The road to a possible trip to March Madness for Laurel resident Dominique Johnson will run through Prince George's County to Upper Marlboro in a few days.
A key junior guard for Division I Towson University, Johnson and the Tigers will take part in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament that begins March 12 at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro.
The winner of the title game on March 15 will get an automatic bid to the NCAA national tournament, known as March Madness.
"It is great to play at home and not too far from my actual home," said Johnson, who attended Eisenhower Middle School before playing prep ball at Holy Cross and Riverdale Baptist. "It is very motivating. This is our home and we want to do well. I have been playing with a sense of pride."
Last season at the CAA tourney Johnson, who is second on the team in scoring this year, had several family and friends on hand. One of them was Pam Sorenson, his former English teacher at Eisenhower who made the trek from her home in Canada to see Johnson and the Tigers.
Johnson had 13 points and six assists and played all 40 minutes as Towson lost to the College of Charleston in the CAA tourney last year.
This March, University of Maryland women's coach Brenda Frese, a long-time Laurel resident, will lead the nationally ranked Terps into their first Big Ten tourney that begins March 4 near Chicago.
Other student-athletes and coaches with ties to Laurel will take part in Division I conference tourneys in the coming days. And a conference tourney title means an automatic bid to March Madness and the national tourney.
Keith Coutreyer, the former boys basketball coach at Laurel High, is now the associate head coach at Howard University. The Bisons will take part in the Mid-Eastern Athletic tourney that starts March 9 in Norfolk, Va..
Old Dominion, with Laurel Boys and Girls Club product Jonathan Arledge, will participate in the Conference USA tourney that starts March 11 in Birmingham, Ala. A former Meade High player, Arledge is a senior forward and among the top players for the Monarchs.
St. Vincent Pallotti High graduate Tariq Owens, a freshman forward for Tennessee who hails from Odenton, will take part in his first college conference tourney when the Volunteers compete in the Southeastern Conference event starting March 11 in Nashville.
Beltsville resident Langston Burnett, another Pallotti grad, is a junior for Wagner on Staten Island. He played in eight of the first 21 games for the Seahawks of the Northeast Conference, which begins its tourney March 4. Another Pallotti product in the NEC is Marcquise Reed, who plays for Robert Morris near Pittsburgh; and Aubrey Williams, who plays for the University of Toledo of the Mid-American Conference, which begins its post-season tourney March 9 at campus sites. Williams, from Bowie, played in 13 of the first 23 games for Toledo.
Another Pallotti grad, Keron DeShields, took part in March Madness twice with Montana but will have to wait until next year as he is sitting out this season after he transferred from Montana to Tennessee State prior to this season. DeShields, from Baltimore, averaged 11.8 points per contest last season for Montana.
Freshman reserve Jeff Holland, from West Laurel, is part of one of the top Division III programs in the region at Catholic University. The Cardinals won their 13th game in a row on Senior Day Feb. 7 and are slated to begin post-season play Feb. 25. Catholic was nationally ranked in mid-February.
Holland, who is studying communications, was teammates at Pallotti with Owens, Burnett and Reed. At Catholic, he has enjoyed the small school environment.
"It is a great program. Coach is doing a great job of keeping us focused," Holland said of Steve Howes, the long-time head coach at Catholic.
No matter the level, the coming weeks will be a great time for college hoops. And Laurel can be proud of the many players and coaches who will be part of it.
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David Driver is a former Laurel Leader sports editor.