Gifted Area Duo a Potential Package for Terps

National Christian Academy in Fort Washington, Md., isn't a typical basketball power. The little-known 400-student school, located a few minutes from D.C., has one varsity sport for boys. The Eagles aren't aligned with a conference, AAU program or shoe company, they play in an airy, rubber-floored building previously the school's sanctuary and the players arrive with modest basketball profiles.

But if there's one thing NCA coach Trevor Brown has proven in the nine years since he took over a decrepit program that was little more than a cupcake opponent for area bluebloods like Gonzaga and Montrose Christian -– and there are actually quite a few – it's that he can uncover hidden talent and help develop such players into nationally coveted recruits. He did it with current superstars Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley, and he's doing it again with rising stars Dante Taylor and Will Barton.

It's a accomplishment Brown is most proud of -- producing big-time players who didn't come with ‘future star' tagging – and also one that helps him relate to Maryland coach Gary Williams.

"I like programs where the kids are getting developed and don't have to be highly recruited, and the coach gets the most out of them," Brown said, adding that the shared characteristic between he and Williams is probably the strongest factor working in Maryland's favor in its recruitment of his prized duo.

Williams "just gets the most out of them. It's easy when ‘X University' gets eight McDonald's All-Americans and half of them become pros. They might have been pros coming out of high school. Those kids that Gary has put in the NBA, none of them were top-50 players, maybe not even top-75. [Chris] Wilcox may have been top-50, but look at Juan Dixon. And Lonnie Baxter, I don't think he was even top-75 in his class."

Taylor, a 6-foot-9 junior power forward, and Barton, a 6-5 wing player, have become major recruits during their time at National Christian, and Maryland is among a handful of schools currently in the mix with both players. Terps assistants Chuck Driesell and Keith Booth have made their way to Bock Road on several occasions and have already made it clear they'd like to have both players commit.

Pitt, South Florida and USC also have offered Taylor, rated the No. 9 power forward in the Class of 2009, and the No. 29 player overall. Georgetown, UConn and others, meantime, have shown strong interest. Taylor, a native of Rochester, N.Y., who moved to Maryland, he says, to "escape all of the negativity at home" has visited Maryland and is a fan of the program.

"They're good. I like how they play up-tempo and they get guys who play hard all of the time like me," said Taylor, who averaged 18 points, 11 rebounds and roughly three blocks per game this year.

The challenge with Taylor will be overcoming his Big East roots. Where he comes from, most of the best players end up in the Big East, and he likes the idea of competing nightly against the roughneck big men the conference is renowned for. Pitt has been recruiting him the hardest to date and he likes the Panthers, though he's nowhere near committing to anyone. That won't happen until the end of summer, most likely, after he's done trying to produce an AAU campaign that vaults him into top-10 national status and McDonald's All-American territory.

"They're all pretty much equal right now," he said of the schools recruiting him.

Barton, meanwhile, is where Taylor was a year ago; though supremely talented, he's unheralded nationally. That is sure to change after he shows his wares on the spring and summer travel circuit. Some who have watched him frequently say he compares favorably to the Washington-area's top player in his class – Bishop O'Connell guard Kendall Marshall, a UNC recruit.

Barton transferred to National Christian from City High in Baltimore along with his brother Antonio, a 6-2 point guard who also has high-major potential. Brown says he's not too far from where Durant was at the same stage, so it's no wonder Maryland, Pitt, Georgetown and others are already hot on his trail.

"Kevin was more of a pure shooter at that stage, but I think Will has more overall skills level. Is he better than Kevin Durant? I don't know about that. But I think he's a little more skilled," Brown said of Barton, a talented slasher and outside shooter who averaged 18 points per game and is expected to grow a few more inches.

When Barton arrived at NCA, Brown said, "he had a lot of junk to his game." Brown had to convince him there was no need to cross his defender over three or four times and go behind the back all of the time. He could do every trick in the book and showed off tremendous ballhandling ability for a player of his age and size, but there was too much unnecessary motion.

"His biggest strength is he cam score in so many different ways. He hits the three, he gets tip-ins, he gets to the basket, he has a good mid-range game and he has a high basketball IQ and a good feel for the game," said Brown, who also played a prominent role in the late development of Virginia Tech's Deron Washington and Georgetown's Jessie Sapp.
Barton is being recruited by Terps assistant Keith Booth, a former prep star in Baltimore.

"I like [Maryland]. It's a good atmosphere and they like to get up and down," Barton said.

Barton, like Taylor, has quickly bought into the NCA system both on and off of the court. The kids who arrive on Bock Road usually come from backgrounds with little structure and discipline, so they almost always requirements such as wearing a uniform to school, attending bible study and study hall, and a challenging training program that includes 300 pushups and 300 sit-ups every day, in addition to weight training and plyometrics.

But the two, who like many of Brown's past proteges live in the Brown family's six-bedroom home, needed only a few months to abandon the stubborn pretenses with which they arrived. Defense is no longer an afterthought for Barton, who asks to guard the opposing point guard at every opportunity, and he isn't skipping out on his pushups any more and has grown from 145 pounds to 160.

"They're both really good kids," Brown says.

Taylor is dedicated to his academics and has opened up a bit personally; his wariness toward people whom he doesn't know well can come across as aloofness. Brown's wife, who wasn't so sure about Taylor when he showed up as a freshman, now jokes with her husband that all of the other kids can go, but Taylor needs to stay.

He's also posted strong performance against quite a few more highly touted prospects, winning head-to-head matchups against prized recruits like one-time Terps commit Terrence Jennings and Virginia standouts DeShawn Painter and Karron Johnson. Extremely agile for a big man, he's a major factor on the offensive glass and is beginning to become a polished shot-blocker.

"His biggest asset is his quickness. He's a lot quicker than most kids his size," Brown said. "He's very athletic. And he's a really aggressive rebounder."

"I feel like I'm doing really good in basketball and school, so it's been good [moving to Maryland]," Taylor said. "A couple of years ago I didn't think this could be possible."

Barton and Taylor, though only acquainted for about six months, talk frequently about playing together. It'll take a dedicated, all-out effort by the Maryland staff to make that happen in College Park, but it's certainly a possibility at this point.

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