Emerging RPCS star Maria Ferariu has become part of McDonogh coach Brad Rees’ family

by Nelson Coffin

McDonogh coach Brad Rees beamed like a proud father when asked about how well Roland Park Country School shooting guard Maria Ferariu had played against his Eagles while helping the Reds prevail, 61-57, in a key early-season IAAM A Conference basketball showdown in mid-December.

In an unusual twist of fate and circumstance, Ferariu, who came to the United State from her native Romania at the behest of Rees to play basketball for McDonogh, ended up at rival Roland Park Country School instead while living with Rees and his wife, Cathy.

And the 6-foot senior’s emergence on the court was never more obvious in the game last week, prompting Rees to make light of the situation.

“She might have to walk home,” he quipped after Ferariu scored 17 points, connected on three-of-five three-pointers, hauled down three rebounds and had three assists to help second-ranked Roland Park snap an eight-game losing streak to the No. 3 Eagles.

Rees, who had observed Ferariu playing in a tournament in Ireland, had originally hoped that she would play for the Eagles.

In the summer of 2017 that plan fell through because classes were already filled at that time at the Owings Mills school, forcing Rees to come up with an alternative idea.

He called his good friend, then-RPCS coach Scott Buckley, and asked him if the Reds might find room for Ferariu.

Rees said that Buckley was skeptical of the offer at first, knowing that Ferariu would eventually make a significant impact for the Reds.

“He said that I must be kidding him,” Rees recounted. “He said, ‘I’m not falling for that one.’”

“The call was completely out of the blue,” Buckley said. “Brad told me he had a kid who he really liked and wondered if Maria would be a kid Roland Park would be interested in.”

Just like that, the idea of having a big guard with an excellent skill-set who played for the Romanian Under-20 national team, was dangled in front of Buckley.

“It just sounded too good to be true,” Buckley said. “But Maria was a perfect fit for our school. Brad said she was a good kid, and that was enough for me.”

Although Feariu was headed to a rival school, Rees refused to abandon her.

“I just have so much respect for Brad,” Buckley said. “He wanted to make sure that Maria still had the opportunity to play (in the U.S.).”

Rees and his wife Cathy, who have three grown daughters, were happy to welcome Ferariu to their home.

“Maria really is a part of our family,” he said.

Buckley said that there were issues to overcome, some with the potential to be awkward.

“Once Maria was in the school and on the team, then Brad would have to be the one to come to our parents’ meeting,” Buckley said with a laugh. “I wasn’t so sure what to do about that.”

Roland Park senior guard Maria Ferariu (14) defends against McDonogh sophomore guard Jayla Oden in the Reds win over Brad Rees’ Eagles, in mid-December.

Although what Buckley termed a “unique situation” eventually worked itself out, other challenges loomed for Ferariu.

From a basketball perspective, Ferariu was going to have to ratchet up her game in order to compete against uber-athletic A Conference players.

In addition to playing with and against unfamiliar players, she was living away from home on a different continent.

Fortunately, Ferariu had her sister, Ana, reasonably close in Philadelphia, where she is now a junior guard at Drexel. Maria has also committed to play for the Dragons.

Still, there were major adjustments to make.

“It was harder than I thought it would be,” Feariu said. “Everything was more physical and a lot faster. In Europe the style is more tactical and requires patience and a high IQ. I remember after my first game here that I was being told to ‘stop thinking so much and just play.’ I started to doubt myself. I really wanted to play basketball at the next level, but I wasn’t pleased with myself and I was losing more confidence at every practice/game. I was even on the verge of giving up playing basketball for good.”

She added that song the “amazing people” supporting her, including her sister, parents, the Rees family, coaches, teammates and friends.

“After about half of the season, I finally got adjusted to the new style and played more relaxed,” Ferariu continued. “And even though this was the most challenging aspect of changing my lifestyle, it made me stronger and more mature.”

Rees said that he knew the transition would be difficult at first.

“It’s a very different game than what she was used to in Europe,” he said. “But she’s a very, very mature and fundamentally sound player with a high basketball IQ.”

Slowly and surely, Ferariu improved in A Conference play to the point that after star Aniyah Carpenter was sidelined by an injury, she went from sixth-man to starter last year for the Reds, who finished with a 21-7 record after falling to Rees’ Eagles in a conference semifinal.

So far this season, Feariu has made a quantum leap in terms of the ability to compete with the league’s elite players.

“Maria had to make an adjustment to her game to play in the fast-paced, competitive IAAM A Conference,” said current RPCS coach Dani Kell Steinbach, who took over for Buckley after he stepped down following the 2017-18 campaign. “But she got through the learning curve and is now starting for us and playing almost every minute of every game. With what she brings from her international competition, combined with what she has picked up here, she now has a well-rounded game and is making a significant impact for us every night.”

With Ferariu, who played for the Romanian U-20 team and three-on-three Junior National squads, handling her business like a poised veteran, the Reds are off to a sizzling 8-0 start.

She is averaging 11 points, five rebounds, 2.4 steals and 1.8 assists per game while shooting 85 percent from the line and over 50 percent from beyond the three-point arc.

“Maria is simply an amazing person,” Steinbach added. “I have never worked with a student-athlete with a work ethic like hers. She is always in the gym… always.

“She’s the last to leave after practice and she’s in there on days off. She recognizes what it’s going to take to be successful at this level and the next level, and she’s willing to sacrifice in order to invest in her future. What she contributes to the team is so much more than what shows up in a box score. She does all of the little things – for the love of the game and her teammates. And aside from basketball, she has a spirit of kindness and generosity that have made a significant impact on our basketball program and our school. It’s an absolute pleasure to coach her.”

It is also that same spirit of kindness and generosity from the Rees’ family which made this opportunity possible.

Pictured above: Roland Park Country School senior guard Maria Ferariu and McDonogh coach Brad Rees are rivals when the Reds and Eagles meet in basketball, but like father and daughter off the court.