Fifty years ago this week, Washington’s sports pages were full of stories on the Green Bay Packers’ recent Super Bowl II victory over the Oakland Raiders.
In sports news closer to home, local basketball fans were starting to notice a kid named Jim O’Brien, who kept showing up in the Stuart High School boxscores with 20 or 30 points to his credit. The rail-thin, 6-foot-7 redhead averaged 17.8 points per game as a sophomore on a team that finished just 11-10.
But by January of 1968, O’Brien had shifted his game into a different gear. He’d had a 42-point, 29-rebound game against rival Falls Church to open the 1967-68 season – a stunning statistical achievement in a 32-minute high school game.
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.
After a nomadic existence the last few years, the Capital Classic high school all-star basketball game is returning to downtown D.C.
The 44th annual game will be played at the Verizon Center on April 8, with the preliminary game, featuring the District All-Stars against the Suburban All-Stars at 11 a.m. The main game, pitting of team of U.S. all-stars against the a team of local standouts, is scheduled to tip off at 1 p.m.
It was 40 years ago this week that the 1976-77 T.C. Williams basketball team capped one of the great seasons in Northern Virginia basketball history.
The Titans (28-0), ranked No. 1 in both the Washington Star and Washington Post high school basketball polls, finished off an undefeated season wit
h a 95-63 rout of William Fleming of Roanoke in the Virginia Class AA final at University Hall in Charlottesville
Fleming was no match for the Titans, who rang up 28
points in both the second and third quarters of the game to pull away. Playing the baseline-to-baseline, up-tempo style that had made them so successful during the regular season, that T.C. Williams team set state tournament records for single-game scoring (95 points) and its two-game total (261) as well.
By 1967, legendary coach Morgan Wootten had firmly established DeMatha as the premier high school basketball program in the Washington area.
Taking over the top spot after the Archbishop Carroll dynasty had run its course, the Stags reigned as the best team in the area for the next half-dozen years, and even garnered national attention following their upset of New York’s Power Memorial and superstar Lew Alcindor in 1965.
Throughout that period, league rival Mackin also established itself as one of the best programs around. During a five-season run, from 1961-66, the Trojans – then coached by Paul Furlong – ran up a record of 133-33.
That would be an admirable showing against any level of competition. It was even more impressive considering now-closed Mackin competed in the Washington Catholic League against the likes of DeMatha, Carroll and St. John’s. Then, as now, the league featured some of the best high school basketball around.
But as good as Mackin was during that stretch, it could never unseat DeMatha. The Stags won the league title every year from 1961-66 and would win it again every year from 1968-76.
But 50 years ago this week, Mackin was finally able to knock DeMatha from the top of the league standings and the top of the local high school basketball rankings.
DeMatha didn’t lose often. On the rare occasions the Stags did lose, it took an oustanding player, or team, or circumstance to beat them.
In the first week of March in 1967, Mackin had at least two of the three factors in their favor. Star guard Autin Carr scored 21 points (including the 2,000th of his pep career) as Mackin downed DeMatha, 54-48, on the night of March 3, 1967.
It was, by all accounts, the biggest regular-season high school game of the year, and mabe the biggest locally since the DeMatha-Power clash two years before. To accommodate the huge crowd expected, the game was moved to Cole Field House at the University of Maryland, where a throng of 8,500 gathered to watch the show.
They saw a classic. DeMatha led by nine (16-7) early in the game, but the margin remained within three points for much of the game, with neither team able to gain much of an edge. Mackin’s Richie Ford hit a basket early in the fourth quarter to give the Trojans the lead for good at 42-41. The previous three baskets in the game resulted in the lead switching hands – that’s how close it was.
Carr, who had been hot early, but quiet in the middle, delivered at the end. He sank six consecutive free throws in the last two minutes to clinch the game, the league titles and the area’s No.1 ranking for the Trojans.
Carr was as prolific a scorer as any local high school has ever produced. He went on to an All-American career at Notre Dame and was a first-round draft choice in the NBA. But he had lots of help, too. Mackin had a great distributor and defensive player at the point in Sterling Savoy, a talented big man in 6-foot-8 Garland Williams, and another reliable offensive option in Richie Ford. Carr and Williams earned All-Met recognition in the Washington Star for the 1966-67 season; Carr and Savoy were picked for the Washington Post squad. Ford was chosen for All-Met honors the next season.
It had been a long time coming for Mackin. The Trojans had won the first regular-season game between the two powerful teams a little more than a month before. Carr scored 21 points in that first triumph, including a key three-point play with 2:10 left, to lead Mackin to a 55-49 victory over 2,500 fans at Fort Myer across the river in Virginia.
That victory was Mackin’s first over DeMatha in 10 years. The league title was the school’s first – and only – as a member of the Catholic League/Metro Conference. And, it was the only time DeMatha failed to win the crown in that ultra-competitive league between 1961 and 1976.
After Mackin’s second victory over the Stags in ‘67, Furlong made so secret about what his focus had been that season – and in fact his entire coaching career at Mackin up to that point.
“Trying to reach the level Morgan (Wootten) hs established at DeMatha has helped us,” he said. “DeMatha has pride – they’ve had it for a long time – and now we have it.”