HYATTSVILLE – Following a tough 87-63 loss on June 10, St. Vincent Pallotti High School Assistant Coach Dennis Kirkland stood in front of his defeated team and addressed them.
After Kirkland's speech, his players understood that it would take time to work together as a unit. However, a lack of focus and energy was missing, Kirkland said.
“We have a lot of young guys on the team, and we are trying to learn who does what and we have to play with a sense of urgency through the whole game,” Kirkland said. “We had ups and downs, and they played, and we didn’t. But we are going to get better.”
After defeating Blair High School 79-59 on June 7, Pallotti could not keep up their positive play as they ran into the tandem of Makhi and Mahkel Mitchell. The six-foot-nine twins towered over the Panthers, muscling their way to a combined 33 points for D.C. Evolution’s victory on June 10 at DeMatha Catholic High School. That was Pallotti's (1-2) second loss in summer league play.
Coming into the summer months, Pallotti looked to rebound after ending their 2017-18 season losing in their first games of both the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) Basketball Championships and the Independent Schools Tournament.
The Panthers were coming off a successful regular season where they finished winning five of their final six games before their postseason failures.
Also, with the loss of three seniors, including leading scorer Stephen Cannady, Pallotti focused their time cultivating younger talent during the summer as they compete for starting roles on the varsity squad this upcoming season.
One of those players is rising sophomore Stalin Oaks. The five-foot-nine point guard was a bright spot in Pallotti’s loss. Despite an early turnover on an inbounds play, Oaks bounced back to get three first-half assists. Once he gets used to the varsity level, his ball-pressure skill will get better, Kirkland said.
“I am on a bigger stage now than last year,” Oaks said. “But I have to be still aggressive and look for my shots while finding opening shots for my teammates as well.”
Midway through the first half, it looked as though Pallotti would catch their rivals after a quick 4-0 run coming off a timeout. Even as D.C. Evolution continued to pound the ball to the Mitchell twins for quick dunks, Pallotti stayed close with quick jumpers by rising senior Miles Mallory. His 12 first-half points pulled the Panthers within three with four minutes before halftime.
Even though the Panthers pulled away late in the first half, they were no match to the size advantage that the Mitchell twins presented. The University of Maryland commits covered the paint and limited Pallotti’s post play. Both combined for six blocks and six assists from fast break opportunities they set up with their defensive prowess.
In the second half, D.C. Evolution ran away with the lead, going 17-for-25 in field goals for the lopsided win. Four players scored in double-figures, including shooting guard Jay Heath Jr., who completed a 23-point, game-high scoring performance.
Mallory finished the game leading all Pallotti shooters with 17 points. Rising senior Gilbert Otoo praised the center’s performance and dealt with the pressure inside the painted area that came from the Mitchell brothers. After playing with the junior varsity last season, Mallory is ready to add another layer to the Pallotti offense, Otoo said.
For Otoo, summer league has been a complete learning experience. The veteran forward has been slowly embracing a leadership role on the team since speaking to Head Coach Dennis Murphy at the end of the last season. He scored a game-high 20 points in Pallotti’s victory over Blair but only managed to score seven against D.C. Evolution.
“The team goes as far as he goes,” Kirkland said.
While gelling with his teammates has been the priority, he has been balancing with his post-high school plans as recruiting gets underway. Otoo confirmed visiting Princeton and received an offer from Columbia.
While not giving himself a deadline for his decision, the forward said he will have it completed soon so he can focus on putting Pallotti on the map as an elite team in the county.
“We have a lot of young guys so as the seniors and juniors, we have to bring them together to gel them,” Otoo said. “Now, we are working on it but by the time November rolls around, we will fine, gelling and ready.”