One of the reasons basketball star Jamal West Jr. was excited about transferring to No. 1 St. Frances this season is the chance to play with All-Metro point guard Adrian “Ace” Baldwin.
The junior forward, who helped Dunbar claim the Class 1A state title last season, has been getting friendly warnings from his new teammates: Always be ready for the ball.
“Ace is a true point guard and they always tell me: ‘If you don’t think he sees you, he sees you,’ ” said West, who earned All-Metro second-team honors last season.
West is just one of a number of standout players who are busy making adjustments — both big and small, and both on and off the court — playing at new schools this season. The top five teams in The Baltimore Sun’s Top 15 preseason poll alone are counting on transfers, and there are plenty of others looking to make a positive impact for their new teams.
What is the key for a successful union?
“First and foremost, you have to do your homework and make sure it’s the right fit for the young man, your school and program,” said Mount Saint Joseph coach Pat Clatchey, whose No. 3 Gaels have brought in Javonte Brown, a 6-foot-10 transfer from Ontario. “For us, it’s about finding someone with high character, a capable student and a good player, somebody that can fit in every aspect. It’s a process of making them feel welcome and helping with the transition and acclimation process.”
In Baltimore City, No. 2 Poly and No. 4 Patterson have consistently integrated transfers in recent years to build highly successful programs.
The Engineers have won back-to-back Class 3A state championships and are defending Baltimore City champions with transfers playing a vital role in both seasons. In the 2016-17 season, senior forward De’Vondre Perry, a transfer from North Carolina who is now playing at Temple, led them to their first state title. Last season, forward Justin Lewis came from Calvert Hall and emerged as one of the area’s most dominant inside forces to help the Engineers repeat.
While Lewis returns for his senior season, the Engineers are welcoming Brandon Murray, a transfer from New York, to provide a boost when he becomes academically eligible in the second half of the season.
Poly coach Sam Brand said the challenges that comes with transferring to Poly are life-changing and Murray, like the others, is working hard on overcoming the hurdles to become a better student, player and young man.
“With the schedule and academic workload, what we tell the guys is this is a lifestyle decision to put yourself on a path to play college basketball,” he said. “It’s such a competitive thing to take on in getting a scholarship and play at the college level, it requires a lot of commitment to do it the right way. A lot of guys are shellshocked at first. But after getting their bearings and everything under them, getting a routine down and understanding of what is expected of them, we see guys make a major jump.”
Marvin Price came to Patterson from DeMatha as a sophomore two years ago and led the Clippers to Baltimore City and Class 2A state championships in earning All-Metro co-Player of the Year honors in 2016-17. After spending last season at Huntington Prep (W.Va.), he has returned to the East Baltimore school for his senior year. Patterson also welcomes Jalen Willis, who transferred in from Joppatowne last season.
With a talented mix of returning players and new additions, the Clippers are in the mix for more titles this season.
Willis, a 6-foot-4 senior wing, brings grinding do-everything skills with consistent double-double potential. Unlike at Joppatowne, where he was the star player, he won’t be expected to carry the load at Patterson. Having played Amateur Athletic Union ball with Price and some of his other new teammates has helped make for a smooth transition, and he noted that the more challenging practices are helping him become a better player and person.
“At Joppatowne, I had a little freedom because I was the guy up there,” he said. “When I came down here, I see that I have people around me with the same potential, so I have to work a lot harder and do more to become better. I can rely on more teammates and don’t have to do as much by myself.”
A dominating post player at Dunbar last season, West said his move to St. Frances can help him become a more complete player. Playing on a team with more size and talent, he is developing more of an outside game to complement his inside work. During practice, he splits time with the guards and bigs.
“One thing that is different here is I have people to rebound, others [who can] play [power forward and center], so I’m developing a wing game,” he said.
At Dulaney, the No. 5 Lions have been inching closer to the program’s first state title and could be primed for a breakthrough with a strong cast returning and the addition of John Carroll transfer forward Cameron Byers providing a major boost.
The City Knights, ranked No. 14, are banking on seven transfers to return to contender status. Coach Omarr Smith is aware of the challenges of incorporating all the new players from different places, but is confident the team can quickly jell. Point guard Darrius Tilghman (Calvert Hall) and forward Clarence Obiajulu (Concordia Prep) are two standouts City will count on along with the team’s lone returnee, Jalen Yates.
Elsewhere, No. 7 New Town hopes to get a spark from Mount Saint Joseph transfer Maurice Smith; No. 8 Gilman is looking forward to having shooting guard Chase Drew on the floor as he sat out last year after coming in from Dulaney; No. 9 and defending Class 2A champ Lake Clifton gets an experienced point guard in David Harris from Digital Harbor; and DeMatha transfer Ray Ritter brings a fine perimeter game to No. 10 Annapolis Area Christian.