A winning tradition part of the program

Dunbar: Eric Lee is the latest in a succession of coaches to oversee championship play by the Poets.

Boys Basketball

High School Sports

Winter Preview

December 05, 2003|By Pat O'Malley | Pat O'Malley,SUN STAFF

Baltimore area boys basketball is still defined by the Dunbar Poets, maybe not as emphatically as yesteryear, but it's still the magical name and tradition.

Lately, there have been no big-name players quite like Keith Booth, Reggie Williams, David Wingate, Muggsy Bogues, Sam Cassell and Reggie Lewis, but otherwise Dunbar is still Dunbar.

"I'm from the west side and, growing up, heard people talk about all the big names coming out of Dunbar," said senior guard Camontae Griffin.

"I always wanted to be one of those people. As soon as you step in the gym and look around at all those banners, you can feel the intensity and all the winning going on there."

Over the last five years, the Poets have gone 115-18 with three state titles and The Sun's No. 1 ranking in each of those seasons.

Since 1993 when the Poets joined the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, they have won an unmatched eight state titles, including last season's Class 1A crown.

The dominance is further appreciated when you consider that the East Baltimore school has only 187 boys in its enrollment of 600 students.

"We expect to win every time we go out there; it's like a mystique," said fourth-year coach Eric Lee, a member of coach Bob Wade's 1985 mythical national championship team that went 28-1.

"We put our pants on the same way as everybody else, but we play basketball as a team and a family. The banners hanging in our gym tell the story. I tell my kids that every game is a big game because of what they wear across their chests."

Senior forward Barry Jenifer, who attended Calvert Hall his first two years of high school, said he grew up wanting to be a Poet.

"I always dreamed of playing for Dunbar, but my mother made me go to Calvert Hall," said Jenifer. "I was thrilled to come here last year and help keep the tradition going.

"We have to play hard because of the pressure on us when you see all the banners in the gym. We just step up and listen to our coaches. "

To beat Dunbar can make a season for an opponent, but a foe really earns it because the Poets are so well-schooled.

"The kids in our community play basketball 24-7 and they see other kids getting out of the `hood' because of basketball," said Lee.

Started by the late, legendary William "Sugar" Cain (485-105, 32 years) back in 1953 and carried on by Wade, Pete Pompey, Paul Smith and Lynn Badham, the winning tradition and sending players on to college has continued under current coach Lee.

It was another late Dunbar legend in Bucky Lee, no relation to the current coach, who encouraged the latter to get into coaching. Lee became an assistant to Badham and succeeded him for the 2000-01 season.

Lee led the storied school to its seventh state title in his rookie year, the state final his second year and rung up No. 8 last year. He starts this season with a career record of 73-9, a staggering percentage of .890.

"I get my satisfaction out of seeing kids get scholarships and the chance to go to college and better themselves," said Lee, who has former Maryland All-American and Chicago Bulls player Keith Booth as his academic advisor this year.

"We really emphasize the academics and doors it can open."

Lee is proud of last year's team that sent seven seniors to college, including The Sun's Metro Player of the Year Maurice Barksdale. The latter is playing and studying at Blaine Community College in San Antonio.

"No other city school can say they sent seven seniors to college like we did," said Lee, a Baltimore City Water Department employee.

"It's our family atmosphere that makes it happen."

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