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Signing events are on hold for the public health crisis, but you can still order your copy now. Buy it, read it, and bring it to the next event to get it signed and talk about the great stories inside this book. Named one of the Top 100 Books to Escape the News (link)
The Capital of Basketball John McNamara Preface Pg. xi – xiv
I attended my first high school basketball game just after I entered high school myself at St. John’s, a well‑ known private school that sits just off Rock Creek Park in upper northwest Washington. I was there mostly because of my father, though he was a casual sports fan at best. He thought it was important for my brother and me to get involved in some activities beyond the six‑ hour academic day itself, so we found ourselves one wintry night in the gymnasium at St. John’s to watch the Cadets play league rival Archbishop Carroll’s Lions.
I was 14 that year and already addicted to basketball. I closely followed the National Basketball Association (NBA), where the hometown Bullets went all the way to the finals in 1974– 75. The University of Maryland’s program was flourishing as well at the time, guided by the crafty, folksy Charles “Lefty” Driesell.
But seeing the game at the high school level was something different. If the play wasn’t as polished as it was in the colleges or the pros, it was exciting nonetheless. The St. John’s–Carroll game in person wasn’t like watching the Terrapins on television or sitting up in the far reaches of Capital Centre at an NBA game. Seeing the action up close, getting a real sense of the skill of the players on the floor—the way you can only at a high school game—got me hooked. I could hardly wait to go back.
And why not? For a dollar or two (back then), you could watch compelling, intense, athletic basketball from just an arm’s length away, played by young men not much older than I was but whose skills were worlds beyond my own. In terms of value for your entertainment dollar, I still believe you can’t beat a good high school basketball game.
And there was always a good game around. At the time, St. John’s played in the Metro Conference, then as now (today it’s the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference) one of the top prep basketball leagues anywhere. St. John’s big rival back then was DeMatha, which annually fields one of the top programs in the country. Other league schools such as Carroll, Gonzaga, Good Counsel, and Bishop O’Connell continue to send players to big‑ time colleges year after year.
At the time, the public school teams in the city, not to mention the surrounding suburbs, were no less accomplished. During the 1970s, teams from the Inter‑ High League (then DC’s public school league) finished No. 1 in the area for three straight years, with Dunbar going undefeated in 1975– 76 en route to the city title. In Maryland’s Montgomery County, where I grew up, high school teams won a dozen titles during the 1970s—a total county schools have failed to match in the 30‑plus years since. And in Northern Virginia, West Springfield reached the state tournament three straight years (1972, 1973, and 1974), and T. C. Williams brought home the ultimate prize—a state title and an undefeated season—in 1977. In short, it was an exciting time to be discovering the game.
As I was drawn deeper into the culture of local basketball, I grew more curious about its history. Comparison and tradition—two cornerstones of any fan’s worldview—require an appreciation of what has gone before, so I tried to learn as much as I could about the area’s great players and teams of yesteryear.
Washington’s collective basketball past seemed very close in those days. Two legendary coaches—Joe Gallagher at St. John’s and Morgan Wootten at DeMatha—were still prowling the sidelines when I first came aboard. At that point, Gallagher had been at it for 30 years; Wootten was moving toward 20. The two of them—old friends and rivals—combined to win more than 2,000 games, and their firsthand knowledge of area basketball stretched back before World War II.
At that time, Bob Dwyer, the leader of the legendary Archbishop Carroll teams that won 55 straight games in the late 1950s, remained in coaching as well and taught fundamentals at tiny, exclusive St. Anselm’s. Dwyer had retreated from the spotlight but was still very much in the game. One of his best players at Carroll, the towering John Thompson, was just starting to make a name for himself at Georgetown University, where he was building the Hoyas into a national basketball power.
Talk of other figures from DC’s basketball past was all around me, or so it seemed. Elgin Baylor, the best player the city ever produced, had just retired from a brilliant NBA playing career to take up coaching. Dave Bing, another local legend, was winding down his professional career but took a brief turn during the mid‑1970s as a member of the hometown Bullets.
