By MARCUS HELTON
RIVERDALE, MD - When Tariq Johnson transferred from Parkdale (Md.) to Kent Island (Md.) for his final two years of high school, he had little reason to expect he’d ever play another organized game in the PHS gym again.
Last Saturday’s DMV Winter Classic brought him back home, though, and Johnson - now doing post-graduate year at Mt. Zion Prep (Md.) - took full advantage of the opportunity.
Playing in front of supportive and vocal crew of family and former teammates and classmates, Johnson scored 14 points and earned game Most Valuable Player honors as Mt. Zion pulled away to beat Massanutten, 83-65.
“It felt great,” Johnson said. “As soon as everybody found out about the tournament, my phone was blowing up nonstop. Everybody told me they were going to come out here and support. It felt good to be back in my city, and especially getting the win.”
After two years at Parkdale, Johnson (right) left in the summer of 2015 and put up two highly-productive seasons at Kent Island, emerging as a bonafide Division I prospect. He elected to do a prep year at Mt. Zion to further improve his stock.
“Oh it’s helped me a lot,” he said of going to Mt. Zion. “It’s helped me become a better basketball player and a better man myself. I’m working on everything and its helped my conditioning, my jump shot – it’s helped everything. … We do this thing called CrossFit, it’s definitely helped my body out a lot. It’s helped me jump higher, get stronger, be more conditioned – everything.”
The 6-foot-5, 205-pounder earned a scholarship offer from James Madison in December to go with ones from Siena and Wagner. He’s taken a few visits, and said he probably won’t decide on a school until March or April.
“[I’m looking for] somewhere I can call home,” he said. “Somewhere that I can come in and then produce right away, and somewhere that I be effective and get on the court.”
FOSTER, RAFUS THRIVING AT MT. ZION
After graduating from Middleburg (Va.) and Lake Clifton (Md.) respectively last spring, Baltimore natives Tyler Foster and Andre Rafus decided to stay home for prep years at Mt. Zion (Md.)
The duo has been productive for the Warriors all season and again made key contributions Saturday, as Foster scored 13 points and Rafus added 10 in a 83-65 win over Massanutten.
“The prep level is different,” Foster said. “The prep level is as close as you’re going to get to Division I ball if you ask me, because everybody on the floor can play at any position, different skill sets – all types of stuff. Its like college, and it prepares you well and we work hard each and every day just like we will at the next level.“
Foster and Rafus (right) were both previously verbally committed to Division I schools, with the 6-foot-6 Foster pledging to Georgetown as a sophomore and the 6-9 Rafus committing to TCU last spring before later deciding to reopen his reopen his recruitment.
“It was probably easier for us [to work with them] than anybody else, because we’ve known them since they were younger,” Mt. Zion coach Rod Harrison said. “Their Dads played with us. So, it was more of a respect thing, and once we got them in there we had to bring them and let them know this is not a one-man show. They were so used to being the man on the team, but its a team effort. Your time might be a three-minute stretch, his time might be a two-minute stretch, you might get it again for a one-minute stretch.”
Both players are still firmly on Division I radars, with Harrison mentioning Siena, St. Louis, St. Bonaventure and Jacksonville State among those in the hunt for Foster. Rafus said he’s heard from Georgetown, Penn State and Oregon, among others.
“All of my weaknesses are becoming my strengths this year,” Rafus said. “But overall I got way stronger, more speed and attacking and my legs feel stronger. My first step is faster and I’m getting my release off quicker.”
CARROLL’S HARRISON MAKES IMMEDIATE IMPACT
Archbishop Carroll (DC) has enjoyed a nice bounce-back season under new head coach Michael Powell, already notching 11 wins after going 0-22 a year ago.
The Lions have gotten good contributions from a mix of returnees and new faces, and on Saturday they got a huge performance from a totally unexpected source.
2020 center Anton Harrison - called up from the junior varsity just a few weeks ago - posted a monster 26-point, 15-rebound performance as Carroll picked up an 82-68 win over Friendship Tech Prep.
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Harrison is no slouch athletically. He’s a Four-Star offensive tackle prospect and currently holds football offers from Boston College, East Carolina, Florida International, Kentucky, Maryland, Penn State, Pitt and Syracuse.
“People were getting hurt on the team,” Harrison said of his varsity promotion, “and I decided to try to move up and help on defense, offense and rebounding and be another big body for the team and just produce.”
And produce he did. Friendship Tech couldn’t keep Harrison pff the boards or away from the basket, and he flashed the footwork and athleticism that’s made him such a target for football coaches.
Harrison’s time on the court is apparently only temporary - he said he’s going to focus solely on football after this season - but in the meantime, he provides the Lions with another young and talented piece.
LONG BENEFITTING FROM MASSANUTTEN STINT
Former St. Mary’s-Ryken (Md.) 2019 guard Mekhi Long transferred to Massanutten Military Academy (Va.) this summer looking to elevate his game, and he feels the move has paid off thus far.
“It’s helping me a lot, playing against older guys who are stronger and faster,” he said. “When I’m with my peers this summer, I’ll be ahead. It accelerated my thinking on the fly.”
Long said he’s now 6-foot-7 and 195 pounds - up 15 pounds since his arrival. Long was already firmly on the D-I radar with offers from the likes of Kansas State, Rhode Island, Towson and Virginia Tech, but is just scratching the surface.
“Everything’s going up,” he said. “I just got [an offer from] Memphis recently. It’s going up and especially this summer it’ll go up.”
ISLER THRIVING IN NEW ROLE
2018 guard Eric Isler’s transfer from Wakefield (Va.) to Frederick Douglass-PG (Md.) for his senior year has proven beneficial for both him and the Eagles.
The 6-foot-5 Isler (right) has emerged as Douglass’ leading scorer - and an intriguing two-way backcourt option for college coaches - and showed his skill set while scoring 16 points in a 74-63 win over Annapolis.
“Playing guard [has been the biggest change], because at my old school they made me kind of play big man,” he said. “[Coach Tyrone Massenburg] gave me the confidence to play guard and bring the ball up the court and stuff like that.”
Isler averaged around 7 points per game last year at Wakefield, but has increased that to nearly 16 points per game this year. He has good range on the offensive end and doesn’t shy away from defending the opponents’ top player, as he did Annapolis star guard Christian Jones.
“He was a good player,” Isler said of Jones, who left the game with an injury in the second half. “I just had to slide my feet and make it hard for him. Right now, we’ve still got defense to work on If we’re going to win states; we’ve just got to play defense and move the ball better on offense.”
Thurgood Marshall (DC) 2018 guard Savion Gallion opened the day in style, posting 31 points in an opening 75-31 rout of Parkdale. … Friendship Tech 2018 guard Kenneth Tyree also added 31 points in a loss to Archbishop Carroll, tying for event high scoring honors. … Bowie continued its impressive recent stretch with an 85-82 win over Wilson. 2018 guard Jordan Harris had 23 points and 2019 guard Nigel Santa-Cruz 17 points. … In the nightcap, Rock Creek Christian pushed past Fairmont Heights, 76-61, behind 18 points from Rhode Island-bound 2018 forward Jermaine Harris.
ROCK CREEK CHRISTIAN VS. FAIRMONT HEIGHTS
BOWIE VS. WILSON
ARCHBISHOP CARROLL VS. FRIENDSHIP TECH PREP
FREDERICK DOUGLASS VS. ANNAPOLIS
MT. ZION PREP VS. MASSANUTTEN MILITARY
SAVION GALLION HIGHLIGHTS