City basketball talent plans to make amends for 0-6 Charm Classic

January 11, 1994|By Bill Tanton

Every time Dunbar High grad Keith Booth takes the floor for Maryland, people are reminded once again that Baltimore is quite a producer of basketball talent.

This is hardly a new development. Dunbar has won national championships and, going back, so has Calvert Hall. Former Baltimore high school stars are showing up with greater frequency at major colleges and in the NBA.

But there is one hole in the city's basketball reputation.

It developed last winter when the best of the local high schools met a classy collection of out-of-town schools, most from New York and New Jersey, in a two-day tournament at Towson State.

Result: the Baltimore schools played six games and lost them all.

To the surprise of no one, Simon Gratz High, from Philadelphia, won the championship. Gratz was led by 7-footer Rasheed Wallace, now a freshman on North Carolina's No. 1-ranked team.

But for the Baltimore schools to lose all their games? Powerhouse teams like Dunbar, Southern and Lake Clifton?

That's what they did all right, and later this month they'll be out to make amends in the third annual First National Bank Charm City Classic.

The tournament, to be played Jan. 28-29, moves from Towson to Loyola College's 3,000-seat Reitz Arena. Loyola athletic director Joe Boylan and coach Skip Prosser moved smartly to land an event that will showcase their school to some of the top high school prospects in America.

Southern High, undefeated (6-0) and ranked No. 1 in the Baltimore Sun poll, is in the field again along with Dunbar (7-1), which is No. 2.

The other Baltimore schools participating will be Lake Clifton (6-2, No. 5) and Walbrook (No. 11, 3-3).

The out-of-town teams are New York's Rice, which is No. 1 in the country; St. Raymond's, from New York; the defending national champion, Philadelphia's Gratz; and Prospect Hall, from Frederick, which has been nationally ranked nine of the past 10 years -- and doesn't have a senior on its roster.

The marquee player this year is Rice's Dominican-born, 6-5 Felipe Lopez, said to be the most highly recruited player in the country.

The Charm City tourney, in two years, has featured a number of outstanding talents now starring in college.

Among them have been Booth at Maryland, and Wallace at Carolina, plus Donta Bright (Dunbar), now at the University of Massachusetts, and Roderick Rhodes, a Kentucky sophomore.

"Felipe Lopez is a cut above all of them," says Bill Spotts.

"Bill Spotts," warns Lake Clifton coach Charlie Moore, "is the Don King of basketball. I'd say Felipe Lopez is comparable to the others."

It's not revenge that the Baltimore schools will be looking for. When you're around these kids you can see that they all know and respect one another. When they discuss college visitations and SAT tests you'd think they were all from the same school.

But they do want to do a better job of representing their hometown.

"That was embarrassing last year, losing all those games to out-of-town teams," says Lake Clifton's 6-7 Terrence Payne, still shaking his head in disbelief. "We talked about it a lot last summer."

Payne, described as the glue that holds Lake Clifton's team together, will be playing for coach Pete Gillen at Xavier next year. Payne insists the six-game sweep by no means proved Baltimore to be second-rate.

"Baltimore had a lot of young teams in it last year," says Payne. "This year we're more experienced. We have better senior leadership. I think we'll do better."

None of the eight teams in the field will be more experienced than Southern. Coach Meredith Smith's Bulldogs start five seniors, three of whom have started since they were sophomores.

This -- experience -- is a prime reason why Southern is No. 1 and riding the crest of a 20-game winning streak, the longest in the state.

People say Southern, finally No. 1, is on a mission. Meredith Smith pooh-poohs that.

"We're not new to No. 1," says the Southern coach. "We've been No. 1 before. We won the state [AAA] championship last year so we must have been up pretty high."

Southern's 6-5 Kevin Simpson is the favorite player of Spotts, the tournament's promoter, who yesterday scored a coup by bringing in First National Bank as the title sponsor.

"I like Kevin Simpson," says Spotts, "because he does everything well. I think this tournament is going to be a coming-out party for Kevin."

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