A fervent Magic Johnson fan, the DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.) guard never passes up an opportunity to immerse himself in hardwood history.
The Pittsburgh signee is a hoophead to his core, so you can understand why he gets amped when it’s time for DeMatha to play in the annual Spalding Hoophall Classic in Springfield, Mass., just steps away from the Basketball Hall of Fame.
“We take a tour of the Hall and it’s a great experience for us,” the DeMatha guard said. “I love seeing the lockers with DeMatha’s name on it since us and Oak Hill (Va.) are the only high schools at the Hall. That and seeing all of Michael Jordan’s rings, shows and jerseys. I enjoy the entire experience.”
But the excitement surrounding last year’s event would be short-lived for Robinson and Co. Playing in front of Hall of Famer and former DeMatha coach Morgan Wootten, the Stags were historically bad once they took the court. The team had the dubious distinction of suffering the worst defeat in school history, falling 75-25 to St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.) on national television.
“It was bad,” said Robinson. “We were too careless with the ball. They punched us first and we didn’t respond.”
DeMatha came out lackadaisical and quickly fell behind the more aggressive Friars. The Stags’ first basket came in the waning minutes of the opening quarter as they trailed 18-2. Things got so out of hand that St. Anthony’s guard Myles Mack (28 points) outscored DeMatha by himself.
“I can’t imagine there was a worst loss for us,” said Stags coach Mike Jones. “We played as bad as we’re capable of and St. Anthony’s played very, very well. It was very humbling.”
The loss sent the team into a tailspin as DeMatha lost three of its next six contests and struggled to regain its swagger.
“It was embarrassing and a wake-up call,” senior forward Jerami Grant said. “Our season went downhill after that loss. I think we were a little too confident going into that game.”
Jones’ troops will finally get their shot at redemption this weekend when they return to the scene of that ugly loss.
DeMatha guard James Robinson will lead the Stags into action at this weekend's Spalding Hoophall Classic.
The Stags begin with a Saturday night matchup against Northwest Catholic (West Hartford, Conn.) followed by a nationally televised tilt on Monday (1 p.m. ET, ESPNU) with Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) and the nation’s top senior prospect, Shabazz Muhammad.
“We all know what happened last year, and we’ve matured,” said Robinson. “I think we’ll approach the game differently this time.”
The circumstances surrounding this weekend’s contests are eerily similar to last year’s. DeMatha was 13-1 and ranked No. 14 in the POWERADE FAB 50 last year. Going into this week’s action, it sports an 11-0 mark and sits in the No. 5 spot nationally.
DeMatha was able to rebound from its poor Hoophall performance to win its 22nd City crown last winter, but the loss still stings for the team’s veterans. Robinson and Grant are intent on flipping the script at this year’s event and proving that last season’s effort was out of character for DeMatha basketball.
“We want to let everybody know the team that played last year wasn’t us,” said Grant, who signed with Syracuse in the fall. “We know we’re better than that.”
Robinson and Grant are each averaging double figures, but the key to sweeping the two contests could be the continued emergence of juniors BeeJay Anya and Jairus Lyles.
Anya, a 6-foot-8 forward, has been a dominant force on the interior with his scoring and shot blocking, while Lyles, a guard, has been a valuable starter with his ball-handling and 3-point shooting. That foursome can create some serious matchup problems and their experience manifests itself in clutch situations.
“Those guys bring a lot of experience to the table,” Jones said. “We’re a lot more experienced this time around. Last year we had a lot of guys playing their first year on varsity.”
It’s apparent playing better at Hoophall is of the utmost importance to the Stags, but even if they win both games, they’re not ready to put that St. Anthony loss out of their minds just yet. It still serves as motivation for a larger goal — another City crown.
“In terms of forgetting that loss, I don’t think that’s possible,” says Jones. “But that game is not the memory we want people to have of DeMatha basketball. We hope people get to see the real DeMatha this time.”
David Auguste is an associate editor for ESPNHS and ESPNHS.com. Follow him on Twitter @ESPNHSAuguste or email him at David.Auguste@espn.com.