Street & Smith's, USA Today and The Associated Press say Dunbar is the country's No. 1 high school basketball team. But in a season in which many of the area's perennial contenders are rebuilding, Southern, Walbrook and Cardinal Gibbons are primed make the Poets prove they are No. 1 in the Baltimore area.
The season begins tomorrow.
The Poets appear awesome, with three potential high school All-Americans, Donta Bright, Michael Lloyd and Keith Booth, but local coaches aren't conceding.
"I think, on any given day, anybody can be beat," said Walbrook coach Gus Herrington. "It depends on how much a team works together and really goes after them [Dunbar]."
Dunbar will open against Blackhawk High of Beaver Falls, Pa., at 7 tomorrow night at the Bergman Cambria County War Memorial Invitational Tournament in Johnstown, Pa.
The Poets also will participate in tournaments this month in St. Louis, Honolulu and Myrtle Beach, S.C. In January, they will play in a tournament in Erie, Pa., and in the Charm City Classic at Towson State, Jan. 17-18, before turning their full attention to the defense of their Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference title.
Dunbar and Southern are the teams to beat in the A Conference, but Walbrook and Gibbons will challenge.
Edmondson, which lost to Carver in last year's B Conference final, is favored to unseat the two-time defending champions this season, but Carver, along with McDonogh and Douglass, will offer the Redskins their toughest competition.
Severn returns experience from last year's team, which finished second in one division of the MSA C Conference, so look for the Admirals to set the pace, but perennial contenders Boys' Latin and St. Paul's won't be far behind.
In Anne Arundel County's 4A League, Annapolis, Broadneck, Old Mill, Severna Park and Meade are contenders. Southern is the favorite in the 3A-2A league.
Aberdeen gets the nod in Harford County, and Oakland Mills should win its fifth straight Howard County title. South Carroll and Westminster are the top teams in Carroll County but are dark horses in the Central Maryland Conference.
Here is a look at the preseason top 20, with last season's records in parentheses.
1 Dunbar (27-1)
* Donta Bright (16 points per game, 12 rebounds per game), Michael Lloyd (21 ppg, 10.1 assists per game) and Keith Booth (15 ppg, 8 rpg, 3 apg) should live up to their billings, but coach Pete Pompey says that if the Poets are going to finish the season No. 1 in the country, those three will need help. In the backcourt, help should come from 6-1 senior Cyrus Jones, the first guard off the bench last season, and 5-9 senior Paul Banks, a reserve last season. The Poets expect help up front from 6-4 senior Ahmed Childs, 6-3 sophomore Michael Cooper, 6-3 junior Yashida King and 6-7 sophomore Alexander Mobley. Mobley, a standout on last season's championship junior varsity and the younger brother of former Lake Clifton standout Thomas Jordan, is key because, if he can fit in at center, the Poets can move Bright from center to his more natural position at forward.
2 Southern (17-7)
* If Dunbar is No. 1 in the country, then this team belongs somewhere in the top 20. Southern returns six regulars from last season's team, which finished No. 2. Kwame Evans, a 6-6 senior guard, is one of the country's top recruits, along with 6-8 junior center Abdul Brown. Swingman Derrick Watkins (6-5), Kevin Simpson (6-5) and Tyrone Smith (6-4) give the Bulldogs an athletic lineup that can't be matched by many teams. Damon Cason, a 6-1 sophomore point guard who was an understudy to his brother David last season, is probably the key. The Bulldogs have even more talent with 6-7 sophomore Ronnie Thomas, a transfer from Walbrook.
3 Walbrook (11-7)
* The Warriors are loaded with talent, size and experience and could offer a serious challenge to Dunbar and Southern. Coach Gus Herrington's team should be led by 6-7 senior forward Jermaine Porter, who averaged 15 points and seven rebounds last season. Forward Shamar Bass (12 ppg, 9 rpg) and point guard Sean Evans (10 ppg, 5 apg) also started last season. Andre Rafus, a 6-7 junior, gives the Warriors added height, along with 6-7 Joe Wilson, a reserve last season. Antwan Wingo (5-11) transferred from St. Frances. The Warriors are back home for the first time in three years, now that asbestos removal is completed at the Walbrook Junction campus. Eric Carroll, a talented guard who also transferred from St. Frances, is ineligible.
4 Cardinal Gibbons (24-10)