Jonathan Arledge is a smooth 6-foot-9 basketball player with a nice outside shooting touch for a big man, and the ability to also make nice moves near the basket. With little body fat, the Laurel Boys and Girls Club product and former Meade High School student is a solid Division I player at a mid-major level.
But until early February, the junior at George Mason University in northern Virginia had probably not lived up to the expectations he created in high school at KIMA, then a charter school in the nation's capital. He attracted attention from such big-time programs as Georgetown and had scholarship offers from VCU, Xavier, Virginia and Temple, among others, but ended up committing to Mason.
With March Madness around the corner, Arledge played the best basketball of his college career in February. In three straight games he reached his career high for points, climaxing with a 21-point effort in a win against ODU on Feb. 4. He was averaging just 5.2 points per game as of Jan. 30 before scoring 104 points in the next seven games, including 20 at Hofstra on Feb. 20.
"It is a matter of going out and being ready to compete and do what is best to win for my team," said Arledge, whose mother lives at Fort Meade. "It was time for me to step up."
"Jon has the ability to score. He has really improved his defense," said Mason head coach Paul Hewitt, who used to battle the Terps of Maryland when he was a head coach at Georgia Tech. "He has really improved defensively. He is doing a better job of not fouling and that is allowing him to stay on the floor."
Mason will aim for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament (March Madness) at the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, which begins March 9 in Richmond. North Laurel's Shane Reybold (Reservoir) also plays in the CAA with UNC-Wilmington and he had a career-high 11 points at Towson in February. But the Seahawks, along with Towson, are not eligible for post-season due to team academic shortcomings under previous coaching regimes.
Another player with Laurel ties looking to dance in March is St. Vincent Pallotti High graduate Keron DeShields, a sophomore guard at the University of Montana. He took part in March Madness last season as a reserve with the Grizzlies, who lost to Wisconsin in the first round. Montana is a member of the Big Sky Conference, which begins its tourney March 14. DeShields has been a part-time starter this season.
Former Laurel High head coach Keith Coutreyer is the associate head coach at Howard University, which plays in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC). Hampton is also in the MEAC and a senior for the Pirates is Wes Dunning (Gonzaga High), who grew up in Laurel. The MEAC tourney begins March 11 in Norfolk.
Laurel resident Ryan Cook (Pallotti) is one of the top players for Maryland-Baltimore County of the America East Conference, which starts tourney play March 8 in Albany.
On the women's teams, Pallotti grads with Division I programs include Chizzy Ededigwe of Seton Hall and Tiffany Padgett of Loyola of Baltimore. The Pirates are members of the Big East Conference, which begins its tournament March 8 in Connecticut. The Greyhounds are members of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, which starts its post-season event March 7 at the birthplace of basketball in Springfield, Mass. Laurel resident Dominique Johnson (Riverdale Baptist) is a freshman at Towson and was named CAA rookie of the week Feb. 11.
If Mason, Montana, Howard, Hampton, UMBC, Seton Hall and Loyola win their conference tourneys it means an automatic bid to the NCAA Division I field. And that would mean a Laurel connection to March Madness for the third year in a row.
"Once we get to conference (tourney) play we have to show up every night so we can get that automatic bid," said Arledge, who took part in March Madness as a freshman in 2011 at Mason.
David Driver is a former Leader sports editor.