Same destination, but a rougher road Seeking 4th straight title: Dunbar isn't as intimidating as it was in winning the past 3 state championships, but is still a strong contender.

March 07, 1996|By Derek Toney | Derek Toney,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

During its run to three consecutive state championships, Dunbar has overwhelmed nearly every opponent with its height and athleticism.

But there aren't many comparisons between those squads and this year's team except that this year's team could also win a state title but first must get by the Washington Post's No. 1 team, Gwynn Park, in today's state Class 3A semifinal at the University of Maryland at 3 p.m.

It does not have an intimidating front line like the first two Poets squads that won state titles in 1993 and 1994 and were nationally ranked. Those teams were led by the likes of Keith Booth (Maryland), Rodney Elliott (Maryland) and Norman Nolan (Virginia).

Last year's team, which included Marvis Thornton (Tallahassee, Fla., Community College),Billy Wells (Maring Military Academy, Texas) and Robert Foster (Shorter CC, Arkansas), ran opponents off the court with its transition game; but this year's team, ranked No. 2 in the area, is a scrappy and workmanlike squad.

"When we're giving the ball up in terms of getting assists and we're rebounding and have a good rotation as far as who shoots, we'll be competitive," said Dunbar coach Paul Smith, whose team is 19-6. "When we don't do those things, we don't play well."

With Tommy Polley as the lone returning starter, three little-used holdovers from last season, and freshman Tim Lyles starting at point guard, Smith expected the season to start off a little rough. The football team's run to a second consecutive state championship kept Polley and a couple of players off the basketball court for about three weeks after the start of practice. Smith decided to start the season a week later so those players could heal from their football injuries and get into their basketball modes.

By early January, Dunbar had as many losses (four) as it had in the previous two seasons after a defeat at Southwestern. In the locker room after that game many of the players and Smith were silent.

"It takes some time to blend in everybody into what the coaching staff wanted," said Smith. "It was a matter of softening some egos, making sure some guys did what we wanted them to do, as opposed to what they wanted to do individually."

Playing against rival Lake Clifton two weeks later, things began to turn around for Dunbar. The underdog Poets knocked off the then-undefeated Lakers, 71-60.

With Lyles (12.7 ppg, 7.7 apg) maturing, Chris Dean (11.7 ppg, 9.5 ppg), Atman Smith (8.2 ppg) and Vander Bannister (7.8 ppg) settling into their roles, and Polley (20.7 ppg, 11.1 rpg) leading the way, Dunbar upset then-No. 1 Southern-B (78-70) to win the city's East League title, then beat Southwestern, 70-66, for the city championship.

"Everyone doubted us coming into the season," said Polley, who also averages eight assists a game.

This season could offer the Poets, 15-0 in state tournament play, their toughest path to a state title. Gwynn Park (21-3), of Prince George's County, has a veteran squad, returning 11 players from a team that lost to Randallstown in last year's state 3A semifinals.

Pub Date: 3/07/96

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