This is one in an occasional series on NBA star Carmelo Anthony’s Team Melo program and their elite youth basketball players.

Dana Washington knew his son was different at an early age.

He saw it the first year Malik Washington played baseball at the age of 7. A fly ball bounced out to centerfield, and Malik scooped it up, unleashing a throw that reached home plate on one bounce.

“He hadn’t even really developed a concept of baseball yet, but when I saw that throw, I was like, ‘OK, he’s different, we might have something here,’” the father said.

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He was right. Today, at 16, Malik, a rising sophomore at Archbishop Spalding High School in Severn, is one of the top-ranked quarterbacks in Maryland. He is also a major Division I college basketball prospect. This summer, he played for Team Melo, one of the nation’s elite youth basketball programs. By traveling throughout the country, he had the opportunity to test himself against the top-ranked players in his age bracket, in front of hundreds of college coaches who are keenly assessing those they want to recruit.

Malik Washington is a rising sophomore at Archbishop Spalding. In addition to being an excellent basketball player who will play for the Team Melo AAU squad this summer that we are doing a continuing series on, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound 15-year-old is also considered the #1 ranked quarterback in the state of Maryland, with scholarship offers from Penn State, Maryland, Virginia Tech and many more soon to follow.  Pictured are family photos of Malik from age 8 through today.
Malik Washington playing for New World Basketball. (Courtesy of the Washington family)
Malik Washington is a rising sophomore at Archbishop Spalding. In addition to being an excellent basketball player who will play for the Team Melo AAU squad this summer that we are doing a continuing series on, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound 15-year-old is also considered the #1 ranked quarterback in the state of Maryland, with scholarship offers from Penn State, Maryland, Virginia Tech and many more soon to follow.  Pictured are family photos of Malik from age 8 through today.
Washington goes up for a shot during a AAU game against Grind Academy. (Courtesy of the Washington family)

***

You could see it in Malik’s eyes — a mix of hunger, curiosity and tempered eagerness.

Loud whistles signaled a break in action at the Team Melo basketball practice on July 6. Some of the players were bent over, sweat dripping from their foreheads, their hands resting on their knees and gripping the bottom of their shorts. A few looked bored or disinterested, some confused. One could be heard cursing under his breath after being subbed out of the scrimmage.

The energy level noticeably deflated when Sam Brand, the renowned head coach and program director for Team Melo, went into classroom mode, bringing the alley-oop dunks and frenetic fast breaks to a halt.

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Coach Sam Brand working with the Team Melo AAU basketball team, including Malik Washington.
Coach Sam Brand working with the Team Melo AAU basketball team, including Malik Washington. (Shan Wallace/The Baltimore Banner)

Brand was explaining the intricacies and variations of the full-court press that they planned to unleash on opponents during the ensuing days in Kansas City. An effective and well-timed press can confuse an ill-prepared opponent and force turnovers, leading to high percentage scoring opportunities.

“This is the same press that Team USA uses,” stressed Brand, the former Baltimore Polytechnic Institute coach who also coaches with the USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team.

As Brand bounced around the floor explaining the nuance of the defense, many players were fidgety, their eyes wandering, unable to stand still. Not Malik. The 6-foot-6, 210-pound guard-forward looked on intently, soaking it in.

Malik could have been excused for being tired or lethargic. After all, he’d already had a full day.

Team Melo athlete Malik Washington during football warmups.
Team Melo athlete Malik Washington during football warmups. (Shan Wallace/The Baltimore Banner)

Earlier that day, he had football workouts from 7 to 9 a.m. at Spalding. From there, he jogged over to the gymnasium to start his workday as a counselor at the school’s youth basketball camp. When that concluded, he was back on the football field for a one-on-one workout with his friend, 6-foot-4 junior wide receiver Rolando Newton.

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Once that wrapped, there was a quick snack break before the drive over to Mount Carmel, where basketball practice didn’t wrap up until about 8:30 p.m.

