Van Whitfield was born in Baltimore, raised in Baltimore and “sent to die” in Baltimore.
Last year Whitfield, a best-selling author and the boys basketball coach at Princeton Day Academy in Beltsville, suffered a heart attack, contracted swine flu, battled pneumonia, experienced liver and kidney failure and was twice placed in a coma. At the University of Maryland hospital – the same hospital where he was born – Whitfield’s prognosis was overwhelmingly grim.
But Whitfield “had the good fortune to be saved” by a medical staff that he said went above and beyond to keep him alive.
“It meant something to me that the doctors and nurses and medical staff at Maryland worked so hard just to save my life,” said Whitfield, who spent four months in intensive care at the hospital. “Conceptually, you don’t think of your life as being that important and that valued. The bill for February alone was over $300,000. That much effort was put into it. [So] I just wanted to be able to do something for Baltimore because so much [here] was done for me.”
What Whitfield decided to do for his hometown was recruit as many high-level basketball players from Baltimore to Princeton Day Academy as he possibly could. Since leaving the hospital, Whitfield has secured commitments from junior point guard Kamau Stokes (John Carroll), junior shooting guard Omari George (City), senior forward Anton Waters (Forest Park) and senior shooting guard Josh Gerard (New Town).
“I’ve seen this year more young men from Baltimore than from the Washington D.C. area,” Whitfield said. “Being born, bred and raised as a Baltimore guy with a real connection, I’ve got a lot of family in Baltimore, a lot of friends, and ultimately, it was about relationships. I just had those relationships with many AAU and college coaches who recruit out of Baltimore. Those are the people who kind of make that initial introduction.”
Stokes, 5 feet 11, helped John Carroll to back-to-back MIAA A Conference tournament championships. He claims offers from Butler and Delaware, while George Mason, Mount St. Mary’s and UMBC are also involved. Stokes had a strong AAU campaign with Baltimore Supreme.
“He’s a leader, he’s a competitor,” Whitfield said. “He’s a multi-faceted, talented point guard. … When we met, we just instantly clicked, from a coach and player standpoint. I gave him some challenges, some things to think about. I think it was that initial conversation where he realized that my interest in him was much more than as a basketball player. As a rising junior student who I thought had not tapped into his intellectual potential, I sold him on if you’re able to be smarter in the classroom, the smarter you’ll be on the court. And the more of a threat you’ll be as a point guard to opposing players and coaches.”
George, who led City in scoring last season, starred for Under Armour B’more’s Finest this summer. The 6-foot-4 prospect has received early interest from George Mason and James Madison.
“Omari is an outstanding student,” Whitfield said. “He’s the kind of young man we’re seeking to bring into our program. He was a good student at City, and also a good basketball player. He’s one of the best in the area. Good shooter, good scorer. He led City in scoring last year, which says a lot when [he was playing with a] real top player like the young man Dwayne Morgan. That says a lot about his ability.”
Waters, another B’More’s Finest player, has received interest from Coppin State, Iona, Iowa, Kansas State, Middle Tennessee State, North Carolina Central, Radford and Tulane, according to Whitfield. The 6-foot-6 forward led the Foresters last season to an 18-4 record and the No. 13 ranking in The Sun’s boys basketball poll.
“Anton playing alongside our post players, I think he could be so much more effective and efficient,” Whitfield said. “He’s an impact player. He has a high motor. He plays really hard. … He has a nice face-up shot. It will allow him to explore his versatility and what he can bring.”
Gerard, a 6-foot-4 guard, is hearing from Coppin State, James Madison and Radford.
“Josh is an explosive, athletic 6-4 shooting guard,” Whitfield said. “He led New Town in scoring last year. They went to the state championship game. I think he just felt that he wanted the opportunity and challenge to play at a higher level and to get himself academically prepared for college.”
Whitfield was told by many doctors, after his recovery, that “there’s no way you should be alive.” He was then told he wouldn’t walk again and would be on oxygen for the rest of his life. Neither of those predictions came true. He was on 36 medications when he was released from the hospital; now he’s on one. With all that in mind, Whitfield plans to make the most with his second chance at life, focusing his energies on continuing to build Princeton Day Academy, and making Baltimore players a priority.
“I just feel a really strong connection with Baltimore,” Whitfield said, “especially after all that I went through.”