Brooklyn, the home of the 1970s TV sitcom show "Welcome Back Kotter," is hip once again. The New Jersey Nets of the National Basketball Association have moved east to Brooklyn, which has a pro team for the first time since 1957. The Nets are now playing at the Barclays Center at Flatbush Avenue, not far from where the Brooklyn Dodgers — The Boys of Summer — played baseball before heading to Los Angeles in time for the 1958 season. Brooklyn's street cred with hoops was featured on the cover of a recent Sports Illustrated.
For years Brooklyn has played second fiddle to Manhattan, and that is something Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz noted a few weeks ago when the Atlantic 10 Conference hoop media day was held at the Barclays Center. I worked as an intern for a weekly newspaper in Brooklyn when I was in college nearly 30 years ago and it was fun to be back in the area for the Atlantic 10 event, which featured George Washington University head coach and Bowie native Mike Lonergan.
In some ways, Prince George's is to Washington, D.C., as Brooklyn is to Manhattan when it comes to basketball. While the District has produced hoop legends such as Elgin Baylor and Dave Bing, Prince George's has several of its own, such as Kevin Durant and Ty Lawson, currently in the NBA.
Laurel, which also includes parts of Anne Arundel and Howard County, also has its own share of basketball standouts. Laurel Baptist Academy graduate Louis Bullock, who grew up in Temple Hills, was drafted out of Michigan by Minnesota of the NBA in 1999 and has played several years in Europe. Fort Washington's Jarrett Jack, who played one season at St. Vincent Pallotti High, played last season with Golden State. As this college basketball is set to begin, including Maryland's game against defending national champion Kentucky on Nov. 9 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Laurel once again is part of the action at the Division I level.
Laurel resident Aki Thomas was named the interim head coach for the men's basketball team at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County just before the start of practice in October after the sudden resignation of former head coach Randy Monroe. Thomas will make his head coaching debut Nov. 9 at Penn.
"The biggest challenge is to make the transition from assistant to head coach," said Thomas, who moved from Greenbelt to Russett with his family last year. "I am always checking my Google calendar. Recruiting is going to be very tricky at this point."
Thomas will rely greatly on Laurel resident Ryan Cook, another former Pallotti player who averaged 12.5 points per game last year for the Retrievers.
"Ryan is a tremendous defender," said Thomas, a New York native who graduated from Howard University in 2002. "His energy level is always at the top. He can score the basketball."
Former Laurel High boys coach Keith Coutreyer, who spent part of his youth in the Bronx, is the associate head coach again this season, under Kevin Nickelberry, at Howard University. Coutreyer is a former assistant coach at Hampton, which is a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference rival of Howard.
Wesley Dunning, from Laurel, is a senior at Hampton University this season and a product of Gonzaga. Laurel Boys and Girls Club product Jonathan Arledge is a junior at George Mason.
North Laurel's Shane Reybold, a former standout at Reservoir High in Howard County, is a junior forward at North Carolina-Wilmington. The former walk-on earned a scholarship this past summer after two years in the program. His head coach is Buzz Peterson, a former teammate with Michael Jordan at North Carolina.
"He is one of those kids that just plays hard," Peterson told me during the Colonial Athletic Association media day in Arlington, Va. "We rewarded him with a scholarship. He has done a tremendous job for us. He gets in there and competes and battles every single day. His playing time is going to increase. He has earned it."
Former Pallotti standout Levi Watkins is the assistant director of basketball operations at North Carolina State, a nationally ranked team as the season begins. Watkins played for the Wolfpack in college.
Keron DeShields, a Pallotti grad, is a sophomore guard at Montana, which lost in the first round of the NCAA tourney last March to Wisconsin.
On the women's side, University of Maryland head coach Brenda Frese is married to Mark Thomas, a former Laurel High football player. Chizoba Ekedigwe, a former Pallotti standout, is a sophomore center this season for Seton Hall. Another Division I product from Pallotti is sophomore Amanda Gorham of Long Island University, which is in Brooklyn.
It seems like these days all roads lead to Brooklyn, which the Terps will learn when the college hoop season begins Nov. 9.
David Driver is a former Laurel Leader sports editor.
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