Atkins steps up for Gaels

As a sophomore last season, 6-foot-1 point guard Eric Atkins helped lead Mount St. Joseph's (MSJ) to 31 wins, MIAA A Conference and Baltimore Catholic League (BCL) regular-season titles and earned all-conference and all-city honors after averaging 15 points, six assists, four rebounds and two steals per game.

Now a junior, Atkins is in his third season as the starting guard for coach Pat Clatchey and is getting the attention of several Division I colleges with 21 points per game for the 11-3 Gaels.

"Right now the colleges who are recruiting me hardest are UMass, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame," Atkins said. "Those are the main schools, though other colleges are recruiting me too"

In his first two seasons at MSJ, Atkins always had at least one elite big man alongside him in the Gaels' lineup in 6-foot-7 Dino Gregory (now a sophomore at the University of Maryland) and 6-11 Henry Sims (now a freshman at Georgetown). But now the Gaels don't have anyone over 6-5 on the roster, nor do they have a true post player.

"It is definitely different playing without a big man in the lineup, it definitely changes my role and how I play," " Atkins said. "On defense, we don't really have a shot blocker back there behind us and we won't always control the defensive boards and run as much. On offense, when I drive to the hoop, I don't have a big man like Dino or Henry to dish to so I'm more likely to kick it back out to shooters on the perimeter.

"I'm being counted on more to be a scorer now, which is fine, but I still need to get the other players involved and set-up."

In addition to his play at MSJ, Atkins has enhanced his national profile through his play with the prestigious AAU program Team D.C. Assault.

"I think Eric is one of the best high school guards in the country. I wouldn't trade him for any other guard in his class," Clatchey said. "He is also a really great kid, a good student and an unselfish, team-oriented player who is a winner. We've had a lot of great guards here and Eric has a chance to be as good as any guard we've had."

Atkins, who has already taken unofficial recruiting visits to Virginia Tech, Massachusetts and Vanderbilt, said getting significant playing time as a freshman will be a key variable in his college selection process.

"Playing time will be important as will things like academics, the coach, the team and the team's style of play," Atkins added. "Another really important thing is getting to the NCAA tournament. I want to go to a school with a winning tradition that will give me a chance to play in the NCAA tournament."

James Quinn covers high school basketball for MDVarsity.com