After St. John’s, I moved on to the University of Maryland to study journalism. There, my education in basketball and other disciplines—continued. I attended the odd high school game for my own amusement. I also sought out local players who would someday play at Maryland and wrote about them for the student newspaper, The Diamondback. I kept following the game, and the game kept following me.
I still remember one brutally cold day in early 1982 when I trudged through snow piled up along Adelphi Road to Northwestern High School, about a mile from Maryland’s campus. There, in the school’s library, an extremely tall, exceptionally shy young man named Len Bias announced that he would play his college basketball at Maryland. A little more than four years later, after a star-studded college career that earned him All‑ America honors and made him the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, Bias was dead of heart failure, the result of a late night cocaine binge.
His death rocked pro and college basketball, not to mention society at large. Nowhere was his loss felt more acutely than in Prince George’s County, Maryland, among the people who’d nurtured him and watched him grow up. Years later, the mere mention of his name still prompts people to speak in reverent tones about how great he was and what he might have become.
After Maryland, I moved on to my first professional job at the Morning Herald in Hagerstown, Maryland, about 70 miles northwest of Washington. At the Herald, the bulk of my responsibilities involved covering high school sports. It was quite a culture shock, basketball‑ wise. While western Maryland has much to recommend it, the caliber of high school basketball was, in general, a good deal below what I was used to.
But I still followed DC basketball from there. One time I was assigned to cover a big tournament locally, one that featured top teams from Baltimore and Washington. I got to see St. John’s, which then featured Clemson‑bound point guard Grayson Marshall, go up against Cardinal Gibbons High School of Baltimore that also boasted a number of Division I– level ballplayers. St. John’s won the game— 90– 80, I think it was—in an action‑ packed display that would have impressed even the uninitiated. Afterward, someone came up to me and remarked, “I’ve never seen high school basketball like that!” I smiled wistfully and replied, “I used to watch it twice a week back home.”
I returned to the metro area before long. After a brief flirtation with the news side of newspapers—a lapse in judgment, I grant you—I went back to sports, working for the now‑ defunct Journal newspaper in Prince George’s County. There, I was once again immersed in the DC high school basketball scene, covering DeMatha along with some of the top public schools’ teams in the area during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
My developing friendship with Morgan Wootten, already a legend, got me thinking once again about the area’s basketball history and how there might be a book in there somewhere. It was the sort of idea one adopts for a brief time and then sets aside, putting it in that mental drawer marked “Things I’ll Get to Someday.” I had thought about writing such a book several times in the intervening years. But the realization that the project shouldn’t be put off any longer didn’t come until more than a decade later, after I’d switched newspapers again—this time to the Capital in Annapolis, Maryland—and had grown a bit removed from the local basketball scene.
When Dwyer, the former Carroll coach, passed away in 2007, I figured I had missed my chance. After all, you can’t write about the history of local basketball without the coach of the best team the city ever produced.
That’s when my wife spoke up. While I bemoaned the opportunity missed, she saw Dwyer’s passing as a call to action. “Look, you’ve got to talk to Morgan Wootten and Joe Gallagher and all the rest of the old‑ timers now!” she insisted. “It doesn’t matter when you write the book; you have to get their stories written down, while they’re still here.” She had a point. At the time, Gallagher was in his 80s and Wootten was in his 70s.
Between the two of them, they had coached more than 90 seasons and had seen everyone and everything in area high school basketball during the previous 60 years. Gallagher, it was said, held the ladder when James Naismith first hung those peach baskets on the wall and invented the game back in 1891. Wootten, meanwhile, was simply the best there ever was in his chosen profession. Even University of California, Los Angeles, coaching icon John Wooden had said so.
The stories that Gallagher and Wootten—and others—shared with me were invaluable. Irreplaceable, really. When it comes to high school basketball, oral history is just about all we have.
The scoring wizardry of Baylor as a teenager or the grit of his one‑ armed contemporary, Armstrong’s Gary Mays (a story in himself), exists only in the minds of those who saw them in person or in faded newspaper clippings. DeMatha’s landmark victory over Lew Alcindor (now known as Kareem Abdul‑ Jabbar) and Power Memorial Academy of New York City in 1965 can’t be found on ESPN or even ESPN Classic. The all‑ sports network didn’t even exist back then. Nobody could put the highlights on YouTube either.
