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Past, Present Collide As City Downs Dunbar

By Keith Mills

Down nine points with just over six minutes left, it looked like it was over. But if nearly 30 years of coaching has taught Mike Daniel anything, it's the legitimacy of a famous Yogi Bear line -- "It ain't over 'till it's over."

And it wasn't. With Dunbar leading City College, 52-43, City went on its first real run of the game. A couple of free throws, a basket by Charles Tapper, a 3-pointer from Nick Faust and another basket by Tapper, and suddenly the Poets' nine-point lead was history as City led 56-55. 

But even then it wasn't over. The Knights led by three with 11 seconds left when Dunbar's Corey Spence nailed a 3-pointer to tie the game at 60.

Dunbar's aggressive defense, a big reason why the Poets led most of the game, looked like it would force overtime. But with time running out, Kendrick Anderson, a 6-foot-1 junior, nailed a rushed 3-pointer at the buzzer from the right wing to give City a 63-60 win. It would be Anderson's only points of the night.

For City (12-1) it was a huge win against a Dunbar team that had won five straight under coach Cyrus Jones and had an healthy squad for one of the few times all year. It also helped erase the Knights' only loss of the year, a 59-52 setback to Ballou High of Washington, D.C., in last week's Basketball Academy at Morgan State.

It was also a special night for Baltimore area basketball. With City's gym packed, the Knights' once glorious basketball past merged with its present and future, against a program known for its area and national dominance.

"Big night," said Daniel before the game as he surveyed a crowd that included some of the finest players and coaches of Baltimore's rich basketball history.

Tim Dawson sat courtside next to Bob Wade, Dunbar’s former coach and now director of athletics for Baltimore City schools. Dawson played on Wade's 1982-83 national championship team at Dunbar that included Muggsy Bogues, Reggie Williams and Mike Brown; he is now principal at City College.   

Former police commissioner Leonard Hamm, who captained City's undefeated team in 1967, sat on the opposite side of Wade while Roger Dickens stood behind the scorer's table and talked about his days at City when Gene Parker and Jerry Phipps ran the program and Dickens didn’t even make the team.

The year was 1973 and the Knights were so stacked that Dickens got cut. So did Cleveland Rudisill, a 6-foot-8 center who would go on to anchor Frank Szymanski's front line at the University of Baltimore. Ironically, Dickens and Rudisill would play leading roles in the greatest, most intense collegiate rivalry ever in the 1970s pinning UB against then-Towson State.

It was a rivalry that featured eight former City College Black Knights -- Dickens, Brian Matthews, Pat McKinley and Larry Witherspoon of Towson against Rudisill, George Pinchback, Gerald Watson and Ron Smith of Baltimore.

All four of Towson's standouts are still all-time leading scorers and rebounders for the university while Smith and Pinchback are in the University of Baltimore Athletic Hall of Fame.

"That was Baltimore basketball back then," said Dickens. "We grew up together, went to high school together, played on the playground together. Some of us went to Towson, some to UB. Some didn't go anywhere."

The fact that Dickens did not play high school basketball at City is mind-boggling since he would eventually go on to lead Vince Angotti's Tigers to a 53-7 record over two years and become an NBA draft pick. After he graduated from City he attended and played basketball at the Community College of Baltimore, where he caught the eye of Angotti.

Dickens started at point guard at Towson, where he played only two years but finished among the school's all-time leaders in assists, steals and scoring (1,057 points from 1976 to '78). On March 5, 1977, Dickens played one of the greatest college games ever by a local when he pumped in 35 points with 11 steals as Towson beat Baltimore, 92-87, in the NCAA Division II South Regional championship game.

The Tigers finished 27-3 that year, losing only to UMBC, Eastern Illinois and Sacred Heart, which beat the Tigers, 85-82, in the NCAA national Division II semifinals. One year later, Dickens scored 561 points and led the team in assists and steals as the Tigers finished 26-4, losing this time in the Division II regionals to Elizabeth City (N.J.).
But the Towson-UB games were special because of the local ties and City College connections.

Dickens was picked in the fifth round of the 1978 NBA draft by the Washington Bullets, though he eventually returned to his roots as coach of the Community College of Baltimore in 1982. He built a regional junior college powerhouse at CCB, finally stepping down three years ago to become the school's director of admissions. And he's never lost his connection to local high school basketball, which is what brought him back to his alma mater Jan. 22 as City took on a Dunbar.

"It's great when this place is packed," said Dickens. "Mike's done a good job building the program back up."

Like Dickens, who grew up on the East side, Daniel's roots are inner-city Baltimore. He once coached the Bentalou Recreation Center in West Baltimore. He then moved on to Towson Catholic, where he won 360 games and four Catholic League championships in 20 years. He also helped send two of his players to the NBA -- Carmelo Anthony, who was just voted in as a Western Conference starter by the fans in next month's All-Star game, and Donte Greene, who is averaging 20 minutes and eight points a game for the Sacramento Kings.

Daniel took the City job five years ago, leading the Knights to 20-win seasons in each of the last three years. Last March they capped a 21-6 season by winning City's first state championship, a 55-42 win over Frederick Douglass High of Prince George's County in the Class 2A state finals.

His team is built to win another, though Daniel says the overall balance of the Baltimore City public school league is impressive.

"This is a very tough league," said Daniel. "Dunbar, Lake [Clifton], Edmondson, Digital [Harbor]. Anybody can beat anybody. You have to be on your game."

City, Lake Clifton and Digital Harbor all won state championships last year, the first time since the city schools joined the state athletic association in 1993 that Baltimore City came away with three of the four boys state titles. City and Lake Clifton meet Jan. 26 at Lake Clifton, a huge game in Division II of the public school league.

But for much of Friday's showdown with Dunbar, it was the 11-state title Poets who were in command.

Jones, in his third year as Dunbar's head coach, is also no stranger to winning. He was a starter on Pete Pompey's 1992-'93 national championship Dunbar team that featured Michael Lloyd, Donta Bright, Keith Booth and Paul Banks, one of Jones' closest friends and now a Dunbar assistant coach.

With Nathan Ayers playing suffocating defense and grabbing many of the game's loose balls, and Spence, Derrell Edwards and Roderick Camphor playing strong on both ends of the floor, the Poets looked like they would steal a win on City's home court, outplaying the Knights for much of the game.

"They're playing very well," said Daniel. "They're tough. Dunbar tough."

But the Knights have become City tough, Daniel tough, and they trailed by as much as 12 in the third quarter and still found a way to win as Faust, a transfer from John Carroll High in Bel Air, Tapper and Anderson came up big down the stretch.

One night later in Morgantown, W.Va., the Knights beat Logan High, 70-49, in the West Virginia Shootout for their 12th win as 6-foot-8 Jordan Latham scored 21 points. Latham is headed to Xavier next year while most of Daniel's team returns.

"We have a lot of guys coming back," said Daniel, "and we have some guys coming in that can play."

But for now, his team is determined to repeat as state champs and earn a spot next month in the city's coveted championship Feb. 23 at Morgan State. A win Tuesday at Lake Clifton would go a long way to making that happen.

Posted January 25, 2010