HYATTSVILLE – Late in the first half against Paul VI Catholic High School on June 22, Hunter Dickinson found his groove. After taking an elbow shot in the face, the DeMatha Catholic High School center took the non-call with aggressive play down in the paint.
Not known for his physicality, the 7-foot-2 Stag muscled his way through two-to-four Panther defenders to convert layup after layup while collecting rebounds at will. He finished the game with a double-double performance of 31 points and 19 rebounds.
“I am just more hungry to help my team,” Dickinson said. “I feel like now it is me and Earl (Timberlake Jr.) that are going to be relied on a lot so I have to bring it more this year to help our team win and put my guys in position to score as well.”
In a physical affair in front of more than 25 college scouts and head coaches, DeMatha leaned on their veterans to establish a huge lead against their Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) rivals. Despite a thunderous comeback by the Panthers, the Stags were able to hold on for a 77-70 victory in their DMV Live Period showcase game.
The NCAA-sanctioned event allowed local players to compete in games with their high school teams in front of college coaches for an opportunity to get recruited. Previously, players and coaches would meet in AAU-tournaments during these “live periods” in events sponsored by shoe companies like Nike or Adidas.
“All of our coaches told us to play our game,” Dickinson said. “College coaches look at everything from body language to everything else. So we just had to play our game and do not try to do stuff you cannot do; coaches will notice that.”
DeMatha, who defeated Bullis School 69-49 earlier in the day, brought in their senior leaders Dickinson and guard Timberlake to compete during the live period showcase. Both players had not played a minute with the younger Stag players during the Capitol Hoops Summer League play since it started in late May.
However, any lack of cohesion did not show as DeMatha jumped out to a 13-2 run, including connecting three consecutive 3-pointers. Dickinson, who has yet to announce where he would be attending college after his senior year, attacked the rim to score 22 first-half points for the Stags.
Rising junior Elijah Hawkins made his presence known with five consecutive points to lead the Stags on another 11-3 run. It forced Paul VI to call their second timeout midway through the first half. DeMatha Assistant Coach Ben Dickinson said he enjoyed seeing younger players connect with the veterans so early the game.
“I think a lot of the younger guys are starting to get into their groove and mixing in some of these new guys from the lower levels with our old guys worked really well,” Ben Dickinson said. “The seniors are doing a great job of bringing those guys along and making sure we move the ball well, so I am excited to see what happens next year.”
Paul VI slowly got back in the game with quick layups and jumper attempts. The Panthers were already being cautious after rising junior Trevor Keels injured his knee during their 70-66 overtime loss against Saint Frances during an earlier game. Guard Josiah Freeman drove the majority of the offense for Paul VI during an 11-0 to head to halftime down by 20.
The play between both teams became chipper and more physical after halftime. Both teams fought for every loose ball with elbows being thrown frequently. The battle inside between Hunter Dickinson and forward Avery Ford got intense as the Panthers’ player did not let go of the Stag or the ball during a loose ball tussle. Hunter Dickinson ended up pushing him and he received a technical foul.
“That always going to be like that when we play teams within our league,” Timberlake, who scored 12 points, said. “We know Paul VI and they know us and these games are always going to be this.”
Meanwhile, Paul VI adjusted without Keels, with Ford and Freeman scoring 21 of their 27 second half points. The Panthers stormed back with a 19-1 run, to bring down DeMatha’s lead as low as six points in the final three minutes.
However, DeMatha’s young players made critical plays in the final moments. First, the Stags forced consecutive turnovers to regain possession of the ball to kill some of the game clock. With less than 30 seconds remaining and a comeback still possible, forward Paul Smith blocked a layup attempt by Jack Jensen to seal the Stags’ win.
The addition of the youth will be key moving forward for DeMatha as they look to rebound from losing the WCAC Basketball Tournament last season. The coaching staff will look to build off the continued growth of their rising sophomores and juniors to find DeMatha’s new role player heading into the regular season.
“We need to find another person that can help contribute night-in, night-out,” Hunter Dickinson said. “Once we find that, we are going to be pretty good next season.”