When Bryan Bartley officially took over the storied Montrose Christian basketball program last summer, he inherited a roster that was 100 percent vacant — he literally didn’t have a single player. Those who hadn’t graduated in 2013 bolted to other schools when longtime coach Stu Vetter announced his resignation.
But a Montrose Christian roster doesn’t stay empty for long. The name sells itself. Within months, Bartley hauled in eight different transfers from six different states — Missouri, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Washington, Illinois — needing very little persuasion other than the use of two names: Montrose Christian, and his own, names prestigious enough that when they come calling, it’s difficult to decline.
And so, Patrick McCaw (from St. Louis), Jarrell Brantley (South Carolina) Allonzo Trier (Seattle) and Raymond Doby (Illinois) left behind their families, prior teammates, coaches — everything familiar — to play a season or two in a Montrose uniform.
“Our kids are all different,” said Bartley, whose two sons, Justice and Jaylen, followed him to Montrose. “They’re from all different places in life.”
This practice, hauling in players from all over the country, most for no more than two seasons, has brought on a variety of monikers for the Rockville private school — and several others in the surrounding area and country — from mercenary program to basketball factory.
“The name definitely says a lot when it comes to getting recruits in the area,” said first-year assistant coach Calvin Seldon, who came via Grace Brethren Clinton and brought with him senior A.J. Cabbagestalk. “The foundation starts with a good coaching staff from the ground up.”
Barely an hour down the road in Upper Marlboro is a similarly structured team in Riverdale Baptist, which also relies on transfers too talented to glean much else from playing in the public school ranks or even middle-level private schools.
There were no more realms of public school hoops for Nigel Johnson (Kansas State) to conquer when his junior year ended at Broad Run. During his final year in the public ranks, Johnson averaged nearly 30 points per game, eclipsed that number 11 times, and once scored 55. Yet his highest suitor was George Washington.
As a senior, with barely three months at Riverdale under his belt — in which he led the Crusaders to a Capital Beltway championship and was named tournament MVP — Johnson reneged on his oral commitment to GW and opened up the recruiting process again. Within a few weeks, Kansas State, a No. 4 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament, came calling, and Johnson was soon a Wildcat.
“I try to instill upon my players that this is the level you want to play,” said longtime Riverdale coach Lou Wilson, who is a career 556-215 at the school. “When you go off to college, there are going to be 12 players on a scholarship who were probably the best players on their high school teams.”
Like Montrose, the majority of Riverdale’s seniors are shipped off to college with a Division I scholarship in hand. Wilson estimates that in any given year, there could be as many as seven. And then it’s back to bringing in new names, new faces and new Division I talents — reloading.
“Coach Lou produces good players and that’s what college coaches want,” said Riverdale alumnus Justin Drummond, a former first-team All-Gazette player now with Toledo. “He creates a lot of opportunities for guys. There’s just a lot of tradition there. A lot of good players come through and play all different type of levels.”
And it’s not limited to Montrose and Riverdale. Capitol Christian, which played as Princeton Day, churned out nearly half a dozen Division I — or professional, in Aquille Carr’s case — players last year and the upstart Clinton Christian will likely be doing the same in the near future. Many may point to DeMatha Catholic as a similar “factory” producing basketball players on a figurative assembly line, but Mike Jones’ program has created a different identity.
The Stags, who are a part of the historically powerful Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, have established themselves as mostly a four-year program. There are those who transfer out, Quinn Cook bolting for Oak Hill for example, but rarely does Jones take in a transfer for just one season. The Riverdales, Montroses, Capitol and Clinton Christians — all of which competed independent of a conference just two years ago — of the world rely on a high influx of transfers, taking them in for a year or two, sometimes three, grooming them for the collegiate level, and sending them back out as a more polished basketball player.
“I don’t really have to recruit,” Wilson said. “We entertain phone calls and kids visiting Riverdale. Ninety-five percent of the kids reach out to me, and the other five percent are from parents, uncles, grandparents, cousins. Things like that happen quite often.”