Baltimore has long been home to some of the best high school basketball teams in the country. Now, it may be home to one of the country's best high school basketball tournaments.
The Charm City Classic, sponsored by the Bill Spotts Foundation, will bring together Dunbar and Southern of Baltimore, St. Raymond's of the Bronx, and St. Anthony's of Jersey City, N.J., on Jan. 17 and 18, 1992, at the 5,000-seat Towson Center.
Spotts was co-chairman of the 1982-83 Beltway Classic held in Baltimore.
"I feel that this tournament, and this field, with these players, is equal to what we had in '82-'83," said Spotts.
That is lofty praise considering that six players from that tournament went on to play in the NBA: Reggie Lewis, Reggie Williams, Muggsy Bogues, Danny Ferry, Kurk Lee and Duane Ferrell.
It may not be undeserving praise, however. Both Dunbar and St. Anthony's will likely take their accustomed spot in the preseason top five, St. Raymond's in the top 10, and Southern in the top 20.
To fans of Baltimore high school basketball, Southern and Dunbar need little introduction.
Dunbar beat Southern for the 1991 city championship; Southern won the city championship in 1990. Dunbar's Donta Bright and Southern's Kwame Evans are among two of the most highly recruited basketball players in the nation.
"Based on the tournaments we played in last year, and we played in seven or eight of them," Dunbar coach Pete Pompey said, "this tournament would probably have to rank in the top one or two. And when you look at the caliber of players that are involved, I don't think you're going to find a better field anywhere in the country."
Based on what happened last year when some of these teams went head-to head, it is hard to argue with Pompey's assessment.
Dunbar and St. Anthony's battled twice last year, with each garnering one win. "Every time we played somebody the rest of the season, before the game, I would turn to the kids and say, 'Now, do you think this team is going to be as tough as Dunbar?' And the kids would shake their heads," St. Anthony's coach Bob Hurley said. "And I said, 'Well, we played Dunbar twice, and we beat them once . . . ' We didn't lose a game the rest of the year."
Hurley, whose son, Bobby, helped lead Duke to the NCAA title last year, guided St. Anthony's to the New Jersey State Parochial Championship each of the past nine years. St. Anthony's won the mythical high school national championship in 1989, and was runner-up in 1988 and 1991.
"This year we're going to build our team around a guy who is a pretty good player to build around, Rodrick Rhodes," Hurley said.
Rhodes, a 6-foot-7 senior, might be the best player in the country next year. "He's a four-year starter, one of only a couple of kids we've had at St. Anthony's who was able to play at the varsity level as a freshman. A lot of what we're going to do this coming year will be based on his ability to really influence a game with his ability to score and rebound and play defense."
St. Raymond's, the 1991 New York City champion, also is familiar with St. Anthony's. St. Raymond's was ranked No. 1 in the country last year, until it lost to St. Anthony's in a tournament in San Diego. Behind returning players 6-5 Dan Dingle, 6-9 Damon Bonaparte and 6-0 Danny Basile, St. Raymond's is the odds-on favorite to retain its city title.
"We're excited about the tournament," St. Raymond's coach Gary DeCesare said. "We love to travel and we love the competition."
St. Anthony's Hurley feels the same way.
"I think when you've been around for a while you enjoy playing good teams," Hurley said, "because they're the games you remember coaching in, and the kids remember playing in."