At 36-0, Mount St. Joe joins elite company

On High Schools

March 05, 2006|By MILTON KENT

Every team has a banner or sign adorning a locker room wall or over a door, designed to reduce its quest for a championship down to a single pithy slogan. In the Mount St. Joseph basketball team's locker room, the saying is, "Mount St. Joe doesn't beat Mount St. Joe."

Well past the Thanksgiving turkey, the Christmas rush, the turning of the calendar into a new year and the late-winter shopping of Presidents Day, that phrase is accurate not only for the Gaels, but also for every other team on their schedule, as they have gone 36-0.

And, in two weeks, at the end of the St. Patrick's Day weekend and the Alhambra tournament, Mount St. Joseph might complete one of the most magical runs for a boys basketball team in area history with a 39-0 mark, throwing itself into the discussion about Baltimore's all-time best high school basketball teams.

"I don't think anybody could have predicted this," said Gaels coach Pat Clatchey. "It would have been easy to predict that we would have a very good team, but to be sitting 36-0? I don't think there's that many crystal balls around."

The Gaels, who have been No. 1 by The Sun all season and are No. 8 nationally in the most recent USA Today poll, clinched the Baltimore-area record for victories in a season with their win in the Baltimore Catholic League tournament last week. They would become Maryland's single-season leader with two wins at the Alhambra at Frostburg State.

And yet, in this star-struck sports culture, where a couple of three-homer games gets you the lead on SportsCenter, and three or four of them get you your own reality series, the Mount St. Joseph players could walk unnoticed through just about any building in town that isn't a gym.

"They've accomplished some things that some other great teams have accomplished in the past," Clatchey said. "Comparing them to the Dunbar teams or the Calvert Hall team, I don't think we have the big-name guys or the national names. But I don't think that takes away anything from the caliber of team that we have, nor what these guys have accomplished."

Guards Chase Adams and Kevin Swecker anchor a solid, if unspectacular, backcourt, while Dejuan Goodwin, Dino Gregory and Louis Birdsong form a skilled front line. Birdsong, a 6-foot-6 senior forward and the most recognized player, is heading to George Mason next season, but longtime basketball observer Paul Baker says Gregory, a 6-8 junior, might be the best player in the long run.

Their accomplishments might, in time, be every bit as significant as those of the Dunbar teams of 1982-83 and 1991-92 and the Calvert Hall squad of 1981-82 that achieved national renown by running the table.

"I wouldn't be embarrassed or sticking my neck out by putting them in the same class as those other teams," said Baker, former coach at Shepherd College.

`Strictly business'

Baker, whose 1961-62 Towson Catholic team joins that Calvert Hall team and the 1995-96 St. Frances team as the only Baltimore squads to win the Alhambra tournament, said Mount St. Joseph trails those Dunbar and Calvert Hall teams in name recognition only.

"This St. Joe's team can put you to sleep. As [former Marquette coach] Al McGuire would say, there's no French pastry on this team. [The Gaels] are a team where the whole is better than the sum of its parts. They're strictly business, but they get the job done."

Once upon a time, Baltimore high school boys basketball was the stuff of legend. It began with the Dunbar team of 1972-73, which starred Skip Wise and Larry Gibson and beat DeMatha of Washington at the Civic Center to put the world on notice that Charm City's hoops were as good as any.

There were excellent teams at Lake Clifton and Loyola and Cardinal Gibbons in the 1970s and terrific players like Ernie Graham and Pete Budko and Quintin Dailey and splendid coaches like Ray Mullis and Jerry Savage.

There have been outstanding area teams since, with Dunbar's unbeaten 1991-92 team, led by Keith Booth, Donta Bright and Michael Lloyd and coached by Pete Pompey, the most notable. That Poets team became the third in school history to be heralded as mythical national champions.

But the pantheon of truly great teams begins with the 1982-83 Dunbar squad, coached by Bob Wade, which featured Muggsy Bogues, Reggie Williams and the late Reggie Lewis, all of whom went on to play at the highest levels of Division I college basketball and were first-round NBA draft choices.

Wade, who went on to coach at Maryland, said he kept his 31-0 team, which won a mythical national championship, focused on winning by not allowing the players to think they were as good as their press clippings.

"I would give them goals to reach for each ballgame, and I would challenge them in each ballgame to motivate them," said Wade, now the city schools athletic director. "It's not an easy task, and that's why I say Coach Clatchey should be commended. It's not easy to keep kids focused on the mission."

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