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NBA AM: The Boys of Dunbar

In his new book, “The Boys of Dunbar,” Alejandro Danois writes about the best high school basketball ever.

Joel Brigham

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It was summertime in New York City in the early 1980s, and Alejandro Danois was talking hoops alongside some basketball courts the way 12-year-old kids have been doing since the advent of professional sports.

“One day we were out there talking junk about how New York City is the best basketball city because we’ve got these young players like Pearl Washington and Chris Mullin and Walter Berry,” said Danois, now the editor-in-chief of The Shadow League and a freelance sports journalist.

“An older guy who lived in my building pulled me aside and said, ‘Yeah, New York is the king of basketball, but the greatest team I ever saw was this high school team from Baltimore named Dunbar.’ Obviously we were fascinated and wanted to hear about this team. It turns out he had seen them play at the Harlem Holiday Classic in 1981, and he’s like, ‘Dude, everybody on the bench is going Division I.’”

It got better, though: “They’ve got the top high school player in the country, but he’s not even the best player on his own team.”

“We’re like, ‘Wait a minute, this kid’s the No. 1 player in the country?’” Danois recalled. “He told us about Reggie Williams. Six-foot-eight, nothing on the basketball court that this kid can’t do. He’s only a junior, but he’s incredible.”

Danois was flummoxed. This didn’t make any sense.

“He’s not even the best player on his own team?” he asked.

“Exactly,” the older kid responded.

“Well then, who’s their best player?”

“You guys aren’t going to believe me.”

“C’mon man, who’s the guy?”

The suspense was killing them.

“It’s a five-foot midget named Buggsy.”

***

A couple of years later, Danois was watching Wake Forest play basketball on the relatively newly-formed ESPN when that playground conversation came rushing back to him.

“I see this 5’3 point guard named Muggsy Bogues,” Danois said. “I never had witnessed anything like that on the basketball court. A guy who could dominate a game without scoring a point. He was a great leader, a facilitator, a defender. He was just an uncanny type of talent, and that made me remember that this was the guy I had heard about.”

From there, he started to put the pieces together about where Bogues came from and how special that early ‘80s Dunbar Poets team really was.

“At the time, I was at a prep school in New England and there was a kid named Reggie Lewis who was tearing things up at Northeastern, coached by Jim Calhoun, and the story was that this guy couldn’t start for his own high school team,” he said. “I’d go watch him play, and I also knew about Reggie Williams and David Wingate at Georgetown. Gary Graham was at UNLV, and I put all the pieces together that these guys were all on that same high school team that I’d heard about all those years ago.”

***

That team was the 1981-82 Dunbar Poets, a homegrown group of insanely talented high school kids hailing from Baltimore. The team featured Bogues, Williams and Lewis, all of whom were taken during the first round of the 1987 NBA Draft, as well as David Wingate (selected in the second round the year before) and Gary Graham (a former UNLV standout drafted in the sixth round in 1987).

Danois, fascinated by a prep group that saw five guys get drafted and four actually play meaningful minutes in the NBA, had wanted to write a book about the greatest high school basketball team in American history for years.

Now, in the fall of 2016, his book, “The Boys of Dunbar,” finally has been released, making the full story of those players and their enigmatic head coach, Bob Wade, available in a way that it never has been before.

The book is about basketball, obviously, but it’s also about family and determination and brotherhood and inspiration, making it just as interesting socially as it is from a basketball standpoint.

From Danois’ perspective, while the players on the cover are sure to be what draw in potential readers, the book itself is really about the man who brought this team together and saw those future Division I and NBA talents live up to their massive potential.

“The book really is about Bob Wade’s legacy,” Danois said. “Unfortunately, people who have just a passing interest in basketball or who are not familiar with who Wade is in terms of his East Baltimore roots, a lot of people only know him as the high school coach who got fired from Maryland and wasn’t really good. But when you delve into who this guy really is, that was one of the major pulls while trying to figure out what this story was really about.”

***

Wade took over the University of Maryland team as head coach when Lefty Driesell resigned in a cloud of scandal that came to light following the drug-related death of former Maryland player and No. 2 overall draft pick Len Bias.

With so many players suspended following that incident, Wade finished the year 9-17, the worst record in the university’s history. Despite an incredible bounce-back year the following season that saw the team back in the tournament, Wade ended up on the wrong end of a questionable investigation that mired him in what some would argue was unfair controversy, forcing him to resign after only a few years helming the team.

