Stars come out at Verizon Center as Capital Classic returns to downtown

After a nomadic existence the last few years, the Capital Classic high school all-star basketball game is returning to downtown D.C.

The 44th annual game will be played at the Verizon Center on April 8, with the preliminary game, featuring the District All-Stars against the Suburban All-Stars at 11 a.m. The main game, pitting of team of  U.S. all-stars against the a team of local standouts, is scheduled to tip off at 1 p.m.

Morsell
Maryland signee Darryl Morsell of Baltimore’s Mount Saint Joseph High School is one of the high school stars on display at the 2017 Capital Classic.

This marks the first time the game will be played at Verizon Center since 2003, when LeBron James, Chris Paul and future Maryland star Ekene Ibekwe played participated. James lived up to every bit of his hype, scoring a game-high 34 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in front of a crowd of 18,424.

The game hasn’t been played in Penn Quarter since, having jumped around more recently to Bender Arena at American University, Catholic University and T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria.

The game originated at the old Capital Center in 1974, with future Hall of Famer Moses Malone a part of the action in the inaugural game. Future NBA stalwart Kenny Carr (DeMatha) was probably the biggest names on the local squad that year.

Subsequent games included such legends as Ervin “Magic” Johnson (1977), James Worthy (1979) and Michael Jordan (1981). Current NBA stars like Chris Paul (2003), Klay Thompson (2008) and Victor Olapido (2010) have also played in past games.

The D.C. showcase has lost some luster over time as other postseason all-star games have gained in stature. But this year’s D.C. game should be a good show – it will feature four members of Scout.com’s top 60 high school players in the Class of 2017.

The U.S. team roster boasts top recruits at schools like perennial power North Carolina (6-foot-10 Brandon Huffman), defending NCAA champion Villanova (point guard Clin Gillespie and power forward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree)  and hometown favorite Maryland.

Two of Maryland’s top signees – Bruno Fernando of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. And Darryl Morsell of Baltimore’s Mount Saint Joseph – will play for the U.S. team.

The 6-foot-10, 225-pound Fernando (No. 55 nationally, according to Scout.com) should help offset the departures of center Damonte Dodd and power forward L.G. Gill from the Maryland frontcourt. The Angola native initially committed to SMU, but reopened his recruitment last spring. Florida, Alabama and Marquette were among other schools trying to sign him.

“Bruno is a tough, physical player who has a really high motor,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said in a statement when Fernando signed with the Terps. “He’s skilled and possesses good touch and shooting range to the 3-point line. He brings a great defensive presence in the paint. Bruno is a charismatic, high character guy that we are very happy to add to our program.”

Morsell, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound guard, had his stock shoot up last summer and chose Maryland while being pursued by Notre Dame and Dayton, among others. He’s rated No. 59 nationally by Scout.com.

“It’s always great to keep the best local talent home. Darryl was a priority for us because we don’t have anyone like him on our team,” Turgeon said in a statement. “He’s tough, athletic and versatile and plays with a very high basketball IQ. He is a tremendous kid who is an honor roll student and comes from a great family.”

The local squad features a trio of Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) players who will be playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference next season. That group includes Gonzaga point guard Chris Lykes (Miami), DeMatha forward D.J. Harvey (Notre Dame) and Paul VI point guard Aaron Thompson (Pitt).

The 5-foot-8 Lyke was one of the most dynamic players in the area this past season. He averaged 17.7 points per game for the Eagles, including 20 points in his team’s victory over Paul VI in the WCAC title game. This season, Lykes became the all-time leading scorer in school history.

Maret’s 6-foot-11 Luke Garza (Iowa) and O’Connell’s 6-foot-9 Nate Watson (Providence) should give the local team the kind of size it will need to compete against the U.S. team.

As always, the preliminary game will pit a team of D.C. public school all-stars against a team of standouts from the suburban schools. This year’s suburban squad features Lake Braddock’s Corey Pelham (23.5 ppg), who was one of the top scorers in the area. The suburban team includes W.T. Woodson guard Jason Aigner, who helped lead his team to the Virginia 6A title this season; and Potomac’s 6-foot-8 Nana Opoku, who helped lead his team to the state 5A title last season.

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