Prince George’s County was well-represented at the Wooden Leadership in Coaching awards dinner Thursday night at the Watergate Hotel in downtown Washington.
Walt Williams (Temple Hills, MD) and Danny Ferry (Bowie, MD) were inducted into the Washington Metropolitan Basketball Hall of Fame.
Both were high school standouts, with Williams playing on Crossland HS team that reached the Class AA state basketball finals three years in a row (1986-88). Ferry, of course, played at storied DeMatha Catholic HS, where the team he played on in his junior year (1983-84) wound up 29-2 and ranked No. 1 nationally by USA Today.
After high school, Williams became a huge star at the University of Maryland and Ferry a national Player of the Year at Duke. Both wound up as NBA lottery picks and each played more than a decade in the NBA.
But it all started for them on the asphalt outdoor courts of Prince George’s County.
Williams honed his skills on the courts of Benjamin Stoddert Middle School, going up against the neighborhood kids who lived in the apartment buildings nearby. He learned the game playing pickup ball – which kids don’t do anymore – and never played for an organized team until he entered Crossland High School.
Stardom didn’t appear to be in his future. He was only 5-foot-9 as a freshman and began his Crossland career as a team manager. He eventually landed a spot on the team only because a couple of player on the squad didn’t make grades that semester.
But he stuck with it, learning how to fit in to a team-based system under the tutelage of Crossland coach Earl Hawkins. Luckily for both of them, Williams started to grow, sprouting about nine inches during the court of his high school career.
And, oddly, the growth spurt didn’t seem to have robbed Williams of any coordination. He wasn’t clumsy or awkward like so many kids at that age who shoot up in height. Even as he grew, Williams retained his ability to handle the ball and shoot from the outside – a guard in a big man’s body.
His outlook on the game was changing, too. Williams grew up a huge Georgetown fan, but switched allegiances to Maryland while watching Len Bias develop into a star there.
Eventually, Maryland came calling to recruit him and he jumped at the chance to play where Bias had. More importantly to the program, he stuck it out there – through the Bob Wade years, through the NCAA sanctions handed down that kept Maryland from playing on television or in the NCAA Tournament. He could have transferred without sitting out after the sanctions, but he chose to say.
“I saw Len Bias play and I was forever a Terp fan from that point,” he said. “I wanted to be Len Bias. I wanted kids from my neighborhood someday to pretend they were me. The only way I thought I could do that was by staying here. I know family, I know loyalty, I know about sticking with people through hard times. That’s how I was raised. It seemed like a no-brainer to me.”
It’s not too much of a stretch to say that he helped save Maryland basketball. The program was so troubled at that point, had lost so much prestige, that some wondered if it could ever bounce back.
But Williams, whose skills were so obvious – and so dazzling – kept Maryland relevant. The Terps and their multi-talented star were being talked about even if they weren’t on television, which kept the program from dropping off the map. When Maryland had no one else to turn to, Williams averaged 26.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 2.1 steals per game in his senior year – one of the greatest all-around seasons in school history.
“The Wizard” wound up as the No. 7 overall pick in the 1992 NBA Draft and played 11 seasons in the NBA, averaging 11.8 points per game. Williams, 47, remains a familiar figure around the county and especially in College Park, where he’s an analyst on the radio broadcasts of Maryland basketball games.
“This is such an amazing honor,” he said. “Especially being from the area and understanding the caliber of player that comes from here. To have this honor is just unbelievable.”
Danny Ferry, meanwhile, grew up with basketball – literally. His father was the longtime general manager of the Washington Bullets, the architect who assembled the roster of the 1977-78 NBA champions. Danny frequently tagged along when his dad would scout games or hang out at Bullets practice. Wes Unseld, the team’s rock-solid center, used to toss young Danny up in the air like a rag doll. Once, as a joke, he even dangled young Ferry – by his feet, no less – over a stairway banister.
It wasn’t long before Danny became too big for such antics, though. Dad had an asphalt court laid out in the yard, where Danny and older brother Bob (who played at DeMatha and then Harvard) battled the neighborhood kids (and each other) in a million pickup games over the years at their Barister Lane home.
Eventually, he outgrew the games in Bowie and went all over the Washington area to engage the best competition he could find – AAU, pickup games, summer leagues, whatever and where ever he could find a game that would test his rapidly-developing skills.
“We went downtown because it was great competition,” he said. “It was a really rich environment where I worked with different people … It was a different animal back then … It was people who loved basketball and it was really pure, compared to how it is now. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was a great deal.”
At DeMatha, he gained national notoriety for his height (6-foot-10) his skills (considerable and varied) and his father. He was one of the most sought-after players in the country during his high school years.
Wanting to carve out a basketball legacy separate from his dad’s considerable shadow, Ferry opted to leave the area and play his college basketball at Duke, where coach Mike Krzyzewski was in the process of building the Blue Devils into a national power. Ferry was one of many local standouts (Johnny Dawkins, Grant Hill, Billy King, Tommy Amaker) who helped take Duke back to basketball prominence.
During Ferry’s time there, Duke went to three Final Fours. He was twice named an all-American and became the first player in Atlantic Coast Conference history to compile 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists in his collegiate career – a testament to his versatility. His 58-point effort in a 1988 game against Miami remains the school’s single-game scoring standard almost 30 years later.
Like Williams, he stayed in college for all four years. After completing his career at Duke, Ferry was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1989 Draft. He spent most of his 13-year playing career with the Cleveland Cavaliers, although he caught on with the San Antonio Spurs for three seasons at the end of his career, earning a championship ring as a reserve on the 2002-03 squad.
Ferry, 50, has worked in the front office of several teams – including the Spurs – and now serves as special advisor to the New Orleans Pelicans.
“I’ve been very lucky in basketball and very lucky in life,” he said. “I feel very fortunate.”