In Danois’ book, he tells the story about Wade that matters.

“He grew up on the same East Baltimore streets a generation earlier,” Danois said. “He was a product of a single-parent household, had watched his mother struggle, but education was very important in his family. That was drilled into him from day one. He parlayed his athletic excellence into an athletic scholarship and eventually played in the National Football League, but he’s very aware of the harsh realities of life as a pro athlete when he shatters his wrist and is basically thrown to the trash heap after such a promising start to his career. He was focused on going back to his community to make a positive difference.”

Like many other Dunbar players, Bogues and Williams would be given access to the Dunbar gym to watch the older boys dominate. Those moments were foundational experiences for the would-be NBA stars, and it all was orchestrated by a man who understood their struggle better than anybody.

“Just to see the reverence these guys had for Wade, to see how passionate he was to see these kids make something of their gifts, how hard and mercilessly he drove them, he was a father to a lot of these guys,” Danois explained. “They would go to games at that Dunbar gym as kids and do all the dances, all the cheers, but nobody knew what they would turn out to be. His influence on their lives was a phenomenal testament to who he was as a mentor. He had a big impact in a lot of lives.”

So big, in fact, that many of his former players went on to become basketball coaches themselves. Bogues was the head coach of the Charlotte Sting from 2005-2007 and served as the head coach at United Faith Christian Academy for three years. Williams also coached at the high school and junior level. Herman “Tree” Harried, who also was a member of those early ‘80s Dunbar teams, is now considered one of the best high school coaches in Baltimore, and has himself coached a future NBA player in Will Barton.

There’s a legitimate Bob Wade coaching tree, which shows what an impact he had for a decades’ worth of high school players in the city of Baltimore.

“All these guys talk about how Coach Wade taught them about leadership, how to be a man, hard work, being a man of my word, what it meant to be a family man, a husband, dependable,” Danois said. “His impact was much broader than just the basketball court”

***

There have, of course, been other great high school teams. There was an Oak Hill Academy team in 1993 that featured future UNC stars Jerry Stackhouse, Jeff McInnis and Makhtar Ndiaye, as well as 2015-16’s Chino Hills team that featured a trio of brothers that played like a junior version of the Golden State Warriors. All three of them look pegged for the NBA.

None, however, come close to what Dunbar accomplished in the early ‘80s, and that’s the story Danois writes in his new book.

“This wasn’t a situation like today where you’ve got these prep schools that are recruiting not just all over the country but all over the world,” said Danois. “With Dunbar, you’ve just got these four kids from the same general area who played with and against each other outside on the playgrounds and in the recreation leagues since they were little kids. These were just kids from the neighborhood.

“What an amazing collection of talent. I don’t know if we’ll ever see that again.”

“The Boys of Dunbar,” by Alejandro Danois, is available for purchase at all major book outlets now.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts

David Yapkowitz looks at five potential G-League callups for 10-day contracts.

David Yapkowitz

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Since Jan. 10, NBA teams have been able to sign players from the G-League to ten-day contracts. A few have already been signed, such as DeAndre Liggins with the Milwaukee Bucks and Kyle Collinsworth with the Dallas Mavericks.

Once a ten-day contract expires, teams have the option of signing that player to another ten-day contract. After the second ten-day, teams must either sign the player for the remainder of the season or release that player.

Some players have used ten-day contracts to essentially jump-start their careers. Bruce Bowen was once a ten-day contract player before becoming a key piece of multiple championship teams in San Antonio. Famed New York Knicks enforcer Anthony Mason also got his first chance in the league off a ten-day contract.

With a few guys already being called up via ten-day as well as the NBA’s new two-way contracts, here’s a look at some of the remaining names who might be next in line.

1. Christian Wood

Christian Wood was once a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He played two college seasons at UNLV before declaring for the NBA draft in 2015. Despite being projected to be drafted late in the first round or early second round, he did not hear his name called on draft night. He’s spent some time in the NBA since then, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Hornets, but he currently plays for the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers G-League affiliate.

