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Meet the diocesan high schooler who may be Duke's next basketball star

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It’s hard for Jeremy Roach to get in and out of the gym these days without being stopped for a photo or two.

His siblings and parents hear whispers at the mall in their hometown of Leesburg — “That’s Jeremy Roach’s mother; that’s his sister.”

Most teens would bristle at that kind of attention, but such is life when you’re Duke basketball’s next top recruit.

Roach, a senior at St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, became the first boys’ basketball player in school history to sign to play at Duke University. He signed last year as a junior.

Duke fan sites are pegging Roach to slot in immediately as the Blue Devils’ next starting point guard if current Duke sophomore Tre Jones declares for the NBA after this season.

That may seem like a lot of pressure for an 18-year-old to handle, but for now Roach is singularly focused on his last few months at Paul VI, hoping to lead the Panthers to a playoff run and perhaps, if time allows, relish a few months of normal high school life.

The Catholic Herald recently caught up with Roach and those closest to him to get a sense of what a day in his life looks like.

‘The best basketball in the country’

The Washington area has for generations produced some of the most talented basketball players in the country. And in recent history, the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference has been the place where many of the area’s top young talents hone their skills.

“It is considered the best conference in the country, top to bottom,” said Glenn Farello, Paul VI’s head coach of boys’ basketball.

At press time, three of the 13 schools in the WCAC were ranked nationally — DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) at No. 7, Paul VI at No. 11 and St. John’s College (Washington) at No. 17. Gonzaga College (Washington) only recently fell out of the top 25 as well.

Catholic high schools in the Diocese of Arlington play a significant role in the conference, as Bishop O’Connell in Arlington and Bishop Ireton in Alexandria both also compete in the WCAC.

Because so many of the top high school teams in the country are concentrated in this conference, the WCAC attracts the attention of recruiters from elite college basketball programs. That, in turn, makes it a destination for talented kids — as the conference offers in spades what aspiring collegiate players covet most: exposure.

“That’s the number one thing for those kids that want to be student-athletes at the next level,” Farello said. “Getting college scholarships changes generations, and we understand that.”

In the last decade or so, Paul VI has morphed into a national basketball powerhouse whose players — both boys and girls — are recruited by elite colleges.

Past Paul VI basketball players have gone on to play at the University of North Carolina, Villanova, Notre Dame, Butler and other top-tier programs.

Farello estimates about 70 college coaches come to Paul VI every fall for open-gym workouts.

“You see coaches from all over — Georgetown, Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina — just walking in our gym,” his mom, Carole, said.

“Indiana, Louisville, (Virginia) Tech, you name it, they’ve been in the gym,” his dad, Joe, added.

“That would have never happened (in public schools).”


Jeremy Roach's classmates at St. Paul VI Catholic High School applaud after the Panthers won a game against Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington the night before. MATT RIEDL | CATHOLIC HERALD

Why Paul VI?

Jeremy’s basketball story began when he was 6 months old — though he may not remember it that way, Carole said.

“When he was 6 months old he sat down and was throwing a full-size basketball in the air,” she said. “He just had to have a ball.”

Jeremy has played basketball essentially nonstop since he was about 4 years old — playing with the Leesburg Basketball Club, his AAU squad Team Takeover, and perhaps most impressively Team USA Basketball.

When he was 15 and 16, Jeremy represented the United States in the FIBA World Cup in Argentina — winning gold medals with Team USA both years.

Through eighth grade, Jeremy attended public schools in Leesburg.

“Probably my seventh or eighth grade year was when I really thought I could take it to the next level,” Jeremy said. “I made my decision to come to PVI and it’s the best decision I’ve made.”

Carole said the family decided he “needed to go there for the (basketball) program as well as the school.”

“At the end of the day I care about school — I’m always asking about homework, as he’ll tell you,” she said. “I was a little bit concerned coming from a public school to a Catholic school, about the transition, but he did fine. … The school was very supportive, and he’s done very well.”

He endures a commute every day for basketball.

It’s about 45 minutes each way from his home in Leesburg to Paul VI in Fairfax, but he said the opportunity to attend a school like Paul VI outweighs the traffic jams.

“I’m used to it now … 45 minutes is really nothing for me,” he said. “It’s worth every minute of it.”

Jeremy has maintained at least a 3.1 GPA all four years at Paul VI.

He said the school has instilled a sense of discipline and hard work in him.

