Muggsy is difference in Dunbar comparison

Ken Rosenthal

February 26, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

Muggsy Bogues was in Phoenix, but he knew the score:

Dunbar 59, Southern 55.

"They squeaked one out, huh?" Muggsy asked.

This was yesterday, less than 24 hours after Dunbar's victory in the Baltimore City Public Schools championship game. Muggsy, now with the NBA's Charlotte Hornets, said he learned all the details "from my people at home."

News travels fast among Dunbar alumni these days, and for good reason. The basketball team continues to evoke comparisons to the 1983 mythical national champions who finished 31-0, produced three NBA players and became known as one of the greatest high school teams ever.

Muggsy, of course, was a central figure on that team, and he's been following this latest edition closely. Why, he even saw Dunbar play on Home Team Sports in December and defeat St. Anthony's (N.J.) to avenge its only loss.

Ask Muggsy which team is better, and he starts off explaining how "you can't really compare." But keep pressing, and he can't help but blurt out, "We're proven to be the better team right now. They haven't proven anything yet."

Funny thing is, Muggsy's right -- both times.

The two teams are so unique, they're difficult to compare. And frankly, the debate can only begin if Dunbar (25-1) beats Lake Clifton in its MSA A Conference semifinal tonight and then the Southern-Mount St. Joseph winner in the Metro Classic Sunday.

The suspicion here is that the '83 team will remain this city's frame of reference for years to come (Will this group produce eight Division I players? Three first-round picks in the NBA?) But this is Wilt's Lakers vs. Magic's, Russell's Celtics vs. Bird's. Classic apples and oranges.

The 1983 Dunbar team revolved around Muggsy, who was hell on wheels -- albeit training wheels at 5 feet 3. The 1991 team revolves around . . . well, no one in particular. "Versatility's the key word," Annapolis coach John Brady said. "They can do more things."

The point guard, junior Michael Lloyd, is 6-2, but plays taller. Junior Donta Bright and sophomore Keith Booth are 6-6, but shoot threes. Public schools tournament MVP, 6-3 senior Terrance Alexander, is another terror inside and out.

The only true role player in coach Pete Pompey's starting five is 6-4 senior Kevin Washington, a rebounder and defensive specialist who will attend Maryland on a football scholarship. The bench doesn't have a Reggie Lewis to substitute for a Reggie Williams, but who cares? Bright, Booth and Alexander all play like Williams anyway.

"When you have a guy 5-foot-3 and then other guys 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-7 you tend to be more structured," Brady said. "When you have five guys that are interchangeable, it's more difficult to prepare. You can't say, 'This guy can't shoot, this guy can't play inside, this guy can't defend.' It just gives you more problems."

Still, the tendency is to glorify the present at the expense of the past. Under Bob Wade, the '83 team was a perfect fit. Bogues dribbled. Tim Dawson rebounded. Mike Brown and Keith James shot. Williams scored. Lewis came off the bench, as did Herman Harried and Eric Green.

Bogues, nearly everyone agrees, was the signature player -- "Muggsy," Lake Clifton coach Charlie Moore said flatly, "was the difference." The current team is somewhat faceless because everyone is so similar. "A Muggsy comes along once in a decade," Moore said.

It was Muggsy who provided the first glimpse of the '83 team's devastating potential in the city championship game the year before, single-handedly killing almost three minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter of Dunbar's 63-47 victory over Lake Clifton.

Muggsy had only one basket and one rebound in the final, but was named tournament MVP. "We couldn't even foul him," moaned Woody Williams, the former Lake Clifton coach, "and we sent players out there with specific instructions to try."

So, which is the better team?

The '83 edition, Cardinal Gibbons coach Ray Mullis said, never had an off-night; its closest game was a 57-52 victory over Martin Luther King of New York City. The current team has its one-point loss at St. Anthony's, and its near-disaster against Southern.

It's worth noting that the '83 team didn't have to face the pointless repetition of the public schools tournament and Metro Classic. Valid excuse or not, Pompey said the next two games are "very, very meaningful" for this team to achieve its place in history.

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