This year's lineup again means road to No. 1 goes through Charm City Classic

Bill Tanton

December 15, 1992|By Bill Tanton

Wouldn't you think that Baltimore, by now, would be recognized as the premier producer of basketball talent it is?

I mean, every time you turn on TV and watch an NBA game it seems as if somebody from Dunbar High is starring in it.

And, hey, isn't Dunbar the reigning national high school champion? Answer: yes. And didn't Dunbar win the first Charm City Classic? The Poets have won 55 straight games, the longest win streak in the country.

Isn't this enough to convince people everywhere that Baltimore is best?

"Not everywhere," says Pete Pompey, Dunbar's coach. "Oh, sure, we go to some places where people recognize what we are.

"Last year we went to Hawaii, and we played a team out there -- I can't even pronounce the name of the school -- but they knew us.

"They got ahead of us by 16 -- and that was enough. They stopped playing after that, and we beat them by 32. It seemed like getting ahead of Dunbar like that was all they needed."

Different views of Baltimore basketball can be found, says Pompey, in New York, Philadelphia and even Washington.

"People in New York think they play better ball than we do here," says Pompey, who is in his seventh year as Dunbar's coach. "So do a lot of people in D.C. Right now a Philadelphia high school -- Simon Gratz -- is ranked No. 1 in the country."

All this helps to make the second annual Reebok Charm City Classic at the Towson Center Jan. 15-16 an outstanding attraction.

"It's our best against their best," says Bill Spotts, the basketball buff who puts this tournament together.

"Our best" are Dunbar, ranked No. 5 in the nation at the moment, which will play No. 9 St. Anthony's of Jersey City, Friday night and No. 1 Simon Gratz on Saturday; Lake Clifton, which meets Simon Gratz Friday and St. Anthony's Saturday; Towson Catholic, which goes against No. 10 St. John's Prospect Hall, of Frederick, Friday; and Southern, which plays No. 18 Dunbar of Washington Saturday.

It is more than simply the promoter in Spotts that prompts him to say: "I believe the eventual mythical national champion will come from this tournament. Trust me."

I trust him. Dunbar won it all last year, and this looks like the year for Simon Gratz. The Philadelphia school has the No. 1 high school player in America in 6-foot-11 Rasheed Wallace, the most highly recruited player to come out of Philly since Wilt Chamberlain nearly 40 years ago.

Baltimore's Dunbar, with only one starter, Keith Booth, back, is in different role in this year's Charm City Classic.

"We're down to No. 5 [nationally]," says Pompey. "We're kind of hunting people now."

A team ranked fifth in the country can hardly be devoid of talent, and a team with 6-6 Booth is blessed with one of the top high school talents in the land. The Dunbar senior can do it all -- score, pass, rebound and demonstrate leadership.

Maryland coach Gary Williams lusts for Booth not only because he's a gifted player but also to end the impasse that has seen Dunbar's top players for the past decade wind up anywhere but College Park.

Buck Kimmett, Poly's longtime basketball coach, has the

misfortune of facing -- and being walloped by -- Dunbar each winter. I asked him what kind of player Booth is.

"He's a wonderful player," he said.

"Can he play at Maryland?" I asked.

"He can play anywhere he wants to play," Kimmett said.

That opinion is shared, obviously, by some of the top college coaches in the country. Keith Booth is making their rounds.

"I just made an unofficial visit to Duke," Keith said yesterday at the Charm City news conference at the Towson Sheraton. "I liked Duke very much.

"I thought Coach [Mike] Krzyzewski was going to be real strict, but he's very nice. That's some atmosphere in Cameron Indoor Stadium."

"It's crazy," says Pompey, who accompanied Booth to Duke. "You see on television how those Duke students behave at the games, but in person it's even crazier."

Booth will be exposed to another of college basketball's greatest hotbeds next month when he pays a call on Kentucky and coach Rick Pitino.

Keith will make an official visit to Duke later in the winter. He's also still considering Maryland and Towson State.

"I'll sign in April," says Booth.

Recruiters from Booth's final four will be among the most interested spectators at the Charm City event, which no doubt will sell out again. Last year 2,000 people were turned away on Saturday night.

One player I'm eager to see is Lake Clifton's Shawnta Rogers. He's a 10th-grader. He's 5 feet 3. He averages 21 points.

"Rogers is one of the most exciting players in the country," says Lake Clifton coach Charlie Moore.

If Rogers is anything like Muggsy Bogues, to whom he is compared, Rogers will soon be known by fans all over the country.

Last year St. Anthony's, coached by Bob Hurley Sr., had what I considered the best player in the Charm City tourney -- Roderick Rhodes.

,2 "He can play," Pompey understated at the time. Today Rhodes is a star freshman at Kentucky.

"You'll see five or six NBA prospects in this tournament," says Spotts.

Tickets will be available starting Monday at the Towson Center and at Ticketmaster locations.

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