All that’s left are the stories. So I set out to find these stories and the people who could tell them to chronicle the great teams and great players of my home turf.
When I started this undertaking, I thought I knew a lot about DC high school basketball. But there was much I learned, even though I’d spent almost my whole life in the area and close to the game. The journey has been a rewarding one. I am indebted to those whose voices appear herein. Their tales enriched me and this narrative immeasurably. Watching, playing, discussing, and thinking about basketball has consumed much of my life for the last 40‑plus years. After all this time, I’m pleased to say that I’m still in the game.
This will be my first Father’s Day without my father. He passed away on April 2. I think about him every day, but the memories of him are especially strong on this day, Father’s Day. If your father is gone, you should think about him today. If he’s still here, you should call him. Here are some thoughts I had following my father’s funeral mass.
It’s almost expected that somebody will talk about how the deceased would have loved to see everybody here today.
But I’m here to tell you that my dad would have hated this!
If ever there was a guy who never wanted a fuss made over him, it was my dad.
And why would anyone make a fuss over him? He wasn’t one of Washington’s elite. Not famous or wealthy.
Yet to those of us who grew up in a yellow house with a green roof on a street called Bulls Run, there was nobody more important. And, because we stood on his shoulders, we could see the whole world.
That’s because he gave the best gift of all – he wanted our worlds to be big. He wanted us to have choices. So he pushed us to be curious, to pursue our interests, to experience the wide variety that life had to offer.
So to help us, he indulged our interests, taking me to ballgames, going on Charlie’s Cub Scout hikes, accompanying Jane on her high school ski trip. He had things he’d probably rather be doing, like reading, or tending to the garden, or reading.
But he sought to expand our horizons, always volunteering to take us out to lunch if we’d come down to the Air & Space Museum, which was right across from his office in H.E.W.
He sought to make his own world bigger. He grew up in Brooklyn, of course, surrounded by men who thought nothing of stopping by the local pub on the way home from work, and who arrived home with sore backs and calloused hands. These were men who made their living with their bodies, rather than their minds. Men whose world was contained by the Brooklyn Bridge at one end and the Verrazano at the other.
I didn’t find out until just recently that these men in his life didn’t think much of his academic pursuits; they thought his hunger to go out into the world and find out what was there was silly.
But, as he always did, he went about his business in his own quiet way, never minding what the rest of the world was doing.
I remember one summer when I was 11 or 12, he grew concerned that we were all watching too much television, that our brains were turning to mush during those 10 weeks of blissful, idle summer. So, he made us sit at the table after dinner and listen as he read aloud a chapter of Tom Sawyer every night.
How staid! How quaint! How old-fashioned!
But the gesture and what is said about the man stays with me to this day. Even now, as I was past a freshly painted fence, I think – not of Tom Sawyer – but of Tom McNamara.
He was always looking out for us, one way or the other. He tried to stoke our interests, he ate the leftovers, he watched his shows on black and white TV so the kids could watch their shows in color, and he kept everything on course with his strong, steady hand.
He had a house, a mortgage, a wife and a government salary. He also had seven children, four bedrooms, 1 1/2 half baths and one telephone. I don’t know how he managed.
And if, to those outside the family – and occasionally inside it – he appeared a bit too staid, a bit too cautious, I could see why. If he let his guard down for a moment, if he turned his back, the inmates would have been running the asylum. And the reason I know that, ladies and gentlemen, is because I would have been the ringleader!
I don’t know where he found the unending reserve of selflessness that he possessed. As long as I knew him, he never asked, “When do I get what I want?” It simply wasn’t in him.
At some level, I think – I hope – he understood the good work that he was doing, and seeing us succeed made him happy. I remember one schoolnight in high school, I was up late doing my homework at the kitchen table. It was nearly 11 pm and dad was sweeping the floor, while mom was cleaning up in the kitchen. Suddenly, the phone rang – odd, because it was so late. Mom grabbed it, and got an ashen look on her face.
She held the phone away from her, toward my father and said: “It’s a long-distance call for you from Stockholm!”
Dad paused for a minute, gently put the broom down, hitched up his pants and announced happily:
“I must have won the Nobel Prize!”
