Douglass team has spot among city's hoop greats

March 30, 2002|By GREGORY KANE

LET'S CLEAR the air now before the nonsense starts to pass itself off as indisputable fact. Let's give the basketball team of Baltimore's Frederick Douglass High School its proper place in city hoops history.

Earlier this month, Douglass' Mighty Ducks took the state Class 3A championship over Gwynn Park in Prince George's County. They won 28 straight games in achieving the feat. Some wags have commented that the 2002 Douglass squad may be the school's best basketball team ever.

That is an understatement of what Douglass' team accomplished. This year's Mighty Ducks are thus somewhat akin to the 1981-1982 Dunbar Poets basketball team, which some felt was second locally and nationally to Calvert Hall. That fiction has persisted lo these 20 years.

Dunbar's 1982 basketball team was better, probably by at least 20 points, than Calvert Hall's. We'll never know, because the teams didn't play that year, despite the mass clamor for a rematch of the triple-overtime thriller Calvert Hall won the year before. Hall coach Mark Amatucci refused to schedule Dunbar for an open date before his team went to the Alhambra tournament. Since his squad defeated nationally ranked Camden High of New Jersey by 5 on a neutral court and Dunbar buried that same team by 25 on Camden's home court, I can hardly blame the man.

But back to Douglass: This team is not merely the best in school history. It's one of the best Baltimore has ever produced. It may be better than the Dunbar and Calvert Hall teams of 1982 and the Poets national championship team of 1983. The 2002 Mighty Ducks were definitely better than the 1985 Dunbar team that also won a national championship.

This is all opinion and arguable, of course. But a man knows what he sees. I watched Dunbar and Calvert Hall of '82 in action, as well as the 1983 and 1985 Dunbar teams. I had the chance to watch Douglass for the first time in the state semifinals at Cole Field House early this month. Before I describe what they did there, it's best to rehash what coach Rodney Coffield's team did throughout the year.

The Mighty Ducks scorched Baltimore's best. They beat Walbrook to take over the No. 1 spot. In the Mayor's Academy tourney, they knocked off two top-notch teams from Philadelphia. They handed Dunbar's hoopsters their butts, not once, but twice, on Dunbar's home court. Beating Dunbar twice, at home, in the same season is a feat that happens about as often as a blizzard hits Miami Beach.

Having crushed the city competition, the Douglass cagers cruised into the state playoffs and beat an excellent, previously undefeated Randallstown team by 10 points to reach the state semifinals, where undefeated Chopticon, ranked No. 6 in the D.C. area by the Washington Post, awaited them.

It was that Douglass-Chopticon match-up I witnessed on a balmy March Thursday afternoon. The Mighty Ducks went to work quickly, hitting jump shots at a torrid pace. Chopticon was behind by a bunch in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Suddenly, one of the Douglass players shoveled a pass to center Richard Dorsey, who slammed the ball through the basket with a windmill dunk.

Douglass' fans went nuts, of course. But the notable reaction was from the Chopticon fans. Some of them stood on their feet, hands on their heads, looking aghast, as if they couldn't quite comprehend what had hit them.

"Put a fork in Chopticon's team," I said to myself. "They're done."

Douglass won by 31 points. It wasn't the point spread that caught my eye. It was the way the Mighty Ducks broke Chopticon, psychologically, early in the game, in a way that the Dunbar and Calvert Hall teams of the 1980s never had.

Two days later, Douglass beat Gwynn Park, which had lost only two games during the regular season, for the state title. In the future, when Baltimore's basketball fans start talking about some of the best high school teams our town has produced, the 2002 Douglass squad should be near or at the top of the list.

Does Coffield believe his team is as good as the Dunbar and Calvert Hall teams of the 1980s?

"I think so," he said yesterday. "But, of course, I'm a little biased. But the one thing we had in common with the Dunbar teams is great guards. In this town, the great teams have great guards. We had two great guards and a 6-8 center who could do a lot of things."

Douglass' guards were Tyler Smith and Gerald Brown. That duo was, from where I sat in Cole Field House, better than the Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues/Gary Graham combo at Dunbar and the James "Pop" Tubman/Marc Wilson tandem of Calvert Hall in 1982. Give Brown and Smith the nod again over Dunbar's pair of guards in 1983: Bogues and Michael Brown. Consider that Dorsey was definitely better than Tim Dawson of Dunbar and at least as good as Duane Ferrell of Calvert Hall, and you could make an argument that Douglass was better than both the Dunbar and Calvert Hall teams of 1982.

That will be debated a long time. What should be clear is that the Douglass 2002 basketball team is one of the finest this town has seen in years.

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