It was a cold winter morning in December of 1969. Schools were on break, with teachers and coaches like DeMatha’s Morgan Wootten happy for a respite from their responsibilities.
This particular morning, Wootten heard a knock on the door of his Hyattsville home. He went to answer it and discovered ninth-grader Adrian Dantley standing on his doorstep. Dantley, then an up-and-coming star for the Stags, wanted to borrow the keys to the DeMatha gym, so he could squeeze in a workout.
It’s rare that someone would prefer winter in Lincoln, Nebraska to winter in Miami.
But it worked out for James Palmer, Jr.
Palmer, an Upper Marlboro native and former standout at St. John’s and Henry A. Wise, started his college career at the University of Miami. The 6-foot-6 wing played sparingly there, averaging about 12 minutes and three points per game for the Hurricanes.
With prospects for playing time looking bleak, Palmer opted to transfer to Nebraska. There, coach Tim Miles has shown a knack for landing transfers from big-time schools like Terran Petteway (Texas Tech), Walter Pitchford (Florida) and Andrew White (Kansas). All flourished at Nebraska and later pursued professional basketball careers of one kind or another.
“Those guys left a trail for me to follow,” Palmer told the Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star. “That shows a good example of Nebraska getting good transfer players and really developing them.”
Was it the greatest single-game performance in the history of D.C. area high school basketball?
It just might be.
Fifty years ago this week, Harold Fox, a 6-foot-1 guard at Northwestern High School, pumped in 64 points in a wild 103-87 victory over Oxon Hill. Fox, a senior, connected on 29 of 44 shots, pouring in 28 points in the final quarter – 41 in the second half.
At the time, only one local high school player had ever scored more in a game – Mount Vernon’s Marty Lentz, who erupted for 74 points against Stuart during the 1960-61 season.
South Lakes High School in Reston recently retired Grant Hill’s No. 32 jersey. Nobody who plays basketball for the Seahawks will wear that number again.
And with good reason; Hill was one of the best basketball players Northern Virginia ever produced.
He played 18 seasons in the NBA and was a seven-time all-star. He averaged 16.7 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists during his career. But he really made his mark in his first six seasons, before injuries limited his game. In his first six seasons, the multi-talented Hill averaged 21.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 6.3 assists.
By the time he decided to quit, Hill had done well enough in business and with his investments to become part of a group that bought the Atlanta Hawks for an estimated $800 million in 2015.
But a couple of years ago, I got to spend more than an hour on the phone with him. I’d called him for an interview for something I was working on about D.C. area high school basketball. I’d asked for about 15-20 minutes of his time.
What I got was more than 60 minutes of history, philosophy, reflection, gratitude and thought-provoking observations on learning, life and growing up with the game in Washington, D.C.
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.