His 22.0 points per game are tied with James Young for top scorer on the team. He’s shooting 53.9 percent from the field, and he’s also displayed a nice outside touch for a big man at 35.2 percent from three-point range. He leads the team in rebounds at 9.6, as well as in blocked shots with 2.0. He’s very mobile and could certainly help a team as a stretch big man who can play defense and crash the glass.

2. Jameel Warney

Jameel Warney has been a candidate for an NBA call-up for quite some time. The former Stony Brook standout had a big summer with Team USA basketball. He was the tournament MVP of the 2017 FIBA Americup and was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year for 2017. He got as far as training camp/preseason with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016, and he’s currently playing for their G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.

With the Legends, he’s fourth on the team in scoring with 19.4 points per game. He’s second on the team in rebounding with 10.4, and he’s tied with Johnathan Motley leading the team in blocked shots with 1.5. He’s shooting 52.5 percent from the field. What could be hindering his NBA chances is his lack of an outside shot, especially with the way the game is being played today. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the G-League’s top players and he deserves a shot in the big leagues.

3. Melo Trimble

After a solid three years at the University of Maryland, Melo Trimble was one of the best players not selected in this past summer’s draft. He played well for the 76ers’ summer league team in Las Vegas, which in turn earned him an invite to training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He ended up being one of their final cuts at the end of preseason, and he went on to join their G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves.

He’s third on the Wolves in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field, and a decent 34 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also leading the team in assists per game with 5.7. He’s got the potential to be a decent backup point guard, and if he can get his shooting numbers, especially from three-point range, up a little bit, there’s no question he’s NBA caliber.

4. Joel Bolomboy

Joel Bolomboy is a name that should be familiar to Utah Jazz fans. He was drafted by the Jazz in 2016, and although relegated to mostly end of the bench duty, he showed a bit of potential and flash here and there. The Jazz cut him after a year, and he ended up in Milwaukee before they too cut him to make room for Sean Kilpatrick. He’s currently playing for the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks G-League affiliate.

At the recent G-League Showcase that took place from Jan. 10-13, Bolomboy had one of the best performances of the event. In the two games played, he averaged 25.5 points per game on 73 percent shooting from the field and 13.0 rebounds. He was named to the All-Showcase First Team. He’s had eight double-doubles so far in the G-League this season. He’s already gotten his feet wet in the NBA, and if he continues putting up similar production, it won’t be long before he finds himself back on an NBA roster.

5. Jeremy Evans

Jeremy Evans is a name that should be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He’s spent six years in the league with the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks. He also participated in two dunk contests in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately for him, dunking was probably the one thing he was known for. It might be why he found himself out of the league after only six years.

With the Erie Bay Hawks, the Atlanta Hawks G-League affiliate, his 15.9 points per game are good enough for fourth on the team. His 62.3 percent shooting from the field is a team-high, as is his 10.3 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks. Not known as a shooter during his time in the NBA, he’s only shooting 25.6 percent from three-point range in the G-League. If he can get his outside shooting percentages up, he has a shot at getting an NBA call-up and keeping that spot permanently.

Although there’s no guarantee that any of these guys get NBA call-ups on ten-day contracts, they have some of the best shots out of anyone in the G-League. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, all of these guys finish it out on an NBA roster.

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NBA Daily: Potential Trade Targets to Get the Sixers to the Playoffs

On the cusp of a playoff appearance for the first time in six years, the Philadelphia 76ers could cement their postseason status with a move at the trade deadline.

Dennis Chambers

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At times this season, the Philadelphia 76ers look like they’re capable of going toe-to-toe with some of the league’s best teams. With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons at their disposal, along with capable three-point shooters, the Sixers have shown flashes of being a force to be reckoned with.

And at other times, well, they look like a discombobulated young team, with serious flaws in the construction of its roster.

Despite the lapses they display, the Sixers are still right in the thick of the playoff race. Currently, at 21-20, they hold a half-game advantage over the Detroit Pistons for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference.

While they await the return of top overall pick Markelle Fultz, who has still yet to hit the court after being shut down earlier this season with a shoulder injury, the Sixers will continue to miss depth on the wing and a particular skill set that holds them back from winning games they seem to have locked up with double-digit leads. For all the greatness that is Embiid, and all of the promise that is Simmons, when the former isn’t on the court, the latter struggles to shoulder the scoring load due to his inability to shoot jump shots.

