Connect with us

NBA

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

Published

on

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.

Advertisement




Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

NBA

Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

Published

on

Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

Continue Reading

NBA

NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

Published

on

“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

Continue Reading

NBA

Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

Published

on

Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending Now