Dunbar stars drew scouts, now tourney PLAYERS SET BEAT FOR DANCE HERE

March 15, 1995|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

Reggie Lewis went 0-4, but Reggie Williams went straight to the top.

Gene Shue and Skip Wise didn't get to dance, and Marvin Webster and generations of others who stayed home never even had the chance.

The NCAA Division I tournament makes its first stop in Baltimore tomorrow with four first-round games at the Arena, and its tardy arrival here serves as a reminder of the city's struggle to overcome its days as a basketball backwater.

Baltimore wasn't a must-stop for college recruiters until 1973, when a Dunbar team that featured Wise and Larry Gibson knocked off vaunted DeMatha. Five years later, Baltimore still didn't have a Division I program, and it wasn't until 1990 that Coppin State and Towson State finally gave Baltimore a team in the tournament.

Throughout Baltimore's history in the NCAA tournament, Dunbar High is the common thread. The east side school has long been a magnet for basketball players, and its presence was never greater than in the early 1980s, when Williams and David Wingate took the Poets to prep greatness, then helped Georgetown to its only NCAA title.

The focus of the 1984 NCAA championship game was the battle in the middle between Patrick Ewing and Houston's Hakeem Olajuwon, but the difference in the Hoyas' 84-75 victory was the performance of their young Baltimore duo. Williams, a freshman forward, led Georgetown with 19 points and Wingate, a sophomore guard, had 16.

A year later, Williams and Wingate again made 50 percent or better of their shots in an NCAA final, but Villanova played the perfect game and upset Georgetown, 66-64.

Baltimore colleges are 0-5 in the Division I tournament, and it was another Dunbar grad who provided the locals with their closest call.

Coppin State, fed by players from the Philadelphia area, was routed in its appearances in 1990 and '93, and Loyola, led by three players from Washington, D.C., was similarly brushed aside by Arizona last year, but Towson State's debut in the tournament in 1990 was another matter.

The Tigers, who started five Baltimoreans, were within a basket of No. 1 Oklahoma with six minutes to go. The Sooners pulled away for a 77-68 win, but not before they were schooled for 30 points by Kurk Lee, a 1985 Dunbar grad. A year later, Towson State threw a similar scare into Ohio State before losing by 11.

Baltimore was a latecomer to Division I, but there was nothing second-rate about the Division II basketball played here in the 1970s.

Morgan State, with Edmondson High's Marvin Webster building his reputation as the Human Eraser, won the NCAA championship in 1974. Two of its five losses were to UMES, whose star center, Joe Pace, then transferred to Coppin State. Together with Forest Park High's Tony Carter, they led the Eagles to the NAIA title in 1976.

A year later, Towson State finished the regular season atop the Division II poll, and to get there, it had to overcome the University of Baltimore, a rival in the Mason-Dixon Conference. Both teams were stocked with players from City College. Two years later, the South Atlantic Region champ was UMBC.

Frank Szymanski, the Baltimore coach at the time, had previously been the head coach at Drexel in Philadelphia. He was both surprised and delighted to see Division I caliber talent staying home.

"The Catholic League and the public school leagues in Philadelphia were supposed to be hot," Szymanski said, "but the players here were just as good as the ones in Philadelphia. It was a period of time when Baltimore was not a recruiting hotbed. College coaches would drive from Philly right to Washington, and never stop here."

In 1971, when Webster was the city's top big man prospect, the few Division I coaches interested wanted him to first attend junior college. From the Class of 1973, City College's Pat McKinley and Ron Smith were similarly overlooked and went to Towson State and Baltimore, respectively, but that was also the season Baltimore began getting noticed.

Wise was only a junior in 1973, when he scorched DeMatha. Two years later, at Clemson, he became the first freshman to be named first-team All-ACC. Wise never played in the NCAA tournament, as he left Clemson after one year for an ill-fated pro career.

Two other notable Baltimoreans never made it to the tournament.

Gene Shue, from Towson Catholic, set Maryland's scoring record and guided the Terps to the Top 20 as a senior in 1954, but they were stopped by North Carolina State in the first ACC tournament at a time when the NCAA field was limited to 24 teams. Gibson, Wise's teammate at Dunbar, experienced similar frustration in a Terps uniform. He played in the pivot from 1975 to '79, when the Terps won two-thirds of their games but no NCAA bids.

The NCAA memories for other Baltimoreans run the gamut.

* Lee Dedmon, who went to City College, twice led North Carolina in rebounding and was a sophomore when Charlie Scott took the Tar Heels to the Final Four in 1969. Dedmon captained the NIT champs in 1971.

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