As the buzzer sounded last night at Bender Arena, a wide range of emotions poured out onto the hardwood. The DeMatha players were jumpy, eager to mob their fellow teammates and celebrate their second WCAC championship in three years. On the other side, the Paul VI players took a long and miserable walk back to their bench after coming so, so, close to their ultimate goal. I play the role of a neutral media member, but I too, felt the bittersweet feeling. Like most seniors playing, I will embark on a new journey next year. For the first time in five years, I won’t have the luxury of having WCAC basketball in my backyard. I can guarantee you I’ll be streaming the games, but it just won’t be the same 846 miles away. I’ll miss the shaking bleachers from the student sections, the endless snack bar lines and everything else that you just can’t get without being front and center. Some might say I’ve given my all to this conference, but I’d argue vice versa.
I was born in New York City, a place that some controversially call “the mecca of basketball.” I grew up with a park on every block, and Madison Square Garden was my temple. I moved to Maryland when I was five, and until a few years ago, I was extremely reluctant to associate with my new home. According to the people I was surrounded with growing up, Maryland is known for crabs, beaches and lacrosse, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why I was holding on to the concrete jungle for dear life. But, as I started to play more AAU in middle school, I was exposed to a culture that I would eventually fall in love with. DMV basketball is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The WCAC is the best conference in the country and the area is littered with sponsored AAU teams who are mainstay successes on their respective circuits. Because of the rich talent, the premier programs have to “recruit” the upcoming stars as early as 7th grade. The pressure truly starts at a young age, a regular Sunday matinee game for me, was a high-stakes showcase for my teammates. As the years went on, I dug deeper and deeper into it. Eventually, I left my Timbs behind for a pair of 990s, and yes, Mumbo sauce deserves all the hype.
During my daily consumption of morning twitter, I saw a tweet that read, “life lessons come in many different ways.” This coach was referring to adversity, the wins and losses, but I started thinking about how that applied to me. I always say basketball has taught me everything, but as I went down a rabbit hole in my head, this conference has taught me everything. My playing days were fun, but covering the WCAC has provided me with the life insight I could only dream of, through the lens of basketball. Along with the fact that there’s no better place to socialize than the DeMatha railings, the WCAC taught me the most valuable skill in life, how to build and maintain relationships. In my early days, my Mom had to force me out of my seat to say hello to coaches and other media members around the gym. I was a shy 14 year-old. Last night, I proudly made my half-time run to the media table, and I caught up with some of the biggest faces in the DMV basketball scene (it’s still crazy they know my name). Like everything I did last night I took it all in, knowing very well that I might never get the chance to do it again. Despite all the hours I’ve put in to building Jake In the Paint, I would never sniff where I’m at without the help of some people. I’ve been writing this piece in my head for a long time. I didn’t always know how I wanted to phrase it, so I settled on a little bit of everything. A farewell, but mainly a thank you. Thank you to those who saw something in me, and invested their time, effort and knowledge. I owe you a lot more than this write-up, and I hope I can truly pay you back later on, but for now, this will have to do.
(In chronological order of when you came into my life)
Danielle Cantor: My journey begins with you. I don’t even want to imagine how many times my mom (they were old friends) asked you to read my blog when I first started, but I’m very grateful she did and you complied. I can’t thank you enough for recognizing my passion and eagerness to learn from day one. You have generously shared your time, expertise, knowledge and insights with me. You have helped shape my outlook on the game. I cherish every second of our conversations and try to soak up every word. As you know, my professional goal is to be on conference call with you one day in the future, but until then, I’ll be reading my 598 page PDF version of the CBA. Thank you for investing in me—and the Jordan Brand Classic credentials became the catalyst for the rest of my DMV connections.
Coach Farello: To say your support since day one has been overwhelming, would be an absolute understatement. I was introduced to you at the Jordan Brand Classic, you loved what I was doing and invited me to your open-gym next fall. But, if I’ve learned anything over the past four years, it’s that people say a lot of things. That never applied to you, the door was always open and you always stayed true to your word. The open gym trips became annual, and they quickly became one of my favorite days of the year. I’ve learned more sitting in on your workouts than most people learn in a lifetime of basketball. The program has countless extraordinary qualities but I’ve always admired how you empower your players. It creates a unique sense of accountability and a one-of-a-kind relationship between a player and the staff. Watching the torch get passed from Aaron to Slater to Ant to Roach and now Trevor and Dug was special. Hopefully I can get you on the phone next year from Madison to Loudon. Thank you for treating me like PVI family.
Coach Jones: Being the coach of DeMatha is no easy task, there are consistent expectations and historical excellence to live up to, yet you always seem to raise the bar. I also met you at the 2016 Jordan Brand game, you treated me with the same respect as an ESPN reporter, and that’s something I’ll always admire and never forget. Whether it’s on or off the record, our conversations about USA Basketball, your playing days or anything DeMatha related are always entertaining and insightful. Every coach loves their job, but over the years I’ve noticed you have a deeper connection with DeMatha than anything else I’ve seen. It’s not just your alma mater, it’s something much bigger than that. In whatever I do in life, I can only aspire to have that type of attachment. You have carried on an incredible legacy and as long as you’re at the helm, DeMatha Excellence will never fade away.
Brian Levenson: I always tell people you changed my life, it’s that simple. When Coach Farello connected us, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. But, I can gladly tell you that whatever expectations I had, you blew them out of the water. The confidence I have as a leader, communicator and everyday 18 year-old kid came from you. My preparation, mindset and habits have changed for the better since the day I stepped into your office, and now I’m just trying to pass them on. I have no doubt that I wouldn’t be where I’m at in school, basketball, blogging and life in general without you. On top of everything you taught me, I picked up on some life lessons that will influence me forever. I learned that it’s okay to follow what you love, even if it’s not the path that was paved for you. Thank you for always being there for me, it truly means the world.