Initially, that’s what Fultz was drafted for. A player that head coach Brett Brown has said many times before, has the talent to tie everything together with the Sixers’ roster. What he means by that is Fultz represents a scorer from multiple levels of the court who forces the defense to lock in on, potentially leaving the teams’ shooters open on the wing.

Without Fultz, and when Embiid is on the bench, the team lacks a player who can put the ball on the floor, create and knock down jumpers. Although long-term success is still very much the attention for Philadelphia, that doesn’t discount the fact that a team that finished with 10 wins just two seasons ago is on the verge of making a playoff appearance for the first time since 2011-12 with a core of young, promising players.

Because of that possibility, and because of the clear holes in team’s makeup that could prevent this from happening, the Sixers could become an interesting player at the trade deadline — especially considering the names that appear available, according to reports.

It’s no secret that Sixers’ president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo wants to keep financial flexibility heading into this summer, that’s the main reason players like J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson were signed to one-year deals last offseason. Before the team has to start signing their own players to big extensions, the Sixers are in a unique position where they not only have elite homegrown talent, but the money to complement those players the best they can. Because of that, any deal that would return a player with money on the books past this season seems unlikely.

That being said, it just so happens that two players potentially on the trading block right now fulfill the Sixers’ most crucial need, and also aren’t on the hook for money past this year. Marc Stein of The New York Times reported that Rodney Hood could be moved before the Feb. 8 trade deadline, and that multiple teams are expressing interest in his services.

Along with Hood, Stein also reported that Lou Williams, who’s been the center of many trade talks around the league given his career-year and impending free agent status, was involved in specific discussions that would send him to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

What should intrigue the Sixers about these two players is not only their ability on the court but also their flexibility off of it.

Let’s start with Hood. Before the rise of Donovan Mitchell this season, Hood looked to be in a position to assume the role as the dominant scorer on the Utah Jazz following Gordon Hayward’s departure. At just 25 years old and in the final year of his rookie contract, Hood may not be worth the price tag for Utah this summer considering their find with Mitchell.

Should the Jazz actually move on from Hood, it’s unclear what they would ask for in return at this point. Yes, Hood his an impending free agent, which could diminish his value. But the team trading for him would assume his Bird Rights, therefore giving them a better shot at retaining him this summer should they choose to do so.

The best part about his potential fit in Philadelphia is that he fits the timeline of the rebuild while also addressing a need in the present. Being just 25, Hood fits alongside the core of Embiid, Simmons, Fultz, Dario Saric and Robert Covington as a young player. If the Sixers were to miss out on whoever they were planning to target with their financial flexibility this summer, Hood would still be there to plug in for years with a contract extension.

Shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc this season, and displaying the track record of being able to fill up the score sheet, Hood could become the go-to-scorer for Philadelphia when Embiid isn’t on the court, or late in games when they need to stop an opposing team’s run.

While he appears to at least be on the table as of now, Hood is certainly worth checking in on from the Sixers’ standpoint.

Now, onto Williams. Drafted by Philadelphia all the back in 2005 with the 45th overall pick, Williams is enjoying the best season of his career for the Los Angeles Clippers. At 31, he doesn’t represent the long-term upside that Hood does, but for this season alone, bringing Williams on to this current Sixers’ roster could be that extra jolt to get them cleanly into the postseason.

Averaging 23 points per game and shooting 41 percent from downtown, Williams fits the role as an iso-scorer better than any player on the Sixers’ current roster. Alongside Simmons and Embiid, Williams could assume the role Fultz was supposed to this season.

Another interesting ripple to the potential Williams fit is that he was on the last Sixers’ roster to make the playoffs. Adding him to this roster would bring his career full circle. This summer, Williams is most likely going to test the market and given his age and potential price tag he may not fit so well into the Sixers’ plans moving forward. But with his history with the club and city, getting him on board for another playoff run with an exciting young team could arguably help in the negotiation process this offseason.

Neither of these potential trades are slam dunks, and it remains to be seen if either player will even be moved. But for where the Sixers stand currently, coupled with their growing postseason expectations, checking in around the league on trade targets that can fulfill obvious needs should be at the forefront of Colangelo’s agenda for the next few weeks.

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Payton Blocking Out Trade Talk, Believes Magic Will Turn It Around

Spencer Davies sits down with Elfrid Payton to discuss his fourth year, trade rumors and a trying season for Orlando in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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It’s hard for a team to look for positives when it’s living in the basement.