He didn’t, but he should have. Several times.
I just always remember him doing for us. There was one New Year’s Eve when I was in college; I’d moved out of the house by then, but came home to borrow the car. I was headed out to a highbrow Potomac party – jackets, ties, roving bartenders, fresh shrimp, the whole works. It was probably the kind of party my father never attended in his life. Needless to say, I thought I was pretty hot stuff, getting to go to a soiree like this.
Even though I was 21 or 22 by then, he made me promise I’d call him when I got back to my apartment. “I’ll be up,” he said. Remembering my promise, I called him when I got home, to let him know I was OK.
What are you doing, I asked him. “Oh, just going over the budget. I’m drinking the last of the champagne so it doesn’t go to waste.”
It took me a while to realize it, but – like so many of the lessons he gave us – I got it eventually. At some point, I came to realize that being someone special wasn’t about parties or invitations on New Year’s Eve. It’s about sitting up, long after everyone else had gone to bed, with one lone light on in the house, and making sure all the columns add up in the little gray notebook for another year of shoes and tuition and a week down at Bethany Beach.
Now that I’m in my 50s, a lot of my friends hear themselves say things, or do things, and they say “Oh My God,” I’ve become my father!”
And I just smile politely and nod. Because I’ve got a different problem.
Events for 2020 are on hold for the public health crisis, but you can still order your copy now. Buy it, read it, and bring it to the next event too get it signed and talk about the great stories inside this book.
Named one of the Top 100 Books to Escape the News (link)
John McNamara, with Andrea Chamblee and David Elfin Foreword by Coach Gary Williams
The celebration of Washington, D.C. basketball is long overdue. D.C. metro area stands second to none in its contributions to the game. Countless figures who have had a significant impact on the sport over the years have roots in the region, including E.B. Henderson, the first African-American certified to teach physical education in public schools in the United States, and Earl Lloyd, the first African-American to take the court in an actual NBA game. The city’s Spingarn High School produced two players – Elgin Baylor and Dave Bing – that are recognized among the NBA’s 50 greatest at the League’s 50th anniversary celebration. No other high school in the country can make that claim.
These figures and many others are chronicled in this book, the first-ever comprehensive look at the great high school players, teams and coaches in the D.C. metropolitan area.
Based on more than 150 interviews, The Capital of Basketball is first and foremost a book about basketball. But in discussing the trends and evolution of the game, McNamara also uncovers the turmoil in the lives of the players and area residents as they dealt with issues such as prejudice, educational inequities, politics, and the ways the area has changed through the years.
John McNamara (@CapitalofBBall) was a staff writer for the Annapolis Capital newspaper. He earned a degree in Journalism from the University of Maryland and spent over 30 years covering local, college, and professional sports. He won several awards from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association for his writing. McNamara was one of five employees of the Annapolis Capital who were gunned down in a mass shooting at the newspaper on June 28, 2018. He was 56 years old.
Andrea Chamblee (@AndreaChamblee), John McNamara’s widow, covered high school basketball for her community paper and attended more than 500 college and high school games in the D.C. metro area often with her husband, the best play by play man she ever met. She has barked from the stands for a switch from zone to back to man-to-man, much to his dismay.
David Elfin (@David Elfin) who has called D.C. home since 1965, has covered local sports for most of the last four decades while writing seven books on Washington sports and serving on the D.C. Sports Hall of Fame selection committee.
John McNamara’s special talent for sports journalism was his ability to expose the dedication, hard work, heartbreak, sacrifices, faults, delights, personalities, strategies, tactics, and intricacies in each player, contest and season. He performed the homework needed to provide historical context for these stories. He wrote without pretension or condescension, telling stories that were accessible and informative to new and established fans and readers alike.
To continue John’s devotion to Sports Journalism, to allow others to learn from John and his work, to develop and reward writers who demonstrate potential for producing accessible and informative sports journalism, to provide opportunity for talented students who may carry on John’s legacy, and to show our devotion to John, we have created the John McNamara ’83 Endowed Sports Journalism Scholarship at the University of Maryland.
