Baltimore natives emerge at Princeton Day Academy
Van Whitfield dreamed of coaching a nationally competitive high school basketball program years ago. He just didn’t think his plans would come to fruition so quickly.
Whitfield was born in Baltimore, graduated from Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt and went to UMBC for college. He started the basketball program at Princeton Day Academy, which operates out of Mount Calvary Church in Lanham, two years ago.
A best-selling author, Whitfield got involved with basketball earlier this decade. He spent time with the D.C. Storm AAU program, Southern Maryland Christian Academy and Progressive Christian Academy, before starting Princeton Day Academy’s program. Things have gone well for Whitfield thus far.
“This year we finished sixth in the country by the National Private School Athletic Association,” Whitfield said. “That’s a big achievement because we finished ahead of some really well-known programs.”
Whitfield’s first success story at Princeton Day Academy was Baltimore native Beloved Rogers. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound guard averaged more than 27 points per game as a senior and graduated from PDA with a 3.7 grade-point average. Rogers signed with Oral Roberts and appeared in 30 games for the Golden Eagles as a freshman, averaging two points per game and connecting on 40 percent (14-for-35) of his 3-point attempts.
From the Storm’s 2009 class, power forward Jonathan Underwood, an Arizona native, signed with Missouri earlier this month. The next Princeton senior to sign with a Division I school could be former Lake Clifton standout Derrious Gilmore.
Gilmore, a 5-foot-10 point guard, is being recruited by San Diego State, San Jose State and Fordham, according to Whitfield. In his first season at Princeton, Gilmore averaged 17 points, eight assists and three steals per game.
“Derrious exceeded every expectation,” Whitfield said. “He was one of those few kids who was better than advertised, and he was advertised as a really excellent high school basketball player. ... He’s a true 1. His ability to penetrate and his ability to control the ball and thereby control the pace and flow of the game puts him at a very high level. The interest continues to rise because he’s doing so well on the spring circuit right now with Baltimore Assault.”
Gilmore is waiting on a qualifying SAT score and should receive that news sometime this month. Whitfield said he likes Gilmore’s chances, noting that he had a strong year in the classroom and his scores “got better with every test.”
Two other Baltimore seniors suited up for the Storm this year, and both have their plans for college all set. Former Mount Carmel guard Dwayne Wheeler, 6-2, has committed to the University of Charleston, a Div. II program in West Virginia’s capital city. Wheeler averaged around eight assists per game, according to Whitfield.
Kendrick Brown, a 6-foot-5 guard, plans to attend Nyack College, a Div. II program in New York. Brown was an integral part of New Town’s state championship team two years ago, scoring 14 points and grabbing 20 rebounds in the title game against Dunbar.
The most intriguing Baltimore name on Whitfield’s roster is Leshon Edwards, a 6-foot-4, 170-pound shooting guard. Edwards was one of the most highly regarded eighth graders in the country, and lived up to the hype early in his high school career at Towson Catholic.
After two and a half years at TC, academic issues forced Edwards to transfer to Patterson in Southeast Baltimore. He resurfaced this year at Princeton as a fourth-year junior. Whitfield said Edwards, who will return to Princeton for a fifth year to finish up his coursework, averaged around 15 points per game, showing why he received so much attention at such an early age.
“He really did amazing,” Whitfield said. “His basketball IQ is really high. He benefited from the coaching and instruction that he received from various AAU programs he played in and his former coach at Towson Catholic, Josh Pratt. ... He’s got a lot of mid- to high-major Division I interest ... so we feel real comfortable that [his] recruitment will be finished before next season.”
Whitfield said he hopes to welcome more Baltimore players to Princeton in the future. The team travels every weekend, basically from the start of the school year in September until March. Despite the exhaustive schedule, Princeton players don’t miss any class time because of the weekend tournament scheduling. After just two years, Whitfield couldn’t be happier with his program’s progress.
“It’s way beyond what I envisioned,” Whitfield said. “The measure of any school [that is] doing athletics is what footprints you’re making with the young men and women who’ve been there. Are they actually going to college and when they go, can they be productive? And we know Beloved [Rogers] is a 3.5 student in his first year of college. I think the young men we have this year will be really well prepared to handle college and athletics as well.”