By Keith Mills
Three years ago, on a cold February morning in 2008, I met Jerry Savage at a Catonsville restaurant and spent a fascinating two hours listening to one of the most revered coaches of his generation talk about his labor of love -- the Baltimore Catholic League.
He talked about it how it began (on the heels of the Dunbar-Mount St. Joseph near-riot in 1971) to how far it's come (with its remarkable run of collegiate and NBA players) to his unofficial/official role as league historian.
"It's kind of a hobby with me now," said Savage, who won 607 games and five BCL tournament titles before stepping down as head coach in 2003 after 35 years. "I've been connected to the league since it started. I have all the records and would like to piece that all together."
On Thursday, May 19, the legendary Dons head coach will be part of the first class inducted into the Baltimore Catholic League Hall of Fame.
League commissioner Jack Degele and former commissioner Jim "Snuffy" Smith have been instrumental in the creation of the BCL Hall of Fame, while a selection committee of Savage, Mark Amatucci (Calvert Hall), Bryan Moorhouse (Cardinal Gibbons), Dan Popera (Archbishop Curley), Cokey Robertson (St. Maria Goretti) and William Wells (St. Frances) is responsible for its first class, which is a Who's Who of former players, coaches and athletic directors who have made the league one of the finest in the country.
Savage will be joined in the first class by the late Ray Mulls of Gibbons, former Mount St. Joe coach and athletic director John Plevyak Sr. and Br. D. John Smith of Calvert Hall while former NBA standouts Quintin Dailey and Duane Ferrell and current Memphis Grizzlies guard Rudy Gay highlight a class that includes 14 of the area's finest players.
Larry Harrison, Towson Catholic 1975: At 6-feet-10, the late Larry Harrison was one of the tallest players ever in the Baltimore area and certainly one of the best. The son of long-time referee Larry Harrison Sr. and the brother of Tori Harrison, who led the Towson Catholic girls to national prominence during the 1980s, Larry played for coach Paul Belz, who replaced Mike Farabaugh at Towson Catholic, and who, along with Savage, Plevyak and Smith, were instrumental in forming the league in 1972.
Harrison made the BCL all-tournament team in 1974 and teamed with 6-foot-7 Adrian Hubbard to form a wicked 1-2 punch up front. Hubbard went to St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, where he joined former Gibbons standouts Rob Valderas and Norman Black. Harrison went to Wake Forest, where he played from 1975 to '79 and is among the Demon Deacons' all-time leaders in rebounds and blocked shots.
Ron Holthaus, Archbishop Curley 1975: Dan Popera replaced Paul Strong in 1974 as head coach of the Friars and had a wonderful run in the Catholic League thanks to players like Carl and Bob Fornoff, Kurt and Leroy Keller, Bob Dillon, Curt Serafin and Holthaus, who played on Popera's first team at Curley and was an outstanding scorer and defender.
He played for coach Billy Jones at UMBC before transferring to the University of Baltimore. Holthaus earned All-Catholic League honors in 1974 and '75 and still owns the school record for most steals in a season.
Pete Budko, Loyola 1977: Budko grew up in Towson, attended Ridgely Junior High and helped change the landscape of local high school basketball. A thin, 6-foot-5 sophomore when he arrived at Blakefield in 1974, he left as a gifted, quick and powerful 6-foot-9 post player, who led the Dons to three-straight Catholic League tournament championships. He also was named to the BCL all-tournament team three times and was Baltimore's first McDonald's All-American in 1977.
Budko was the second Baltimore area player to play for Dean Smith at North Carolina, following Lee Dedmon of City College to Chapel Hill in the fall of 1977. Smith had first watched Budko play at Howard Garfinkle's Five-Star basketball camp in the Poconos in the summer of 1976 and showed up several times at Loyola the following winter to recruit him.
Budko scored more than 1,400 for the Dons and remains the only Loyola player to score more than 1,000 points and grab 1,000 rebounds in his career. He still lives in North Carolina.
Tony Guy, Loyola 1978: One year after Budko arrived at Loyola, he was joined by Tony Guy, the magnificent 6-foot-6 do-it-all swingman, who scored 1,499 points during his four-year career and was also named to the BCL all-tournament team three years in a row.
"Tony would be the prototype in the game today," former Calvert Hall coach Mark Amatucci once said. "If he wanted to stay outside, he could. If he wanted to go inside, he could. He could shoot from 20-25 feet and he could also go right by you. He was a fantastic player."