John McNamara was devoted to his family, his friends, his alma maters – Maryland and St. John’s College High School – his craft of journalism, his Maryland Terrapins and the sports he loved to chronicle, watch and play.
His passing is heart-wrenching. His life was devoted to making all of us better – more informed, happier, enthusiastic and loved.
John grew up in Bethesda in a family full of the quintessential Irish Catholic diversity: avid readers, writers, artists, bookworms, musicians, singers, tellers of tales, church volunteers, and booklovers. He loved softball on the grassy knoll in front of his house, and basketball wherever he found it. He joined his adopted family of area journalists and sports writers at his high school paper, then as a Washington Post intern, and at the University of Maryland Diamondback. On graduation from the University of MD, he worked with fellow Terrapins and colleagues in his first full-time job as a sports writer at the Hagerstown Herald-Mail in the early 1980s. Herald colleague and fellow sports fan Doug Dull’s first notice of his hiring was a phone call during which he suggested to Dull that they become roommates. That would require Dull to purchase a television, move out of his parents’ house and find an apartment. There was to be no discussion.
That first year, when the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament arrived, their shared refrigerator bore witness to the event. There were no less than three brackets to be completed and monitored. One filled in before the tournament as in a normal office pool, a second to be filled in each day reflecting the ebbs and flows of the previous games, and a third with some wild permutation of mathematics that they understood then, but is lost in some basketball algebraic equation somewhere. The configuration generously provided three ways for Dull to be soundly trounced by his roommate’s superior basketball knowledge.
McNamara was just warming up for his responsibility as a voter on the Associated Press national basketball poll – giving him the chance to watch more hoops and enhance their shared enjoyment of the sport based on his homework, analysis and experience.
McNamara would hate this metaphor – being a traditionalist – but he was Twitter before the Internet was even invented. “Mac” was the guy in the media room, the restaurant or on the phone who would dazzle with bursts of knowledge, of commentary or humor that were always thoughtful… most often needing 10 words or less of sheer lightning to make his point.
He was just a good guy – in the most affectionate and powerful sense of that term. We had a great role model in being a good guy in Darrell Kepler, the now departed sports editor at the Hagerstown Morning-Herald. Guys stuck together, weren’t pretentious, were observant, loved sports, beer and each other.
His friends have a picture in their collective mind’s eye of the Johnny Mac and Darrell Kepler playing pickup basketball on a raggedy court in Heaven – Darrell making a thick drive inside to the basket and John bombing 3-pointers from the outside with that sweet left-handed stroke.
Just guys… Good guys.
McNamara wrote two books about Maryland athletics – joining his fellow Diamondback alumnus David Elfin on “Cole Classics,” a memory of the best early times in Terrapin basketball;, and on the Maryland Football Vault, literally a vault combining his knack for story-telling and for research that was a history lesson on Terrapin football.
To be John’s friend was an honor that knew complete honesty and loyalty, through good times and bad. He was the person you’d call to share joyous moments – he reached out to Dull recently when the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup, ending the 44 years of struggle and he knew how much it meant to his friend.
And he was the person who received the call when a dear friend had a life-threatening medical situation a year ago. He and his wife Andrea were there in a flash, as the rock they were when times were difficult. Ever the basketball writer, though, his friend readily believes but doesn’t remember the one day when John came in and was animated when he told his groggy friend all from memory the highlights of the previous night’s games, despite his friend’s inability to speak or move while in intensive care.
The devotion he lived most was for his wife. His friends say they never thought, called or wanted to be with John. It was always, where and when can we be with John and Andrea.
The solo photos of John were always good. But the smile on his face, and in his eyes, got much brighter when they were at the beach, the theatre, on a trip… when he was next to Andrea. The love they had together spilled over and made those they brought close so much richer and warmer.
There is great solace in knowing that he worked well, played well and loved well. As we think of John in the coming days, months and years, may we all live like that: With love, loyalty, laughter, kindness and thoughtfulness.
And with devotion.
The Memorial Service is scheduled for July 10 at 10 am at the University of Maryland Memorial Chapel, 7600 Baltimore Ave, College Park, MD 20740.
(Photo credit: Katherine Frye, The Washington Post)
Recent news about the Maryland basketball program hasn’t been too good.
