of about 20 minutes per game the past two seasons.
Hard-driving Anwar Gill was the unsung hero of Gonzaga’s WCAC championship team of 2018-19. Gill played prep school ball last season. Now, he averages 6 points in 20 minutes per game as a freshman for La Salle.
Josh Oduro was Paul VI’s big man in 2018-19. He was overshadowed by that team’s guards, including Trevor Keels, a sophomore back then and now a McDonald’s all-American. A sophomore at George Mason, Oduro averages 10.4 points and 6 rebounds. Recently, he scored 27 in an upset win over then-first place VCU.
Darius Maddox was a junior for St. Johns in 2018-19. A smooth jump shooter with range, he played his senior year at Oak Hill Academy as a starter for a team ranked in the top 10 nationally. Maddox is now at Virginia Tech.
As I said, D.C. is far from the only city that can claim to have the best high school basketball. Baltimore, just up the highway, features hard-nosed hoops and produces many quality college players. In a typical year, its basketball might well be as good as Washington’s.
However, one would be hard pressed to identify any city whose high school ball was superior to D.C.’s from 2018-2020.