Spalding's rise raises a ruckus

Boys basketball: Three winters ago, the Cavs were 3-17. Enter a new coach and four freshmen. Now No. 1, they have the Catholic League abuzz.

January 15, 1999|By PAT O'MALLEY | PAT O'MALLEY,SUN STAFF

Build it, and they will get mad.

Archbishop Spalding's seemingly overnight rise to the top in Baltimore-area boys basketball has caused rumblings among some Catholic League coaches.

Some question how coach Tony Martin could inherit a 3-17 team and in just three seasons turn it into The Sun's top-ranked squad.

The coaches won't elaborate, but rumors of questionable recruiting continue, despite dismissal by the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association of two transfer cases last season.

"We've gained some respect, but I know success this quickly has caused some animosity," said Martin, 34. "A lot of people question our success and have started a lot of gossip. But we're not apologizing for our success."

Martin spent four years each at Cardinal Gibbons and Mount St. Joseph as JV coach, going 151-46 (.766) and winning seven league titles before landing at the Catholic school in Severn three years ago.

Lee Dove, Spalding athletic director, said he was impressed with Martin's aggressive, organized style, as well as his time under late Gibbons coaching legend Ray Mullis, whose career 620 wins are the metro area's all-time best.

Spalding (13-2) has zoomed to No. 1 in only its second season in the Baltimore Catholic League.

Martin and his assistants -- Rick Landers, a former Calvert Hall assistant, and Ralph Burley, an Anne Arundel County summer league guru -- have done it by recruiting promising eighth-graders and a couple controversial transfers.

"There's a feeling that they grew very rapidly, but Tony is just very aggressive," said Rick Diggs, MIAA executive director. "Some of our coaches don't want to do anything and expect the kids to come to them. It doesn't work that way anymore."

Some contend that Martin has drawn players from everywhere, but, in fact, all but two of his 15 varsity players reside in Anne Arundel County.

"They [some Catholic League coaches] taught him how to do it, and now they're mad because he's doing it," said Jerry Savage, who in his 31st season at Loyola is dean of the league coaches.

"I can't get upset with what Tony has done, because he's not doing anything different than anybody else. I'm happy for him and think what they've done is good for our league."

A first-season title

In his first season, Martin, playing four blue-chip freshmen, guided the Cavaliers to a school record for wins (21-8) and the MIAA C Conference title.

Now juniors, those four NCAA Division I prospects -- Derrick Snowden, Tremaine Robinson, Isaac Brooks and Darren Johnson -- still lead the way.

Snowden, a point guard being recruited by several Atlantic Coast Conference colleges, including Maryland, would have gone to Old Mill if he had chosen to attend a public school.

"I wanted to be challenged [athletically and academically], and that's why I chose Spalding," said Snowden, who also was recruited by Mount St. Joseph, Cardinal Gibbons and Severn. "I thought I would have a better opportunity to play college basketball."

The four drew a lot of attention as 14-year-olds playing for the Running Aces, an Amateur Athletic Union team that Burley coached.

"I was trying to recruit them to come to Severn before I became Tony's assistant," said Burley, who was an assistant at Severn. "A whole lot of private schools were after them, but rather than have them compete against other in the Catholic League, I sold them on playing together at Spalding."

Tuition -- $5,300 a year at Spalding -- is another issue for the team's critics. The school awards no athletic scholarships, but financial aid is available to those eligible, athlete or not.

"Students get up to a certain amount [$2,000 maximum] based on need," said Spalding's Dove. "The only scholarships are academic, or music."

Martin, who said his varsity and JV players have a cumulative 3.00 grade-point average, added that some work part time to help with tuition. Several parents work extra jobs to pay for the private-school experience.

"I know some parents [of players] resent hearing that their kids are skating through when they're working their tails off," said Martin, a graduate of Mount St. Joseph and the University of Maryland who is a Timonium restaurant's business manager.

Spalding joined the Catholic League and MIAA A Conference last winter with a schedule that included three national tournaments. Going 17-17, the Cavaliers ranked 14th in The Sun's final poll.

Spalding started this season ranked No. 2 locally behind Dunbar but moved to No. 1 two weeks ago after Dunbar lost twice and finished sixth in the Slam Dunk at the Beach tournament in Delaware. At the same time, the Cavaliers were a close second in Arkansas' King Cotton Classic.

Spalding's 75-71 win Saturday over Hagerstown's St. Maria Goretti, the league's preseason favorite, established the Cavaliers as the team to beat.

Calvert Hall coach Mark Amatucci is impressed with what Martin has accomplished but is reserving the accolades.

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