- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Two of the most recent No. 2 picks in the NBA, Kevin Durant of the Seattle SuperSonics and Michael Beasley of the Miami Heat, hail from Prince George’s County. This wave of players entering the professional league helped create a foundation for the Dec. 28-30 Maryland National Hoops Classic at Wise High School in Upper Marlboro.

“It is nationally known that Prince George’s County produces quality student athletes,” said Earl Hawkins, tournament director. “We see that every day when you turn the TV on, we have players at all levels across the country.”

According to a 2008 ESPN.com article, Prince George’s County is a “hotbed for basketball.” Nine players with roots in Prince George’s County have been in the NBA in the previous five years. Six are on rosters, and that number is on track to crack double digits. The county has produced six McDonald’s All-Americans.

“It’s been a dream of mine since Wise High School has been built to have a nationally recognized basketball tournament that would showcase our people’s talents,” said Mr. Hawkins, a former basketball coach at Crossland High School.

“During the winter, we had to travel out of the area to find quality competition and great tournaments [that] would give us national exposure,” Mr. Hawkins said.

Mr. Hawkins had a 24-year high school and college coaching career that included winning the Maryland 2A state title in 1986 at Crossland High School with Walt Williams. The NBA player and former University of Maryland star appeared at a Dec. 2 press conference in support of the first hoops tournament in the county.

“All of this gives students a better opportunity to get a scholarship for college.” Mr. Williams said. “When I was a young player in the ‘80s, this was always a hotbed for basketball players, we just have more exposure now. In high school my education provided me an opportunity to play basketball, but in college my basketball career created a chance for a good education, so it works both ways.”

The Prince George’s Black Chamber of Commerce, in association with the Prince George’s Public Schools Athletic Association, are main sponsors for the tournament.

“Their support allows us to bring quality basketball competition to students and fans alike during the Christmas holiday and we are grateful for their sponsorship,” Mr. Hawkins said. “The proceeds from the tournament will enable us to finance new athletic equipment and artificial turf for some of our high schools’ fields.”

Competing in the hoops tournament (www.mdnationalhoopsclassic.org.) will be eight high schools: Bladensburg in Prince George’s County; Coolidge in the District; Wise in Upper Marlboro, Md.; Herbert Hoover in San Diego; Friendly in Fort Washington, Md.; J.E.B. Stuart in Fairfax, Va.; Mergenthaler in Baltimore; and Raleigh Egypt High School in Memphis, Tenn.

“We are excited to bring such a high caliber of high school basketball athletes together to participate in this tournament,” Mr. Hawkins said. “This inaugural invitational will feature high school players from some of the finest teams in the nation.”

Before their professional careers, Mr. Beasley and Mr. Durant were blue-chip recruits playing for one the most successful Amateur Athletic Union youth teams at the time, the Prince George’s Jaguars who won multiple championships.

Other NBA players from Prince George’s County include: Jeff Green (Northwestern High School), the fifth overall 2007 draft by the Boston Celtics who is playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder; Delonte West (Eleanor Roosevelt High School), who was selected by the Boston Celtics as the 24th pick in the 2004 draft and is playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers; Samuel Young (Friendly High School), who is playing for the Memphis Grizzlies; and Dante Cunningham (Potomac High School), who is playing for the Portland Trail Blazers.

c Odell B. Ruffin is a writer and photographer living in Prince George’s County.