When Riverdale Baptist School basketball player Nigel Johnson attended Broad Run High (Va.) last year, he had a 55-point game against Osbourn. It could be debated which is more impressive: that single-game mark or the fact that it wasn't totally atypical.
Johnson averaged 29.5 points per game last season, a single point shy of leading the Washington, D.C., area in scoring average, and he averaged more points per game than anyone who played more than 15 games.
Averaging 19 points per game would have ranked eighth in Prince George's County last season. In his lowest-scoring game, Johnson had 19 points.
“Basically, I had to carry the team on offense and defense,” Johnson said. “I had to basically do almost everything.”
Shortly after his 55-point game, Johnson received a scholarship offer from American University. It's preparing for American, or another school that has already, or will eventually offer him a scholarship, that convinced Johnson to transfer to Riverdale Baptist. Johnson said he enjoyed his role at Broad Run, but he understands his scoring average will shrink at Riverdale Baptist — and he's OK with that, because it will help him in college.
Other schools that have offered him a scholarship include or Bucknell, Holy Cross, Lehigh, Quinnipiac, Robert Morris, Florida International, and William & Mary.
“You don't have to score 30 points to be the best player in the area,” Riverdale Baptist coach Lou Wilson said. “You can do other things out there on the court. Be a good teammate. You can share the basketball. You can play defense. All those things will incorporate in you playing a lot of minutes at the next level.”
Year after year, premier powers such as DeMatha and Riverdale Baptist fill their rosters with the area's top players, and it's pitches like Wilson's above that help them do it.
DeMatha coach Mike Jones points to Victor Oladipo and Jerian Grant, who spent their 2006-'07 seasons on DeMatha's freshman team. Oladipo didn't even start every game. Now, Oladipo starts for Indiana and Grant starts for Notre Dame.
“These are the guys that they look up to now, that they get to see at camp or that they get to watch on TV during the winter,” Jones said.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh won an NBA title with the Miami Heat last month, each sacrificing part of their game to play with the other two stars. Kevin Durant never publicly complains about how often Russell Westbrook shoots. More than the generation that grew up idolizing Michael Jordan for being a clear alpha player, it has become cool to share the ball.
But Jones and Wilson agree the effects are still limited, and it's a constant battle to convince players to accept lesser roles.
DeMatha's basketball camp began recently, and Jones said he planned to spend the first couple days working with players as young as 9 who struggle to mesh with other highly skilled players.
“They've already been told how good they are,” Jones said. “They want to be ranked. They want to be identified. They want to be recruited by the Dukes and the Kentuckies and the North Carolinas. You have that to fight against. But again, the ones that do buy in, the end result is pretty dangone good. It's just all about whether they're going to buy into it.”
When these high-end players buy in, the results can be incredible. The 2004-'05 Riverdale Baptist team went 33-1 and won the National Association of Christian Athletes Division 1 championship.
“We had 15 players that all could start at, say, a Largo or Suitland or Potomac,” Wilson said. “Fifteen of those guys could've started at any of those schools. 15!”
Jones said DeMatha's typically balanced scoring was “one of the things we're most proud of.” During the 2011-'12 season, DeMatha's sixth-leading scorer was just a few points per game behind top-scorer BeeJay Anya, a rising senior with scholarship offers from many of the nation's top teams.
“Some guys are so dominant in high school, when they get to college and they're around other good players, they struggle adapting to it,” Jones said. “Guys coming from here don't have that issue at all.”
Johnson called his transition “pretty simple, pretty easy” and said he plans to play the same way at Riverdale Baptist as he did at Broad Run. But are any 55-point games in the works next season?
“I don't think I would need to at Riverdale,” Johnson said.