“They’re always going to stay on top of you and make sure you’re on point with everything — shirt tucked in, right shoes, shaved … they just want you to be disciplined,” he said. “It’s just taught me a lot, like how to be a better man, how to be responsible, everything — respectful, accountable, all that.”

The call from Coach K

After leading the Panthers to a state championship his sophomore year — and winning another gold medal with Team USA Basketball that summer — Jeremy’s phone rang.

The caller ID was from Durham, N.C.

“I was like, ‘Uh, Coach K?’” Jeremy said. “My mom saw that and she started screaming. I was like, ‘Hold on, chill, chill, chill, let me answer this.’”

The two spoke for about 20 to 25 minutes, and at the end of the conversation Coach Mike Krzyzewski offered Roach a scholarship to Duke.

“He was like, ‘I want you to come in and be the leader,’” Jeremy said. “‘Just do what you do best.'” 

Krzyzewski had talked to Farello long before, and he “was asking the right questions,” Farello said.

“When you’re good enough to play at Duke, you are talented but you also have character,” Farello said. “You also have to be an excellent student. You have to be humble; you have to understand that you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.

“When Duke vets a player, I think they really want to dive into his character — what he’s all about, his work ethic and who they are as a human being. For Jeremy to be worthy of that, I think, is fantastic and it says a lot about Jeremy and his family — how grounded he is but also how hard he’s worked for this.”

Duke was hardly the only school to recruit Roach — he also had offers from North Carolina, Kentucky, Villanova, Virginia, and others.

Everything was coming up roses for Jeremy, until one day the following winter.



Jeremy Roach, a senior at St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax, has signed to play basketball at Duke University next year. Roach was the first basketball player in school history to sign with the Blue Devils. MATT RIEDL | CATHOLIC HERALD


The injury

It was a normal basketball move.

There was nothing particularly special about the play in which Jeremy tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee in November 2018.

He was moving through a high ball screen when he pushed the ball to his left. He stepped with his left leg, then his right.
“Then my right leg underneath just collapsed in,” he said.

“At the time when it happened I knew it was a torn ACL, but I didn’t want to think that, so I just had to stay positive.”

It was big news in the prep circuit — the Washington PostUSA TodayBleacher Report and other major sports outlets covered it.

Doctors gave him a nine-to-10-month recovery timeframe after having surgery that December.

So Jeremy became an honorary “assistant coach” for the rest of his junior season, cheering his teammates on from the bench, Farello said.

“His teammates were devastated when he couldn’t play — not just because of his ability but because (he) was their brother,” Farello said. “It was a tough year, but the kids fought through.”

Jeremy’s morning commute soon got even longer, as he drove into Washington for physical therapy up to three times a week for five months.

In that time, he became a “student of the game,” Carole said.

“I used to tell him to take this opportunity to see the game from a different perspective, see it from the side instead of on the court,” she said. “You may not realize the value in that now but you will later on.”

A relief for the Roaches came when all of the colleges who had offered Jeremy called to ensure the family their offers were still on the table.

Shortly after his physical therapy concluded, Jeremy committed to Duke.

Speculation ran rampant online — would Jeremy be the same player post-ACL tear that he was when Duke offered him?

It was a question that miffed Jeremy’s father, Joe.

“He’s a better Jeremy as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “Once he was able to go to the gym, you couldn’t keep him out. It was every day.”

Now, Jeremy says he feels “about 90 to 95 percent” — just in time for his senior season at Paul VI.

“I want to say I have something to prove — show everybody I can still play at a high level,” Jeremy said. “Everybody’s coming at my neck. I’ve just got to show everybody I can still play at that high level.”

Life at a diocesan high school

When you’re Duke University’s next top basketball prospect, is it even possible to live a normal high-school life?

 “I mean, nah, not really,” Jeremy said with a laugh. “Everybody views you as just a basketball player. Sometimes I want to just be viewed as a regular person.

“I’m still the same dude that you are — I still do the same regular stuff that you do on a daily basis. I just play basketball at a high level.”

His humility makes his parents proud.

“I always tell him this is a God-given talent — not everybody has this talent, this opportunity, so you need to be humble and thankful,” Carole said. “I think he’s getting there and he’s understanding that.”

The limelight is sure to grow even brighter as Jeremy graduates and moves on to Duke. However, his classmates and coaches both agree his grounded nature will serve him well wherever he goes.

“My mom and my aunt … say to always keep God first, and everything will go his way,” Jeremy said. “I’m just grateful. I’m blessed, I really am.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020