Brand said he started hearing about Malik last year — “that he was tough as nails.”

“There was a lot of buzz about him, especially toward the later part of the season,” Brand said of Malik, who was playing with then-senior Cam Whitmore, a McDonald’s All-American. “People were telling me, ‘He’s a dog!’ And when I watched him, I could tell that he was a great teammate.”

One of Brand’s jobs is to assess who the area’s top players are and assemble rosters in their various age divisions. A player cannot simply walk into a Team Melo tryout. They are identified at an early age.

Malik Washington during basketball camp.
Malik Washington during basketball camp. (Shan Wallace/The Baltimore Banner)

When Brand saw Malik playing for Spalding, he immediately knew that he belonged on the squad and approached his parents about him suiting up this summer to compete in Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League (EYBL).

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“His biggest strength is his toughness and the way that he leads, the way that he plays,” Brand said. “He’ll do whatever’s necessary to win.”

Malik stood at attention during that Team Melo practice, his eyes locked on Brand. When the time came to implement the press, he was pointing, exhorting his teammates to make the proper rotations, clapping loudly, encouraging them to get it right.

“It’s not often that the real thing is better than the hype.”

Coach Sam Brand

His desire to win became evident when Malik’s squad squared off in a scrimmage against an older group of players, mostly juniors and seniors.

While the other guys celebrated 3-point shots and dunks, Malik played the entire 94 feet of the basketball court with full intensity.

He guarded well on the perimeter and in the post. He boxed out and rebounded, set crushing screens and yelled out the proper defenses. When the older kids unleashed their own press, he flashed to the middle, gathered the quick pass and stealthily, speedily pushed the ball up court, often delivering smooth passes to his teammates that led to easy baskets.

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“It’s not often that the real thing is better than the hype,” said Brand. “But once I got the chance to coach him this summer, I saw that was definitely the case. “

***

Malik Washington is a rising sophomore at Archbishop Spalding. In addition to being an excellent basketball player who will play for the Team Melo AAU squad this summer that we are doing a continuing series on, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound 15-year-old is also considered the #1 ranked quarterback in the state of Maryland, with scholarship offers from Penn State, Maryland, Virginia Tech and many more soon to follow.  Pictured are family photos of Malik from age 8 through today.
Malik Washington playing football as a youth. (Courtesy of the Washington family)

Malik’s dad Dana Washington was once an accomplished youth football player in Baltimore, one of the top athletes on the 1991 Northwood Rams team of 11- to 13-year-olds that captured the Pop Warner National Championship in Jacksonville, Florida. Among his teammates was Tommy Polley, the Dunbar High School and Florida State standout who later played for the NFL’s Rams, Ravens and Saints. A three-year starter at Overlea High School, Washington was an All-County defensive back.

Malik’s mom, Kiana Teixeira, was no slouch as an athlete either, having been a former gymnast, softball player and cheerleader. So sports were in the young man’s blood.

Teixeira would often walk by Malik’s bedroom and be shocked to find him, at age 7, studying his youth football playbook and drawing up his own plays.

Malik Washington is a rising sophomore at Archbishop Spalding. In addition to being an excellent basketball player who will play for the Team Melo AAU squad this summer that we are doing a continuing series on, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound 15-year-old is also considered the #1 ranked quarterback in the state of Maryland, with scholarship offers from Penn State, Maryland, Virginia Tech and many more soon to follow.  Pictured are family photos of Malik from age 8 through today.
Young Malik Washington studying a youth football playbook. (Courtesy of the Washington family)

His passion for basketball didn’t come as easily. At age 10, he stood 4-foot-8 and wore a size 13 shoe.

“He didn’t like it at first,” said Teixeira. “He wasn’t that good at it and he was awkward because his feet were bigger than the rest of him. He couldn’t dribble or shoot that well, but he was diving on the floor for loose balls, getting steals, grabbing rebounds. While most kids just wanted to shoot, he was doing the dirty work.”