Guy is Loyola's all-time leading scorer and Baltimore's second McDonald's All-American in 1978. He went on to play at Kansas, where he is the Jayhawks' 20th all-time leading scorer. He still lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife and three children
Quintin Dailey, Cardinal Gibbons, 1979: Dailey led Ray Mullis' Crusaders to the 1979 Catholic League championship during his final year at Gibbons. He died in November 2010 of heart disease. There was nothing Dailey could not do on the basketball court. An explosive, 6-foot-3 swingman, he was a machine offensively, scoring inside and out almost at will.
Baltimore's third-straight McDonald's All-American in 1979, he was named to the BCL all-tournament team three years in a row, is the state's third all-time leading scorer behind Rodney Monroe and Sean Mosley, and is one of the finest players to ever come out of the Baltimore area. He played his college basketball at San Francisco and was selected by the Chicago Bulls with the seventh pick of the 1982 NBA draft. After spending six years with the Bulls, he finished his 10-year career with the Los Angeles Clippers and Seattle Supersonics.
Paul Edwards, Calvert Hall, 1982: Amatucci called the 6-foot-5 forward one of the three best players he's ever coached (along with Marc Wilson and Duane Ferrell) and one of the true unsung heroes of Baltimore-area basketball. Along with his brother, Darryle, he anchored a front line that helped the Cardinals win the 1982 national championship.
Paul Edwards was a ferocious rebounder and tenacious defender, who went on, with Darryle, to play for legendary coach Jim Phelan at Mount St. Mary's. Paul is also a member of the Mount's Hall of Fame and a member of a Calvert Hall team that won three-straight BCL tournament championships. He was also named the MVP of the prestigious Alhambra Invitational Tournament in 1982 and is the all-time leader in steals at Mt. St. Mary's.
Marc Wilson, Calvert Hall: 1982: Wilson's teammates called him "Money." Marc Amatucci called his number whenever the Cardinals needed a big basket down the stretch. Wilson, the Edwards brothers, James "Pop" Tubman and Duane Ferrell formed the starting five for Calvert Hall's '82 championship team while Wilson, a smooth, lefthanded-shooting swingman, emerged as one of Amatucci's team leaders and one of the nation's best high school players.
"He said: 'Give me the ball and get out of the way. It's going in,'" Amatucci once said. "And it did."
Wilson was also a marvelous defensive player, though he was Mr. Clutch for the Cardinals. In the '82 Alhambra semifinals he shut down future Duke star Johnny Dawkins of Mackin High in Washington, D.C., while he keyed a late run that earned them a win against DeMatha during the finals.
Wilson and Tubman grew up in East Baltimore and played for the Madison Buccaneers recreation team. They also helped change the landscape of local high school basketball when drove they drove north in the fall of 1979 to attend Calvert Hall. Wilson was heavily recruited by Lefty Driesell at Maryland, though he eventually went on to an outstanding career at the University of Minnesota.
After three years at Indiana, he is now the assistant women's basketball coach at Alabama-Birmingham.
Duane Ferrell, Calvert Hall, 1984: Ferrell was 13 years old when he started for the Cards as a freshman in 1980 and left in '84 as one of the top high school players in the country and a McDonald's All American. In between, he was a three-time BCL all-tournament selection, the tournament MVP in his senior year and a tremendous overall player, who Lefty Driesell recruited heavily at Maryland.
Ferrell went instead to Georgia Tech, where he was named the ACC Rookie of the Year in 1985 and finished as the school's third all-time leading scorer. He was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks and played 11 years in the NBA.
He is now the Hawks' player relations manager.
Rodney Monroe, St. Maria Goretti, 1987: The ball seemed to hang in the air forever, finally hitting off the backboard and finding the basket some 70 feet away from where Rodney Monroe heaved it. It was 1987 and Monroe's St. Maria Goretti Gaels were down 72-71 to Cleveland Melvin and Lake Clifton in the Metro Classic championship game at the Baltimore Arena.
Monroe received the inbounds pass, took two dribbles and launched a running, two-hand shot that incredible went in for a 73-72 win and a third Classic championship.
It was also gave him 47 points and cemented him as one of the great players in state history. Monroe played for legendary coach Cokey Robertson and rewrote the state record book. He scored 3,407 points during his four-year career at the Hagerstown school and was as clutch as he was gifted.
At Goretti, he was selected to three all-BCL tournament teams and was a three-time MVP of the tournament after helping the Gaels win the third of three-straight Catholic League championships.
He continued his outstanding play for coach Jim Valvano at N.C. State, where he teamed with Chris Corchiani to form one of the league's best all-time backcourts. Monroe is the Wolfpack's all-time leading scorer with 2,551 points and was voted on the ACC's 50th anniversary team. He played one year in the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks
Devin Gray, St. Frances, 1991: In 1989, the Catholic League expanded to eight teams with the addition of St. Frances Academy in East Baltimore. One year later Gray, a strong, agile and versatile 6-foot-6 power forward, led coach Will Wells' Panthers to their first of seven BCL tournament championships.