James Parker: I’m normally against the publicity of middle school basketball. I think the kids should focus on their development rather than chasing mixtapes and rankings, but the PYBL is the exception. You had a dream, started from scratch and turned it into a legit powerhouse. That is very admirable in itself, but it goes so much further than that. During our first interaction, I mentioned how I played in the PYBL, you immediately replied “I know, you were number 6 for DC.” Keep in mind, my team only played three games in the league and I was hardly a star player. That simple anecdote shows what is special about you and the league, you know and care about every single player that comes through, regardless if they’re a role player or a star. In a day in age where grassroots basketball often gets played for the wrong reasons, the PYBL is one of the last authentic things left. If you deserve publicity, you’ll get it. But it isn’t catered to you by any means, you have to earn everything. The DMV is very lucky to have you.
Arize: The first event I covered for you was an unforgettable experience, in every way. You had tweeted at me to come out and check out the action, I showed up and was met with a line out the door at Archbishop Carroll. After 30 minutes I finally decided to drop your name, and the seas parted cleanly. Other than hearing it from my Dad for waiting so long, it was an amazing night. The gym was packed from end-to-end and it had a unique energy that I’ll never forget. Similar to James, you had a dream, and gave your everything to make it come true. I’ll always admire your work ethic and networking skills, I don’t think there’s anyone in the area you don’t know. From Uptown Hoopfest to Wicked Jump Shot, you consistently stun me. Thank you for believing in me, I can’t wait to see what you have next.
Marc Stern: Over the years, you became my litmus test to decide if it was a big game. If you weren’t on the baseline, I sometimes questioned why I was even there. You’re the most dedicated guy in high school hoops, and the area truly doesn’t deserve you. With all that being said, you can imagine why I was a little starstruck when you asked me to cover the inaugural Capitol Hoops Summer League At DeMatha. Covering the league that summer league was an amazing experience, and the passion you brought to it everyday is something I can only admire and hope to replicate. I also can’t thank you enough for doing me and my team a favor by putting us in the summer league this past summer, it was awesome to have my two worlds collide. Thank you for always showing me love, I knew I made it big time when you tweeted this. I also want to give a shoutout to my guy Aaron Proia, whether it’s for Capitol Hoops, DeMatha or the Capital Classic, you’re always making a difference. I’ll always enjoy our conversations and I can’t wait to see you climb the ladder.
Coach Doug Martin: I was introduced to you two years ago, during one of my media table runs at the WCAC semi-finals. Since then, you’ve looked out for me and taken me under your wing in a way I couldn’t have ever imagined. Everyone knows Team Takeover, getting an inside look at the most storied AAU program in the area — and arguably the nation — has been one of the biggest privileges I’ve ever had. Observing TTO sharpened me up in every facet of basketball, and I can’t thank you enough for letting me in the door. I cherish our back and forths more than you know, and I know if I need an opinion, you’re always good for it. And, I can’t mention TTO without Coach Keith Stevens. I’ll never forget our first interaction, I came to a practice at Chavez in the spring of 2018. I had the intention of writing the “Team Takeover redemption story.” Coach Doug called me to halfcourt and introduced me to you, you looked at me and asked “You know what you’re doing?” I answered with a semi-confident “Yeah,” and you famously replied “Good, don’t f**k this up.” It was the most Keith Stevens encounter I could ever ask for, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Like Coach Doug, I really appreciate you granting me access to your program, it’s an experience I’ll always remember.
Coach Steve Turner: For at least a year I had tried to get in touch with you about coming to an open gym, unfortunately, it was to no avail. Eventually, I got a Twitter DM that read “When are you coming to Gonzaga?” As our relationship progressed I realized that’s the most on-brand interaction I could’ve had, no fluff or bullsh*t, just straight to it. Although it took me a while to get you as a podcast guest, it was well worth the wait. I thoroughly enjoyed our talks about Lacrosse, the NCAA, Nate Britt and Kris Jenkins and everything in between. I’ve always marveled at your “20 scrimmage” mentality and the ability to not ride the highs and lows. You know where the program stands and don’t feel the need to please anyone outside the Gonzaga family. Whether it’s on or off the record, I’ll always cherish every second of our conversations. There’s truly no one better than the candid version of yourself. Even though it’s only been two years, my connection to you and others within the program will always be one of the things I appreciate the most, thank you for everything.
Players & Parents: There’s simply too many to name, but you guys know who you are. The constant love and support from you guys is what keeps me going, the DMV basketball community is absolutely incredible and I can’t thank you enough. The casual run-ins and impromptu conversations are what I’ll miss the most.
A few months ago Bill Simmons told the story of “The Secret.” It stemmed from his poolside conversation with Hall Of Fame point guard, Isaiah Thomas. He told Simmons “The Secret.” It seemed kind of corny at first, or at least far too simple to have such a promising title, but when you think for a second, it’s what separates the best from the rest. Thomas told Simmons “The secret about basketball is that it’s not about basketball.” In Thomas’ story, he was talking about the chemistry needed to win the championship. In my story, I’m talking about the fact of understanding influence. They know that their job isn’t about wins, trophies or clicks, it’s about making a positive impact on everyone around them. Every single person I just named understands “The Secret” in the context it applies to them, that’s what makes them the best of the best. Thank you for sharing your secrets with me.