The toughest ticket in town last week was probably Gilbert Arenas’ birthday party. But a high-school basketball game rated a close second.
The mood outside the Trinity College gym at tipoff time of the DeMatha–St. John’s matchup had all the trappings of a big sporting event except scalpers. Everybody who showed up wanted to get in.
And way too many people showed up.
Flares and flashing lights from police cars were all over the streets bordering the Northeast D.C. campus, with the cops telling folks along Michigan Avenue that there was no parking on the school’s site. People in cars trolling the strip a few hundred yards from the gym were alerting pedestrians not to bother even trying to get in. School administrators shut down the entrances 15 minutes before game time, and even those with tickets were shut out.
That’s the sort of interest that Dennis Marshall is depending on. Last week, Marshall officially unveiled dcmetrohoops.net, a members-only Web site that promises to follow the local hoops scene with big-game write-ups, AAU updates, player scouting reports, a message board, plus the sort of insider info not available to the average fanatic.
“This area needs a site like this,” says Marshall. “This is a special year for basketball here. When you’re talking about St. John’s–DeMatha, it’s almost like watching a college game. You’re talking about maybe eight Division I guys in the starting 10 from those teams.”
Marshall is a lot closer to the schoolboy hoops scene than all but a few zealots. His son, Kendall Marshall, has been a known quantity among followers of youth basketball since he was in grammar school.
The NBA invited Kendall to play in an exhibition before its All-Star game in 2003 and put out a press release in which all-time great Bill Walton spoke glowingly of the youngster’s ability. The news blitz surrounding Kendall incited Clark Francis, founder of the obsessives’ bible, Hoop Scoop, to call the kid “the most hyped young player ever.”
“More people know about Kendall Marshall than anyone in the history of sixth-grade basketball,” Francis told the Dallas Morning News at the time.
Francis’ newsletter had Kendall as the top-ranked sixth-grader in the country. Back then, he was playing varsity basketball for the Evangel Christian School in Dale City, Va. His coach there told me at the time that O’Connell was among the schools putting the full-court press on Kendall in hopes of getting him to transfer.
The work paid off: Four years after his sixth-grade heyday, Kendall is now a freshman at O’Connell and a starting guard for the Arlington school’s varsity squad.
Any comprehensive Web site on local hoops will have to report on Kendall’s travails. But the elder Marshall says he didn’t found the site to promote his son, and he maintains Kendall won’t be scouted any differently than anybody else. He adds, however, that he’ll enforce a strict no-bashing rule covering all players, family or otherwise.
“I tell Kendall not to visit this site or Web sites about basketball,” he says. “There’s so much negativity out there. That’s one of the reasons I’m doing this. Anything insulting will be removed immediately from the message board. Everything on my site will be positive. These are just kids.”
That these athletes are also children tends to get overlooked in the recruiting realm. Internet message boards for recruits are hater magnets. A typical dose of bile came this spring from a poster on the board of the Web site hoopsvibe.com, after folks sung the praises of Bill Walker, an Ohio prep player rated by many scouting services as being among the cream of the 2007 crop: “he got NO GAME. dude gets packed like, 24/7. he also got no shot to speak of. in fact, i’m wasting my time even writing bout him, late.”
By day, Marshall is a systems administrator for a D.C. law firm. The Woodbridge resident says he found himself going to a youth-basketball game of some sort “almost every night” for years before starting the site. At a lot of those games, he ran into James Quinn, a 52-year-old lawyer and admitted youth hoopaholic.
Quinn, falling back on his stint as sports editor of his college newspaper, signed on to be dcmetrohoops.net’s chief correspondent. (Accurately predicting that a storm front would hit Trinity College, Quinn got inside the gym an hour before the St. John’s–DeMatha tipoff and so was able to file an eyewitness account of the thriller, a 66-60 DeMatha win, for the new site.)
Quinn doesn’t have any kids on the local basketball scene, and he didn’t partner with Marshall’s site with any dreams of making real money out of it. Quinn says the writing gig will allow him to feed his jones for amateur hoops, which he’s had ever since his father took him to his first game—the legendary Texas Western–Kentucky NCAA championship at Cole Field House in 1966. His love of the sport doesn’t extend to the NBA version.
“I wouldn’t walk across the street to go to an NBA game if I had a ticket,” he says. “I spend my summer vacations going to [youth] basketball tournaments.”
Marshall decided to make it a for-pay endeavor—a “premium” site in Web parlance—to project an image of quality. Subscriptions, going for $7 a month, have been trickling in—“We’re getting three a day our first week,” Marshall says. “We hope to have 100 paying subscribers by the end of the month.”
Both as a basketball parent and the founder of a hoops Web site, Marshall is going down roads that have been traveled before. And not without big bumps.
“They started recruiting my son in sixth grade,” says William Edelin, father of Billy Edelin, the one-time local schoolboy superstar and former point guard for Syracuse University. “I know what goes on, because I saw it firsthand, and it’s not pretty.”
The elder Edelin’s experience with the kiddie recruiting process inspired him to start dbthplaythegame.com in 2000. The Web site (DBTH stands for “don’t believe the hype”), along with giving insider info on the hottest local hoop talent, was intended to warn parents of what Edelin called the “sharks and barracudas” that prey on kids who can dribble or shoot or slap the backboard without much of a leap. Edelin also tried charging a monthly fee for his info, but that idea flopped.
He says today’s recruiting game is still just as dirty as it was when he was immersed in it—“Maybe some of the hustlers have moved on to a different hustle, but it’s still really bad out there,” he says—and agrees that sites with a more positive bent are needed.
But Edelin, who is not familiar with Marshall’s site, doubts the paid-membership model will work any better now than it did when he tried it.
“If you’re looking for people to send $7 a month, he ain’t gonna make no money on that,” Edelin says. “People don’t wanna know about local kids. They wanna know about the national. They want the USA Today coaches’ poll every week. They want national player rankings.”
Parents might learn something from Billy’s story, too. Billy played in a lot of big games during his three years at DeMatha but got booted out of the Hyattsville school before his senior year for reported academic foibles. He had picked a college before he even knew what high school he’d be going to for 12th grade. He ended up finishing his prep career as an All-American at Oak Hill Academy, the basketball factory in Mouth of the Wilson, Va.
His days at Syracuse were spotty, though he did nothing to sully his basketball reputation. He helped the Orangemen to their first NCAA championship in 2003.
But Edelin was kept off the court at various times amid accusations of NCAA violations, sexual misconduct, and undisclosed personal issues. He ended up withdrawing from school as a redshirt junior. In just the last year, comeback attempts with Mountain State University in Beckley, W.Va.; the Great Falls Explorers in Great Falls, Mont.; and Verviers-Pepinster, a team in the Belgian league, have failed.
According to his father, Billy is again living in Syracuse these days, working out on his own and waiting for the phone to ring with another offer to play basketball somewhere. His NCAA eligibility is up. He didn’t get a degree.