Gray dominated inside while Eric Carroll and Sam Magree hit some tough shots from the outside as St Frances beat Towson Catholic, 52-49. Gray went to Clemson in 1992 and was a solid three-year starter, first for coach Bill Foster, then Cliff Ellis. In 1994, he was named third team All-ACC and played four years in the NBA with Sacramento, San Antonio and Houston. He also played professionally in Venezuela.
Steve Wojciechowski, Cardinal Gibbons, 1994: Wojo grew up in the Severna Park area, playing for long-time Green Hornets coach Ed Wilson. He arrived at Gibbons in the fall of 1991 and in 1994, along with Josh Davalli and Jerard Rucker, led coach Ray Mullis to the last of his six Catholic League championships by almost willing the Crusaders over Loyola.
Whatever Wojo lacked in physical size, he made up for in quickness, intensity, toughness and leadership. He backed down from no one and was fearless as a point guard and defender. He was a McDonald's All-American in 1994 and that year's MVP of the BCL tournament. One year later, he was starting for coach Mike Krzyzewski's Duke Blue Devils after a recruiting battle that saw Coach K go head-to-head with Dean Smith at North Carolina.
In the summer of 1993, as Wojciechowski was preparing for his final year of soccer at Cardinal Gibbons, Krzyzewski and assistant coach Johnny Dawkins of Duke, and Smith and his assistant, former Tar Heels All-American Phil Ford, were at Gibbons to watch one of the Crusaders' final practices before the start of school in September.
Of course, Wojo picked Duke over North Carolina and in 1998 was named the national collegiate Defensive Player of the Year. He is currently a member of Krzyzewski's coaching staff.
Mark Karcher, St. Frances, 1997: Other than Rodney Monroe, Karcher is the only player to be named Catholic League tournament MVP three times in a row and the league's only four-time all-tourney selection. He also led the Panthers to tournament championships in 1995, '96 and '97.
"I never saw Skip (Wise) or those great Dunbar and Calvert Hall teams of the '70s and '80s," said long-time local basketball observer Paul Baker, "but Karcher was the best I've seen. He could do it all."
What made Karcher so dangerous was his size (6-foot-5), strength, quickness and versatility. He was as lethal down low as he was outside, as strong on the block as he was quick on the wing. He was also a tremendous passer and undisputed leader of a trio of teams that also included Darran Byrd, Shawn Hampton, Alphonso Jones, Darryl Dantzler and Wayne Wheeler, and won all three of its tournament championships from 1995 through '97 against Calvert Hall.
Karcher played for coach John Chaney at Temple and was eventually selected during the second round of the 2000 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, though he played most of his professional career in France. He is the current head coach at St. Frances.
Rudy Gay, Archbishop Spalding, 2004: Gay grew up in the Turner Station section of east Baltimore and eventually played for the Cecil-Kirk recreation team coached by Antony Lewis. After transferring from Eastern Tech to Spalding in 2002, Gay led the Cavaliers to back-to-back Catholic League tournament championship games and earned two-straight BCL all-tournament selections.
In the summer of 2005 he played for the Under-21 U.S. national team and spent one year at Connecticut before entering the NBA draft in 2006. He was originally selected by the Houston Rockets with the eighth overall pick, though he was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies. His season ended before the great Memphis playoff run in early March because of a shoulder injury.
Will Thomas, Mount St. Joseph, 2004: "Will was a tremendous player," Mount St. Joe coach Pat Clatchey once said. "One of the great winners ever around here." Mount St. Joe has won three Catholic League championships under Clatchey. In two of those, the 6-foot-7 power forward was named the tournament MVP, and both times the Gaels beat Spalding for the championship.
In 2004, he helped end Spalding's hopes of a repeat by leading the Gaels to a 49-48 win. One year later, Thomas led Mount St. Joe to a 36-33 victory. His leadership, toughness and skilled play in the post carried over to George Mason University where he helped the Patriots reach the 2006 Final Four. Along the way he met Rudy Gay once again, this time in the East Region finals at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., as the Patriots pulled the upset.
Thomas ranks in the top 10 in career points and rebounds at George Mason and remains one of the great competitors and champions in the history of area basketball. In his three years on the Mount St. Joe varsity, the Gaels won 82 games and lost just 17.
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The 14 players, Savage, Mulls, Plevyak and Smith will be honored at the Rolling Road Country Club in Catonsville at 6 p.m. May 19.
Posted May 16, 2011