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.”
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.
For years, a string of Notre Dame football coaches has tried to duplicate the sustained success of the program’s glory days.
Notre Dame’s basketball program, meanwhile, doesn’t have that problem.
Mike Brey has seen to that.
The Bethesda native and former DeMatha point guard, now in his 18th season as head coach of the Irish, became the all-time winningest coach in Notre Dame basketball history on Wednesday night, thanks to an 88-58 victory over North Carolina State. That triumph gave him 394 victories at Notre Dame, pushing him past the 393 wins accumulated by Richard “Digger” Phelps, who coached at the school from 1971-91.
In a nice gesture, Phelps was even on hand in South Bend the other night to hand Brey the game ball after the final buzzer.
Much of the talk after University of Maryland’s 80-65 victory Saturday over New Mexico centered on the Terrapins’ ability to bounce back from a tough loss.
“I’m really proud of how my team responded,” Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon said. “It was a short turn around but we came out with a lot of energy.”
The victory came less than 19 hours after the Terps walked off the court 63-61 losers to a short-handed Saint Bonaventure squad in the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Fla. on Friday night. In that game, Maryland showed little energy, struggled on offense and got beat by a team that was missing its top returning scorer from last season, guard Jaylen Adams. Adams, a Baltimore native, is nursing a sprained ankle.
The Terps showed far more life against New Mexico the next day, roaring out to a 27-3 lead and never looking back as they improved to 5-1 this season with Syracuse up next on Monday night.
But there was one problem that lingered from the St. Bonaventure loss and it’s a problem that has plagued the Terrapins all season – turnovers.
Maryland turned it over 20 times against St. Bonaventure and 22 times against New Mexico. They also had 20 against Butler in a home game earlier this season. For the year, Maryland’s got 120 turnovers in seven games (17 per game).
That number might seem a little high to Terrapins fans – and they’d be right. Last year’s 24-9 team averaged just 12.9 per 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.