Malik recalled being “the last guy on the bench, the hype man that was cheering for everybody else.”

“I wasn’t very skilled and didn’t know how to use my body yet,” he said.

As he grew into his body and worked more on his skills, he couldn’t wait to hit the basketball court once football season ended.

“The athleticism started to kick in around seventh grade,” he said. “I started to jump higher and higher, and once you get up on that rim for the very first time, you don’t ever want to come down.”

Malik Washington is a rising sophomore at Archbishop Spalding. In addition to being an excellent basketball player who will play for the Team Melo AAU squad this summer that we are doing a continuing series on, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound 15-year-old is also considered the #1 ranked quarterback in the state of Maryland, with scholarship offers from Penn State, Maryland, Virginia Tech and many more soon to follow.  Pictured are family photos of Malik from age 8 through today.
Malik with his mom, Kiana Teixeira. (Courtesy of the Washington family)
Malik Washington is a rising sophomore at Archbishop Spalding. In addition to being an excellent basketball player who will play for the Team Melo AAU squad this summer that we are doing a continuing series on, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound 15-year-old is also considered the #1 ranked quarterback in the state of Maryland, with scholarship offers from Penn State, Maryland, Virginia Tech and many more soon to follow.  Pictured are family photos of Malik from age 8 through today.
Malik playing youth football. (Courtesy of the Washington family)

His teams did not win a single game during his first two years playing organized football. So when they finally beat an opponent and everybody was celebrating, Malik said, “It was like, ‘Wow! This feels great. I want to continue to experience this.’”

His basketball coaches, meanwhile, were impressed not just by his skills, but by the young man he was becoming. They were shocked by how comfortable he was in his own skin and his innate confidence. During breaks between games, while his teammates played video games on their phones, he always seemed to have his head buried in a book.

“I love reading,” Malik said. “I read a lot of science fiction.”

Citing the dystopian novel “Unwind” and the Percy Jackson series (of which he’s read every installment), he remarked, “I have a big imagination, so when I read, I put myself into that world. It allows me, in my mind, to travel across time and space. Once I start a good book, it’s hard for me to put down.”

That passion for reading shows up in his schoolwork. Despite a frantic and sometimes chaotic schedule juggling his athletic commitments, he still managed to get all As and Bs while taking Advanced Placement and Honors classes.

“Last year, when some of his teammates were struggling academically, I’d find him up late at night, helping and tutoring them on FaceTime,” said Teixeira.

Malik Washington is a rising sophomore at Archbishop Spalding. In addition to being an excellent basketball player who will play for the Team Melo AAU squad this summer that we are doing a continuing series on, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound 15-year-old is also considered the #1 ranked quarterback in the state of Maryland, with scholarship offers from Penn State, Maryland, Virginia Tech and many more soon to follow.  Pictured are family photos of Malik from age 8 through today.
Malik with a trophy from his AAU days. (Courtesy of the Washington family)
Malik Washington is a rising sophomore at Archbishop Spalding. In addition to being an excellent basketball player who will play for the Team Melo AAU squad this summer that we are doing a continuing series on, the 6-foot-6, 210-pound 15-year-old is also considered the #1 ranked quarterback in the state of Maryland, with scholarship offers from Penn State, Maryland, Virginia Tech and many more soon to follow.  Pictured are family photos of Malik from age 8 through today.
Malik holding a division champs trophy. (Courtesy of the Washington family)

***

A financial systems analyst for the Justice Department, Teixeira grew up in a military family, with her dad in the Marines. Malik’s dad, who spent 10 years in the military, is the director of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in Baltimore City.

As gifted as he is, having already been offered full football scholarships from the University of Maryland, Virginia Tech and Penn State, he has no handlers, hangers-on or family members looking at him as their meal ticket.

