Baltimore reclaims stage

NCAA tourney is full of local players, and history is on their side

Ncaa Tournament

March 15, 2006|By PAUL MCMULLEN | PAUL MCMULLEN,SUN REPORTER

Big men from Baltimore could play a major role in the NCAA basketball tournament.

Two of the No. 1 seeds, Connecticut and Memphis, have Josh Boone and Joey Dorsey, respectively, patrolling the middle. The Huskies' leading scorer is Rudy Gay, a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward who's well-positioned to add his name to the list of locals who have placed their stamp on March Madness.

For a generation, Baltimore was synonymous with scrappy perimeter players. Juan Dixon willed Maryland to a 2002 NCAA title, Sam Cassell is still enjoying a fine NBA career that includes a world championship ring, and Muggsy Bogues is the shortest man ever to play in the league.

The bigs, however, have had their moments. Marvin Webster guided Morgan State to an NCAA Division II title in 1974, and played in the NBA finals. When Georgetown won it all in 1984, it leaned heavily on Dunbar's Reggie Williams and David Wingate. Syracuse rode Carmelo Anthony to the 2003 NCAA title.

The past four NCAA champions have all had a Baltimore link. Dixon and Anthony were the Most Outstanding Players at the Final Four, Boone was a freshman starter for Connecticut in 2004 and Melvin Scott was the first guard off the North Carolina bench last season.

Like Dixon and Anthony, Gay came out of a Catholic League school, Archbishop Spalding. A first-team All-Big East Conference player and a member of at least one All-American team, Gay leads the Huskies in scoring (15.3) and is their third-leading rebounder (6.7). He has the potential to be the first pick in the NBA draft, but some opponents have gotten him out of the UConn flow.

Gay had two points in the first 31 minutes of last week's Big East quarterfinal loss to Syracuse. Jim Calhoun wanted him to be a go-to player, but this Huskies team has many other viable options.

Boone, who played at South Carroll High with Marshall Strickland, who averages 12.5 points for Indiana, and at the Cecil-Kirk Recreation Center with Gay, is UConn's top rebounder (7.3) and fourth-leading scorer (10.6). A preseason All-Big East player, he received honorable mention in last week's Big East balloting, in part because Hilton Armstrong has given the Huskies another inside force.

Connecticut is the top seed in the Washington Regional. Memphis is the choice in the Oakland Regional, the class of Conference USA thanks to a precocious roster that includes Dorsey.

A sophomore, Dorsey played on a landmark Douglass High team that went unbeaten four years ago, made a couple of prep school stops to get his academics in order, then started for Memphis as a freshman. He remains foul prone, but is the Tigers' top rebounder (7.6) and rarely takes a bad shot. Over the past five games, Dorsey has hit 19 of his 26 field-goal tries.

The 65-team tournament includes two centers out of Randallstown High, Marcus Cousin and John Bunch.

Cousin, a 6-10 sophomore, averages 13 minutes off the bench for Seton Hall, the 10th seed in the Washington Regional.

Bunch, who's 7-2 and weighs 330 pounds, was a seldom-used reserve on the Rams' 2002 state championship team. He spent two seasons at Division III Lincoln, where he set an NCAA record for blocks in a game with 18, then transferred to Monmouth, where he's the leading rebounder.

Last night's play-in game in Dayton matched Bunch against Hampton and Jaz Cowan, who also knows his way around Liberty Road. Cowan played for McDonogh, walked on and won a scholarship at George Washington, then transferred to Hampton. He was added to the roster after the first semester, and is the top scorer (13.5) and rebounder (7.0) for a team that made a surprise run in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament.

The Hampton-Monmouth winner meets Villanova Friday.

Four locals will start in a Washington Regional pod that will be played in Dayton that night.

In the first game of that double-header, 11th-seeded George Mason meets Michigan State. Jai Lewis, a wide-bodied senior out of Aberdeen, leads the Patriots in scoring (14.0) and rebounding (7.9). Lewis was a first-team All-Colonial Athletic Association selection. Will Thomas, a sophomore forward from Mount St. Joseph, is third in scoring (11.6) and second in rebounding (6.9) for George Mason.

In the Friday nightcap in Dayton, North Carolina gets 14th-seeded Murray State. If the champions of the Ohio Valley Conference are going to succeed, they'll need a steady hand from a senior backcourt that came through Towson Catholic.

Point guard Keith Jenifer spent two seasons at Virginia before he transferred to Murray State. He regained the starting point guard job a month ago, and averages a team-high 3.4 assists.Darnell Hopkins, who spent two seasons at San Jacinto Junior College in Texas, is the third scorer (9.0) on a balanced Murray State team.

Chester Frazier, who played for Lake Clifton/Eastern two years ago, plays 14 minutes a game as a reserve guard for Illinois. paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

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