This story originally appeared in the Holiday issue of ESPNHS magazine’s Greater D.C. edition.
WCAC basketball isn’t for the faint of heart.
A breeding ground for some of the nation’s top talent, it can chew you up and spit you out faster than it takes John Wall to run the break.
So any player who decides to lace ‘em up in the conference better be ready. If they’re not, it ain’t going to be pretty.
“It’s the best conference in high school basketball,” says Gonzaga coach Steve Turner. “Every game has a championship atmosphere. You’ve got to bring your ‘A’ game or somebody is going to give it to you.”
Nate Britt II loves everything about the WCAC — the competition, the skill and the intensity. And as a kid growing up in Upper Marlboro, he got to see it all firsthand while going to games with his dad.
He looked up to conference standouts like Ian Hummer, Max Kenyi, Tyler Thornton and Cedrick Lindsay at Gonzaga, Austin Freeman and Nigel Munson at DeMatha, Jason Clark and Kendall Marshall at Bishop O’Connell and Chris Wright at St. John’s. He and his father also went to the girls’ games, where Britt became a big fan of St. John’s superstar Marissa Coleman.
“Growing up in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, you dream of playing in the WCAC,” he says.
“I wanted him to see the level of competition the WCAC has,” adds his father. “If this is something you want, you’ve got to put in the work to get there.”
Britt heeded his dad’s advice. And now, after years of toiling in the gym, he’s arrived. But the Gonzaga junior point guard isn’t just playing in the WCAC — he’s the conference’s best player. Rated the nation’s No. 15 recruit in the ESPNU 60, the 6-foot-1, 165-pounder was considering the likes of Maryland, Georgetown, Virginia, Villanova, Arizona, North Carolina and Duke at press time.
In his first year as a starter last season, Britt was named Gatorade D.C. Player of the Year after averaging 13.5 points, 5.2 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 3.7 steals per game for Gonzaga, which was the WCAC tourney runner-up and finished third at the Alhambra Catholic Invitational.
The fact that Britt is this good at such a young age isn’t a surprise to those who watched him grow up.
He started playing for the vaunted D.C. Assault AAU team when he was 12 and went head to head in open-gym practices against future college players like Thornton (Duke), Lindsay (Richmond), Quinn Cook (Duke) and Eric Atkins (Notre Dame).
“He was always competing with our older guys,” says D.C. Assault director Damon Handon. “Once I saw that, I knew he had a chance to be a big-time prospect.”
The confidence Britt gained from those experiences carried over to Gonzaga, where he earned a spot on varsity as a freshman. And every day in practice, he gave starters Thornton and Lindsay all they could handle.
“He didn’t back down,” says Turner, who’s in his eighth season at Gonzaga. “He got his bumps and bruises, but he gave a few back.”
“They taught me a lot,” adds Britt. “They did whatever they had to do to win. My defense got a lot better just going up against those guys.”
Britt came off the bench for the Eagles that season. And though he averaged just 4.8 points per game, he still made an impact.
He delivered a key bucket down the stretch to lift Gonzaga past national power Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) in the Gonzaga DC Classic championship game. He followed with a game-winning buzzer-beater against Orange Lutheran (Orange, Calif.) at the Iolani Classic in Hawaii. And he capped his season by delivering numerous big plays in a one-point win over DeMatha at the Alhambra Catholic Invitational.
Britt doesn’t let pressure situations faze him, and his calm demeanor helps him deliver in the clutch.
“Whenever the game is on the line, we know who to get the ball to,” says junior forward Kris Jenkins.
“The end of the game feels like the beginning of the game to me,” says Britt. “It’s always been natural for me to not get rattled at the end of games.”
Britt’s ability in the clutch stems from all the work he’s put in. Since he was in middle school, he’s spent countless hours honing his game, improving everything from coming off screens to ball-handling and mid-range shooting.
These sessions extend to the weekend, as he and his father train at 6 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday.
“By the time everyone else was getting to the gym, we were on our way home,” says his father, who’s also Britt’s coach with D.C. Assault.
All the training has helped make Britt a complete player. Handon compares him to Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley because of his ability
to impact the game in a variety of ways. But it’s defense that Britt takes the most pride in.
“If you can’t stop anybody, you can’t play,” says Britt. “I’m trying to let [my opponent] know there’s not going to be anything easy. That will frustrate anyone.”
Britt tested his talent against some of the nation’s top players this summer at the Boost Mobile Elite 24 in Venice Beach, Calif. He contributed six points, two assists and two steals to help lead his squad to the win.
But what really drove Britt to raise his game this summer was the stinging loss Gonzaga suffered last year to DeMatha in the WCAC championship.
“There are still things I need to prove, most importantly winning a WCAC championship,” he says.
A motivated and improved Nate Britt? Watch out, WCAC.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Nate Britt,” says Turner. “We’ve seen glimpses of greatness, but I know there’s more to come.”
Jon Mahoney is a senior editor for ESPNHS Magazine and ESPNHS.com. Email him at Jon.Mahoney@espn.com.