“I’m prouder of the fact that he’s smart, he’s kind.”

Dana Washington, Malik’s father

Unlike many elite youth athletes who are weighed down with such burdens, Malik is free to do what he loves on the athletic field while still being a kid.

“A lot of parents who have kids at this level are living their deferred dreams through them,” said Dana Washington. “We are not doing that. He’s a very gifted athlete who loves football and basketball, and sports are going to open a lot of doors for him. But the sports thing is going to end one day. Just having these experiences right now is worth it for him. If he makes it to the pros, that’s great. And if he doesn’t, that’s fine because we’re going to be good either way.

“I’m prouder of the fact that he’s smart, he’s kind,” Dana Washington continued. “He cares about people, and he has an elevated level of maturity that’s rare.”

When Malik decided to attend Spalding, head football coach Kyle Schmitt knew he’d be coaching a rare talent. After all, most high school coaches can only dream of a freshman of his size showing up at preseason practices already equipped with Division 1 arm talent.

Team Melo athlete Malik Washington poses for a portrait.
Team Melo athlete Malik Washington poses for a portrait. (Shan Wallace/The Baltimore Banner)

“He had a big-time delivery already,” said Schmitt, who first saw Malik tossing the ball around as an eighth grader during a workout. “Here was this big, long kid who threw the ball really well. But from the very first day that he stepped on the field with us, what stood out more was his presence. He had this rare confidence, this way of connecting with people. He loves to compete but he also loves being around his teammates and coaches.”

Schmitt also noticed that Malik displayed a fun swagger during scrimmages against the first-team defense.

After throwing a long touchdown pass against a talented unit of upperclassmen, Malik would smile and calmly remark, “Ooh, we got you on that one.”

“He’s well-liked in school and everything we’re looking for in a student and a person, not just an athlete,” Schmitt said. “We were 10-0 heading into the playoffs last year with a very good senior quarterback, but Malik pushed for playing time. This year, as a starter, he’s going to provide a different aspect for us in terms of the passing game.”

Malik Washington from Team Melo.
Malik Washington from Team Melo. (Shan Wallace/The Baltimore Banner)
Archbishop Spalding sophomore Malik Washington.
Archbishop Spalding sophomore Malik Washington. (Shan Wallace/The Baltimore Banner)

Juggling two sports keeps the family constantly on the move. Dana Washington joked that Malik is so busy “that boy is like the President.”

“I’ve got to schedule an appointment to see him so we can chop it up and just hang out outside of workouts, practices and games,” he said.

The reminder alerts on Teixeira’s phone are constantly ringing. Walk into her kitchen and you’re greeted by a large calendar on the wall, most days packed with times and related commitments scribbled in various colors.

“Being a dual-sport athlete, we’re constantly on the move, going from one thing to the next,” she said. “I work a full-time job and have two other children, so our schedule can get really hectic at times. He has a busy schedule to maintain, but somehow we manage … What helps is that I’ve got a really great kid. I know these sacrifices are going to be worth it. He’s going to go on to do amazing things far beyond sports.”

Coach Sam Brand working with the Team Melo AAU basketball team.
Coach Sam Brand working with the Team Melo AAU basketball team. (Shan Wallace/The Baltimore Banner)

Their sacrifices include a significant financial investment. Malik’s travel, lodging and meal expenses are covered by Team Melo when they’re on the road, but the families are on their own.

And whether you’re at a local practice or game, or an event that takes place halfway across the country, Malik’s family is there.

“I’ve got to schedule an appointment to see him so we can chop it up and just hang out outside of workouts, practices and games.”

Dana Washington, Malik’s father

“We’d done local travel teams in the past, but this was his first summer with Team Melo on the national EYBL circuit,” said Teixeira. “The Orlando trip alone, when you factor in airfare, hotel, meals and activities for the kids, that trip cost around $2,500. And that was just one trip. We went to every one. I refuse to miss a game or practice. Wherever they went, we were there.”

