DeMATHA'S SUPER SALESMAN Wootten gets great deal from players

January 14, 1993|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Washington--Down one, two seconds to go, overtime, and Morgan Wootten still is selling.

Wootten is drawing and talking now, a 61-year-old grandfather on bended knee, concocting this basketball play that will surely succeed, reminding yet another group of breathless and expectant teen-agers that two seconds is a long, long time, even giving a wink like they're all going to be part of this magical conspiracy to deliver to DeMatha High School another victory from near-certain defeat.

But there will be no reversal of fortune this night.

The pass is perfect, yet the shot is short, and the game is lost. So Wootten and his team walk slowly and silently off the court while the players from Archbishop Carroll shout and raise their fists in triumph.

"We make 'em pretty happy," Wootten says in the locker room as the Carroll celebration echoes in a corridor.

Then, he resumes selling. But this time, he's like a father with a son, soothing, consoling, wrapping the constructive criticism into a layer of paternal love.

"I'm proud of you," he says, his face flushed, his voice calm. "We played an excellent game. One basket going in or out should have nothing to do with how we feel about each other. We're getting better. An excellent effort."

He reviews the mistakes. Missed layups. A couple of blown rebounds. One last overtime turnover. Talks about pluses. Reads out the rebounds, and, with each name and number, the players applaud.

"I'm like you guys," he says. "I want to see us win. We're making a real effort."

No practice tomorrow. Study for exams. Get some rest.

"One point shouldn't matter when we leave our hearts on the floor," he says. "We have to work hard. Now, hit the showers."

Thirty-seven seasons, and Wootten still is out there trying to close a deal. He doesn't want your money -- he just wants your best.

And now, he is approaching a milestone -- becoming the fifth high school coach to reach 1,000 wins.

With a team that is young (two seniors), small (not a player over 6 feet 5) and struggling (7-6 overall), Wootten is at 997 wins, 143 losses and holding. Yet surely, he will get his 1,000th win in the next few weeks, adding to a legend that already has spawned books, videos, even some myths.

From Eisenhower to NBA

During Wootten's reign, which began when Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House and Bill Clinton was in junior high school, DeMatha has won five mythical national titles and averaged 27 wins.

The school has sent 185 players to Division I programs, and, during one 30-year stretch, every senior player received a college scholarship.

A dozen DeMatha players, led by Adrian Dantley, have reached the NBA.

Twenty of Wootten's former players and assistants have gone on to coach in college, and this week Sidney Lowe became the first DeMatha graduate to become a pro head coach, taking over the Minnesota Timberwolves on an interim basis.

"I don't think any other place has produced coaches on the high school, college and pro level," Wootten said. "That is definitely something to be proud of."

Yet all this talk of success on the court and in the classroom may sound like some long, drawn-out Up With People concert -- with Wootten orchestrating syrupy melodies.

Even his vices -- smoking cigars and playing cards -- are endearing. After all, this is a man who attends Mass every day.

In a profession with its share of counterfeits, Wootten is the genuine article.

Listen to Dantley.

"Morgan is the No. 1 coach I ever had," said Dantley, who also played for, among others, Digger Phelps, Dean Smith and Chuck Daly.

"There were things he taught me in high school, guys in college and the pros were still learning," Dantley said. "I beat people with the fundamentals I learned from Morgan."

Praise from Wooden

Listen to John Wooden, architect of the UCLA dynasty.

"I stand in awe of him," he said. "Not only from the techniques of playing and coaching basketball, but what he does with those kids. Morgan has always had the best interest of the youngsters at heart. He could have won anywhere."

Listen to Dereck Whittenburg, the DeMatha star who led N.C. State to an NCAA title.

"Morgan is what I call a brick-wall coach," he said. "You buy into his system, and you're willing to run through a brick wall for him."

And listen to Wootten's youngest son, Joe, 20, a Maryland sophomore who is coaching the DeMatha freshmen.

"He does this the right way," he said. "You can't do it with mirrors for 40 years. He developed a great program."

Yet, to understand how well known and respected Wootten is, all you have to do is sit with him in his office overlooking the bandbox of a gym that bears his name at DeMatha, a school with an enrollment of 870 boys in Hyattsville.

A one-hour conversation is interrupted 15 times by phone calls -- from coaches who seek his advice to former players who want to know how he is handling an uncommonly difficult season.

And there are the interview requests from newspapers throughout the country.

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