National title a Classic struggle

January 28, 1994|By Derek Toney | Derek Toney,Contributing Writer

In its first two years, the Charm City Classic has been a who's who of the country's best high school basketball players.

Maryland's Keith Booth (Dunbar High), Massachusetts' Donta Bright (Dunbar), San Jacinto College's Michael Lloyd (Dunbar), Kentucky's Rodrick Rhodes (St. Anthony's of New Jersey) and North Carolina's Rasheed Wallace (Simon Gratz of Philadelphia) head the list.

At this year's Charm City Classic, today and tomorrow at Loyola College's Reitz Arena, the focus will be on Felipe Lopez (Rice of New York), widely regarded as the best player in the nation.

More than 100 college coaches are expected to attend the last major national tournament of the season, which could decide the mythical national champion.

A four-team mixer its first two years, the Charm City Classic will this season have two four-team brackets, including five teams ranked in the USA Today Super 25 -- No. 1 Rice, No. 4 Southern-Baltimore, No. 6 Simon Gratz, No. 13 Dunbar and No. 17 St. Raymond's of New York.

Rice (16-0), which has held the No. 1 position in the USA Today Super 25 for the past four weeks, will attempt to follow the lead of Dunbar and Simon Gratz.

In January 1992, the Poets entered the Charm City Classic with the nation's top ranking, won two games and went on to a 29-0 record and the national title. Last year, Simon Gratz won twice, helping clear the way to the No. 1 ranking, finishing 31-0.

Even if Rice, which has won the McDonald's Classic (Erie, Pa.), Beach Ball Classic (Myrtle Beach, S.C.), and Tymark-Burger King Tournament (Norfolk, Va.) this season, is successful this weekend, its path to the national title will not be obstacle-free.

A member of the New York Catholic Athletic Association, one of the best leagues in the country, Rice faces rematches with La Salle and St. Raymond's, which took it to overtime before falling, 84-78, before 3,500 at Iona College on Saturday. A third meeting with one of those teams is a possibility in the New York state tournament in March.

"The process has been slow," said Rice coach Lou DeMello, who is in his fifth season. "The kids kind of felt it [being No. 1 in the nation] coming. The school, in fact, saw it coming. They have worked their butts off, and these kids are feeling the pressure, but they handle it well. Some of these kids feel like they have been No. 1 all of their lives."

Its ascension to the top of the national rankings has been due in part to Lopez, a 6-foot-5 swingman originally from the Dominican Republic, whose abilities have been compared to those of Michael Jordan. He has narrowed his college choices to Florida State, Kansas, St. John's, Seton Hall and UCLA.

But Rice, which plays Dunbar in a Southeast bracket game tonight at 8:45, is more than a one-man team. Senior point guard Scientific Mapp, seniors Robert Johnson and Melvin McKey and junior Gary Saunders have contributed all season.

"They [Dunbar] are a strong team," Lopez said. "They might think we're the underdogs, but we know better. We have to go out there and take care of business."

In the other Southeast contest at 7, Southern-Baltimore, the area's No. 1 team, meets defending national champion Simon Gratz. Last season, Simon Gratz defeated the Bulldogs, 61-44, in the first-round of the Johnstown (Pa.) Tournament.

"We saw them a couple of times last year," said Southern coach Meredith Smith, whose team brings a 22-game win streak into the game. "If they're anything like last year, they play a lot of zone. They really don't play a fast-tempo game. They're a very patient half-court team, and they execute well."

The game will feature two of the country's best backcourts: Southern's Damon Cason and Kevin Simpson and Simon Gratz's Shawn Smith and Terrell Stokes. Lynard Stewart, brother of Washington Bullets forward Larry Stewart and Coppin State forward Stephen Stewart, has filled in nicely for Wallace at center.

St. Raymond's (12-3) will meet Walbrook (4-4), the area's No. 11 team, at 3:30 p.m. in a Northwest bracket game.

Two of the country's top underclassmen -- Shawnta Rogers of Lake Clifton and Nate James of St. John's Prospect Hall -- highlight the other Northwest bracket game at 5:15. The Lakers (8-3) are the area's No. 5 team; St. John's Prospect Hall of Frederick (9-1) is ranked No. 8 on the East coast by USA Today.

"I guess we have been a little bit lucky," said Bill Spotts, coordinator of the Charm City Classic. "We are very fortunate to have it turn out to be like a Final Four for high school basketball."

CLASSIC CAST

Top players on hand for Charm City Classic at Loyola College:

Dunbar: Rodney Elliott, 6-8, Sr., F; Norman Nolan, 6-8, Sr., C.

Lake Clifton: Reggie Frazier, 6-4, Jr., F; Terrance Payne, 6-7, Sr., C; Shawnta Rogers, 5-5, Jr., PG.

Rice: Felipe Lopez, 6-5, Sr., SG; Scientific Mapp, 5-10, Sr., PG; Gary Saunders, 6-4, Jr., F.

St. John's Prospect Hall: Nate James, 6-6, Soph., F; Andrius Jurkunas, 6-9, Jr., F.

St. Raymond's: Charlton Clarke, 6-1, Jr., G; Eric Harris, 6-1, Sr., G; Kareem Reid, 6-0, Sr., G.

Simon Gratz: Shawn Smith, 5-10, Sr., G; Lynard Stewart, 6-7, Sr., C; Terrell Stokes, 6-0, Jr., G.

Southern-Baltimore: Damon Cason, 6-1, Sr., PG; Kevin Simpson, 6-5, Sr., SG, Dante Williams, 6-5, Sr., F.

Walbrook: Travone Broadway, 6-2, Jr., SF; Anton Jenifer, 5-9, Jr., G.

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