In addition to those costs, Malik studies at the Quarterback Factory, a local training facility where he works on the fundamentals and mechanics of the exchange from under center and in the shotgun, dropping back, throwing from a set position, scrambling and throwing on the run.

And then there’s the grocery bill.

“I’m at the grocery store every other day,” said Teixeira. “His snacks are like full meals and getting the best and freshest fruits and vegetable aren’t cheap. I’m afraid to do the math and see how much I actually spend every month just feeding him.”

Malik Washington, a 6-foot-6, 210-pound basketball and football star.
Malik Washington, a 6-foot-6, 210-pound basketball and football star. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

***

In April, Team Melo began the 2022 live session with trips to Orlando and Indianapolis. At the end of May, they traveled to Lexington, Kentucky. In early July, they spent four days in Kansas City.

The live sessions, or evaluation periods, refer to specific times during the spring and summer when the NCAA permits college coaches to appraise the country’s top prospects.

No in-person contact is allowed, but the coaches have the advantage of basically doing some one-stop shopping at these events, seeing hundreds of the best players in one place during a four-day stretch, as opposed to taking hundreds of flights to see them at their high school gyms.

Recruiting is the lifeblood of any successful college basketball program. No matter how good a coach may be, they cannot win and get to their next contract without signing the elite talent that will bring in victories, NCAA Tournament berths and consistent runs to at least the Sweet 16 during March Madness.

Coach Sam Brand working with the Team Melo AAU basketball team.
Coach Sam Brand working with the Team Melo AAU basketball team. (Shan Wallace/The Baltimore Banner)

As they sit in their cordoned-off section away from the players, parents and Amateur Athletic Union staffers, the stakes for the biggest names in college coaching are high.

They’re scrutinizing a prospect’s every move: how they interact with coaches and teammates, their overall body language, how they respond to adversity.

In addition to looking at size, speed, vertical leap, a willingness to rebound and an advanced acumen at scoring the ball, these coaches are also paying attention to things that have nothing to do with actual basketball skills. Are they unselfish? Do they willingly play defense? Do they follow instructions or simply hunt for baskets in the hopes of putting up big numbers? Do they care about winning?

Many a high school player has been unknowingly passed over for a scholarship opportunity by simply being a gunner or a me-first individual with an attitude. The scholarships to the most elite basketball programs are few and far between. In addition to talent, the leaders of those programs are paying close attention to a prospect’s leadership potential and character, among other intangibles.

In the case of a private school like Duke, where the total cost of undergraduate attendance during the 2022-23 academic year is $79,338, you’re looking at a free ride worth approximately $320,000 if a player is lucky enough to secure a scholarship and stays on campus for four years.

Athletes with Malik’s character, academic standing and comportment are prime candidates for those coveted scholarships.

***

Coach Sam Brand working with the Team Melo AAU basketball team.
Coach Sam Brand working with the Team Melo AAU basketball team. (Shan Wallace)

***

With several offers already in hand, Malik will have plenty to choose from when the time comes. But the biggest decision may be about whether to pursue football or basketball.

When the previous basketball season tipped off at Spalding, Malik wasn’t expected to have a leading role on the team. But as the year progressed, that changed.

“He never sulked about starting the season on the bench, he just brought a great energy to every practice,” said Joseph Pratt, Spalding’s varsity basketball coach. “By the end of the year, he earned a starting role and became a major contributor. I had several college coaches asking me, ‘Hey, who is Number 23?’ When I told them that he was a freshman, they were shocked.”

Team Melo athlete Malik Washington during football warmups (Shan Wallace/The Baltimore Banner) (Shan Wallace)

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, the school’s summer youth basketball camp was in full swing, with campers wildly scampering and screaming as their respective teams scrimmaged.