Coach Mark Turgeon’s Terrapins endured a difficult, injury-plagued season that wound up with them missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years.
Once the season ended, three of the team’s top players – Bruno Fernando, Kevin Huerter and Justin Jackson – declared themelves eligible for the June NBA Draft. Jackson plans to sign with an agent, and will not return. Fernando and Huerter could be back, depending on where they’re projected to be drafted.
On Friday night, though, Maryland recruit Andrew Wiggins, a 6-foot-6 swingman, offered offered some hope there may be better days ahead.
During the past week, one local basketball product will be staying put, another will be moving on and yet another made a bit of history.
At Notre Dame University, Mike Brey (Bethesda/DeMatha), the winningest coach the program’s history, has signed a contract extension through the 2024-25 season.
The new deal was in recognition of his body of work, even though injuries derailed what could have been a promising season in 2017-18. The Irish wound up in the NIT, rather than the NCAA Tournament, and finished 21-15. Brey, 59, has taken the Irish to 12 NCAA tournaments in 18 seasons.
“My goal has always been to be good enough to retire as the head coach at Notre Dame,” Brey said in a statement. “It sure looks like I might be able to pull that off with this extension. I am truly honored and humbled to be the head coach at the University of Notre Dame. …
“I’m proud of what our program has achieved in the past 18 years and I could not be more excited about what the future holds.”
Brey is 403-201 at Notre Dame, having surpassed Digger Phelps as the school’s all-time leader in victories earlier this season. Brey, who graduated from DeMatha in 1977, has an overall record of 502-252 in 23 seasons as a Division I head coach.
He also enjoyed a successful five-year stint at Delaware (99–51, two NCAA Tournament trips), which landed him the job at Notre Dame. Prior to that, he served as an assistant coach to two of the best in the business – Morgan Wootten at DeMatha and Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.
“Mike Brey has built one of the most consistently successful programs in the country,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a statement. “And the foundation of that success is a winning culture that develops the members of his teams as both basketball players and young men. He is a perfect fit for Notre Dame and we are excited to have him lead our program well into the future.”
HOYAS’ DERRICKSON MOVING ON: Georgetown forward Marcus Derrickson (Bowie/Paul VI) announced that he’ll enter the NBA draft and hire an agent after three seasons with the Hoyas.
“I will forego my senior year at Georgetown by entering the draft with plans of signing with an agent,” Derrickson wrote in an Instagram post.
Derrickson averaged 15.9 points and 8.1 rebounds as a junior for the Hoyas and hit 46.5 of his 101 3-point attempts. Derrickson, who averaged 17.2 points in Big Est play, was Georgetown’s second-leading scorer behind center Jessie Govan. Govan also announced he would enter the draft, but will not sign with an agent, leaving the door open to return to the Hoyas next season.
Derrickson’s announcement came as a surprise; several times during the season, the 6-foot-7 forward said he planned to remain in college for his senior season.
Before coming to Georgetown, Derrickson played for one year at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire after spending three years at Paul VI High School in Fairfax, Va. He helped lead Paul VI to two Washington Catholic Athletic Conference titles.
FULTZ SEEING DOUBLE: Philadelphia 76ers rookie guard Markelle Fultz (Upper Marlboro/DeMatha) finished the NBA regular season with a bang, becoming the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double.
Fultz had 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in 25 minutes after coming off the bench as the Sixers won their 16th straight game, beating Milwaukee in the regular-season finale.
At 19 years and 317 days, Fultz is the first teenager in NBA history to post a triple-double. He’s younger than Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball (20 years, 15 days), who earlier this season took over the claim as the youngest with a triple double. Before Ball, the distinction belonged to Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James (20 years, 20 days).
Fultz, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, averaged 7.1 points, 3.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists during the regular season. But a lingering shoulder injury kept him on the sidelines for 68 of the Sizers’ 82 regular season games.
In Fultz’ lone college season at the University of Washington, he averaged 23.2 points per game, the highest scoring average in the Pac-12 in 20 years. He also led the team in minutes played (35.7) and assists per game (5.7). He finished second on the team in rebounds per game (5.9).