Jul 29, 2014

Maryland High School Girls Basketball a National Force

“I think the region … is a hotbed for talent,” said Diane Richardson, the former national championship winning head coach at Upper Marlboro’s Riverdale Baptist School.

Maryland High School Girls Basketball a National Force
By Zack Ward

Capital News Service

You may know Maryland as the state where NBA superstars Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony and former college basketball phenom Michael Beasley all played during some portion of their high school careers.

What you may not know is that two-time reigning WNBA scoring champion Angel McCoughtry also played high school basketball in Maryland. So did three-time All-Star Rebekkah Brunson and two other first-round picks: Monique Currie and Tianna Hawkins.

But what is staggering is what that list could look like in five to 10 years when the next generation of top Maryland-grown players graduates from college programs.

From 2009-2013 Maryland has produced more Top 100 women’s basketball recruits (according to ESPN HoopGurlz’s rating system) per million people than any other state in the nation. It is tied for the fifth most top recruits in the last five years, despite being 19th in population. Maryland’s top-recruit-per-million average over the past five years is 3.91.

Georgia and Tennessee are a fairly distant second and third with 3.33 and 3.25 respectively. This is in large part due to the class of 2013, which saw eight Top 100 players come from the state of Maryland.

“I think the region … is a hotbed for talent,” said Diane Richardson, the former national championship winning head coach at Upper Marlboro’s Riverdale Baptist School.

“I’ve watched it kind of grow the last 20 years of coaching and saw that more and more girls were getting involved and more and more girls were perfecting their game. And I knew that we were headed for a really big explosion of talent in the area.”

The Maryland high schools who have produced the most Top 100 recruits in the past five years are Riverdale Baptist and Olney’s Our Lady of Good Counsel, each with three.

Riverdale Baptist has also won 10 national championship in its history, all since 1990. Much of their success came under Richardson, who compiled a 230-34 record during her two stints with the Crusaders from 2001 to 2006 and 2010 to 2012 and now is an assistant coach at George Washington University.

“Riverdale obviously has a long history of being a perennial power in girl’s basketball,” said current Crusader head coach Sam Caldwell. “Certainly before I got here there were other great coaches...The expectations are always high here - my job is to make sure we don’t fall off too far from the tree.”

Riverdale saw many players go Division I during Richardson’s first coaching stint and then produced three Top 100 recruits in 2012 alone: No. 17 Jonquel Jones, No. 86 Kelila Atkinson and No. 88 Jennie Simms. Two more of its former players, Tianna Hawkins and Ataira Franklin, went on to have great careers in the very competitive ACC despite never making it into the Top 100 coming out of high school. Hawkins was drafted into the WNBA this April as the No. 6 overall pick.

“I think that’s the dream and the goal of every coach is to get their players ready for the next level,” said Caldwell, who was previously Richardson’s assistant at Riverdale during Jones, Atkinson and Simms’ time there. “I’m almost like a proud father watching my kids play at a high level and getting to see them play on TV and then of course some of them that play basketball professionally. It’s just an awesome thing for us to have as a program.”

A lot of great college programs have been taking note of Maryland’s high school basketball talent, including the greatest program of all: Tennessee. The Volunteers, winners of eight national championships, recruited 2013 No. 8 overall prospect Jannah Tucker from Western School of Technology in Baltimore before Tucker de-committed for personal reasons.

Other former national champions to recruit Marylanders in recent years include the  University of Maryland, Notre Dame and North Carolina. Reigning NCAA tournament participants West Virginia, Duke, Louisville, Syracuse and Penn State have also taken talent from the state.

When you walk into Riverdale Baptist’s gym, you never know who you might see as Caldwell said the recruiting process is always ongoing.

On a recent Saturday, you would have walked in on University of Miami head coach Katie Meier running a drill with Riverdale’s boy’s basketball team before taking a seat in the bleachers to watch the girl’s team go through a workout. Wake Forest’s Jen Hoover was also there looking for talent.

“I think Wake Forest has a history of recruiting kids in the area,” Hoover said. “And then we actually have a player [Atkinson] currently on our team that played at Riverdale. There’s a lot of good talent all over the country, but for Wake Forest, being a school that’s within a regional distance for kids to be able to drive, get to, parents be able to see games at - it’s a good fit for us.”

Meier said, “I think there’s some programs in this area that are just consistently national contenders...When you see that and they just keep generating player after player after player, it saves a lot of time as a coach. Because when you get them into your program they’ve been through a program that prepared them so well.”

The University of Virginia has taken the most Top 100 recruits out of Maryland from 2009-13 with four. The University of Maryland and Georgetown are second with three each. The only other schools to recruit multiple Maryland players from the Top 100 are West Virginia and James Madison, each with two.

Of those five schools with multiple, Maryland has clearly had the most successful women’s basketball program in recent years. Yet Virginia and Georgetown are equally as popular. SB Nation Swish Appeal writer James Bowman says this is because Maryland isn’t always shooting for the players in their own state.

“[The University of] Maryland recruits nationally,” Bowman said. “This puts top Maryland recruits in competition with the top recruits from every other state, particularly Virginia. The University of Virginia is a top-flight school with a new coach and is looking to turn itself around, so it can siphon off any top recruit that Maryland doesn’t take.

“[Maryland] should be the kind of school that the best in-state high school players would want to go to. But there are only 15 young women who can be Terrapins and only a handful of slots open up a year,” he said.

In addition, there is always the desire of some high school kids to move away from home.

“People say ‘you didn’t get the kids in your own backyard’ or whatever, but when I was in high school, I wanted to get away,” said Full Court Press recruiting expert Clay Kallam. “Some kids are like that, they don’t want to stay close to home, some do. That’s not something that a college coach can control.”

For Good Counsel’s Faith Randolph, the No. 27 recruit in 2012, there was a lot to like about Virginia.  

“It’s just an overall great school academically and athletically,” said Randolph, now a sophomore guard for the Cavaliers. “The coaching staff here wants to succeed. At Good Counsel we had a great program, and at Virginia I want to help it become one to the top programs as well.”

For others, the dream was to follow in the footsteps of the 2006 Terps that won the national championship.

“Them winning the 2006 national championship was a huge deal,” said Maryland freshman forward out of Baltimore’s Digital Harbor A’Lexus Harrison. “I was very young in 2006, but it was also a big impact on me because it actually made me want to play basketball.”

Maryland redshirt sophomore guard Brene Moseley said, “I think anyone that knows women’s basketball thinks of that 2006 shot when Kristi hit it,” referring to Kristi Toliver’s 3-pointer that sent the national championship game against Duke to overtime. Moseley came from the class of 2011 at Paint Branch High School in Burtonsville, and was the same rank as Harrison on HoopGurlz (No. 70). “Stuff like that makes it so much more fun to play here because everyone wants to live for those moments.

“I’m blessed to be able to play where I was raised and in front of a crowd where some could be my friends and a lot of them could be my family...it’s fun every day when I’m able to walk out here and see familiar faces,” Moseley said.

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