Malik, at various turns, stood on the sidelines cheering, coaching and encouraging those who momentarily hung their heads. He flashed a smile that seemed to lift up others. For all the attention he’s gotten, he just seemed like a happy kid.

“We’ve had over a hundred kids attending the camp over the last four weeks, and you’d be surprised how many of them, when they’re registering, ask, ‘Can Malik be my coach?’” Pratt said. “He makes an impact wherever he goes, and it’s not just about sports.”

Malik Washington during basketball camp.
Malik Washington during basketball camp. (Shan Wallace/The Baltimore Banner)

The only time his expression changes from one of joy is when he hears one camper cursing profusely. Malik glares at him and says, “Ayo! Watch your mouth!” The foul language suddenly stops. He proceeds to high-five every camper, cheering after every made basket.

“These kids really look up to him,” said Pratt. “He’s just a natural leader that has that ‘It’ factor. You could see that as a freshman on our varsity team last year. He loves to compete and brings a rare energy to every practice. He has these innate qualities that you just can’t teach.”

One interested parent watching the camp day wind down was Donte Greene, the 6-foot-11 Baltimore native and former Syracuse University star who was a first-round pick of the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2008 NBA Draft.

“Malik’s toughness really impresses me, and that’s a credit to his football background,” said Greene, who played for Coach Pratt during his prep days at Towson Catholic. “To watch him now as he’s beginning to blossom is fun. His maturity stands out as well … He’s a special talent, a phenomenal two-sport athlete. I’m excited and looking forward to seeing what he does in the future.”

Malik Washington works with youth at a basketball camp.
Malik Washington works with youth at a basketball camp. (Shan Wallace/The Baltimore Banner)

Those qualities are evident when the camp day ends. Washington slips out of his basketball shoes and slides into his football cleats, the comfort of the gym’s air conditioning replaced by the stifling outdoor heat on the nearby turf field.

He and his teammate Rolando Newton, known as “R.J.,” are working on precision and timing, running the routes and delivering the throws that should cause panic in opposing defenses this year.

Pretty soon, the stretching exercises and warmup throws give way to an impressive display of speed and accuracy. As R.J. comes out of his breaks, the balls launched by Malik meet him in stride at stunning velocity. The football makes a distinctive whistling sound as it knifes through the humidity — shhhhhhew!

When the ball meets R.J.’s glove, it sounds like a punch in the chest. The more the workout proceeds, the longer the passes stay in the air, and the more the boys nod to the thumping music from a nearby speaker.

“We’ve been playing together since we were about 10 years old,” Newton said.

Team Melo athlete Malik Washington during football warmups.
Team Melo athlete Malik Washington during football warmups. (Shan Wallace/The Baltimore Banner)

“We have that natural trust in each other, that’s my guy for real,” Newton continued. “And his arm strength is just ridiculous. He can throw the ball 50 yards while standing flat-footed. We lost a lot of talented seniors last year and people are saying we’re going to be a really young team this year. But we’re not listening to that. We’re competitive. We want to win.”

As the workout winds down, young campers take turns playing defensive back against Newton. The big boys finish up with fly routes, and Malik’s 70-yard, tight, spiraling bombs hit his fleet-footed teammate in full stride.

Memphis rapper Moneybagg Yo’s “Time Today” blares from the speaker. Malik sings the lyrics to the chorus — “I don’t like nobody!” — with a smile, his braces showing, while the little guys bop along. The soon-to-be sophomore is, after all, still just a kid. And contrary to what’s coming out of his mouth, he seems to like everybody.

alejandro.danois@thebaltimorebanner.com

Read more in the series: Can coach Sam Brand’s basketball odyssey build Carmelo Anthony’s dream in Baltimore?

Alejandro Danois was a sports writer for The Banner. He specializes in long-form storytelling, looking at society through the prism of sports and its larger connections with the greater cultural milieu. The author of The Boys of Dunbar, A Story of Love, Hope and Basketball, he is also a film producer and cultural critic.

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