In a class of their own, Poets recall glory days

Dunbar: A reunion event stokes memories of the talent-laden Poets teams that dominated high school basketball in the early 1980s.

High Schools

July 19, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Baltimore produced a handful of national dynasties in the second half of the 20th century.

Johnny Unitas and the Colts spread the popularity of pro football in the late 1950s. From 1969 to 1971, the Orioles had the Best Damned Team in Baseball. Just ask Earl Weaver. Johns Hopkins University won six NCAA lacrosse titles from 1978 to 1987.

A step down on the educational ladder but top rung with basketball fans was another institution: Dunbar High School hoops.

The Poets and their followers will gather tomorrow at the school's gym on the corner of Orleans and Central for a series of old-timers games, an event that quickly sold out. The draws include the crew from the 1982-83 season that has long been acclaimed as, if not the best high school team ever, then certainly on that debate's short list.

Has it really been 20 winters since 5-foot-3 Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues turned laughs of derision into whoops of joy? Two decades since Reggie Williams was the first option on a team with too many? Was is that long ago that the second player off the Dunbar bench was Reggie Lewis, who would star for the Boston Celtics before his early demise?

Dunbar was Bob Wade's springboard to becoming the first black coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1986. Given that he was dismissed after three seasons at Maryland, he gains considerable comfort from his tenure at his high school alma mater and regrets that scorebooks, photos and other curio from his Dunbar days are lost.

"When I moved from Maryland, I lost a lot of that stuff," Wade said. "I had it all, but when I had to relocate, the moving company lost two boxes. I would rather have had them lose a lamp or a sofa. You can replace that."

The memorabilia may be missing, but Dunbar's lore is as polished as ever.

Climbing on national stage

Tomorrow's reunion starts at noon. Ernie Graham and Skip Wise are supposed to play in the 3 p.m. game honoring players from the 1970s. The main event comes at 6 p.m., when Dunbar's 1992 national championship team of Keith Booth, Donta Bright and Michael Lloyd -- with help from the likes of Sam Cassell, Rodney Elliott and Tommy Polley -- challenges the wisdom of the early 1980s.

Dunbar High won mythical national championships for Wade in 1983 and 1985, and the Class of 1982, the reunion's sponsor, gives the team headed by that senior class the same distinction. Even Wade doesn't back that claim, but the fact is, while his 1982-83 team had three players who went on to substantial NBA careers, his 1981-82 team had four NBA players, with then-senior David Wingate being the first.

The 1981-82 team, which went unbeaten, didn't even top the charts locally. Calvert Hall began the season No. 1 nationally and stayed there. The Cardinals had to work to beat New Jersey power Camden at the Philadelphia Spectrum, and a few weeks later, as Dunbar readied to play at Camden, Wade went on about its tradition and home-court advantage until Williams interrupted the pep talk and said, "Coach, shut up, we're ready to play."

"That was a little out of character for me," said Williams, who, had he been a Beatle, would have been George Harrison, the quiet one.

During the player introductions, the unorthodox Bogues was mocked by USA Today All-American-to-be Kevin Walls. Wade asked the point guard he called "Short Man" if he was OK, and Bogues answered something about getting the last laugh. It was 50-21 at the half, against a team that began the season ranked No. 2 in the nation.

"People would laugh the first time they saw Muggsy," said Eric Green, a reserve guard throughout his Dunbar career. "By the end of the game, they'd be in awe of him."

The Camden rout was a portent of things to come. Wingate and Gary Graham moved on, but Dunbar reloaded and went 31-0 in 1982-83. Williams was a first-team prep All-American, but Wade named Bogues his most valuable player. With Williams in foul trouble in an out-of-town tournament, Lewis came off the bench and rescued the day. It was a rare close call, as the Poets averaged 82.9 points and allowed 46.5 a game.

`Everyone knew their role'

A year later, Williams and Wingate had key roles in Georgetown's only NCAA title. In 1987, Williams became the only Baltimorean to be a first-team consensus All-American before Juan Dixon. Bogues still holds the Wake Forest career records for assists, by more than 200, and steals. Lewis, who set the New England college scoring record for Northeastern, was a budding Celtics star before he died suddenly with a heart ailment in 1993.

In his final season, Lewis averaged 20.8 points and became an NBA All-Star. The Celtics were eliminated from the playoffs by the Charlotte Hornets -- and Bogues. The previous season, 1991-92, Williams' average of 18.2 led the Denver Nuggets.

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