The Orlando Magic have had a rough go of it this year. They’re 13-32 at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, they’ve have had a ton of setbacks, and they currently rank 29th in the NBA in defensive rating.

There is a bright spot hidden in there, though, and head coach Frank Vogel sees it growing as the season progresses.

“We’re frustrated with our record, but we’re encouraged with the development we’ve had with our young players,” Vogel said before Thursday’s game in Cleveland. “Aaron Gordon, Mario [Hezonja], and [Elfrid Payton] have all had strong individual seasons and continue to get better. All those guys are improving individually and at some point, it’s gonna lead to more Ws.”

While Gordon stands out more to some than the others because of his star appeal, Payton is right up there with him as far as making the next step goes.

“Elfrid’s shooting the ball better from the perimeter and at the rim,” Vogel said. “He’s worked on his left hand. He’s worked on his floaters. Shooting 52 percent from the field and that’s pretty darn good for a point guard, and the 39 percent from the three as well.”

Those are your more traditional statistics that don’t address the leap he’s taken in efficiency. Sure, Payton’s scoring the same amount of points per game, but it’s the way he’s been getting that’s been most noticeable.

According to Basketball-Reference and NBA.com, he’s making nearly 70 percent of his tries between 0-3 feet and ranks third among point guards in restricted field goal percentage (min. four attempts).

But Payton doesn’t like to evaluate himself using numbers, so he doesn’t know how to feel about how he’s played for Orlando this year.

“It’s tough to say because I like to measure my success by winning and we haven’t been doing that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “So tough to say.”

He’s not kidding. Since starting out the season 8-4, the Magic have taken a hard fall, only winning five games since November 10. In this stretch, there have been three hefty losing streaks—two 9-game slides and most recently a 7-game skid.

“Not to make excuses—we had a lot of injuries,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of what happened. “Haven’t really been playing with the group of guys that we started the season with, so kinda derailed us a little bit.”

As the losses pile up, so does the chatter. Indicated by multiple recent reports, Orlando has made it clear that many players on the roster are available on the trade block. Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja, and Payton were recently brought up as names who could possibly on the move if the right deal presents itself.

When asked about the rumblings, Vogel claimed he doesn’t have a message for his guys.

“They understand it’s part of the business,” he said. “Just focus on playing the game.”

Like his coach, Payton doesn’t have a reaction to the noise.

“I don’t get caught up into the things like that,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Today I’m an Orlando Magic. I play for the Orlando Magic and I’m gonna give them 100 percent of me. I’m somebody that likes to finish what I started, so I definitely would like to see this through and try to turn this organization around.”

So who does he see on this team that can help jump-start the process in flipping the script?

“Everybody,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I like Vuc. I like AG. Evan [Fournier] is somebody who can fill it up. T Ross is somebody who can fill it up when healthy. I think we have a lot of talent on this team. Even the rookies—Wes [Iwundu] plays well for us in stretches. Jon [Isaac] when he was playing he’d do well.

“You could see the potential there. So I think we have a lot of weapons on this team. I’m very confident in the group we have here. I think we have a lot of talent, we just have to do it.”

Saying you’re going to right the ship is one thing. Actually doing it is a whole other challenge. With where the Magic sit in the standings currently, their work is cut out for them. That being said, Payton isn’t giving up.

In fact, he’s still got his eyes on making it to the postseason, and it starts with him.

“Definitely trying to get a run going,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Make a playoff push. It’s definitely not out of sight right now, especially with the way the East is. We win a few games and we right back in the thick of things.

“Do whatever I can to help us to get more wins, man. I think that’s what it all boils down to. I figure if I’m playing well, that means we’re winning for the most part.”

Defense matters the most, and it’s something Payton and his group know they need to get better at if they have a chance to play past mid-April.

“Just be tied in together a little bit more,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I think sometimes we have too many breakdowns on the backside. So just being more in-tune with each other.”

One thing is for sure—Orlando is going through this difficult time as a team, but refuses to fold. Payton says Vogel has constantly stayed in their ears with uplifting advice.

“Keep fighting,” Payton told Basketball Insiders of his words. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself. No one’s gonna feel sorry for you, so just keep fighting.”

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