Jo Jo and Hawkeye: a staged match up for the ages

You could argue forever about the Washington area’s all-time best high school team or player.

The best-ever head-to-head matchup? There shouldn’t be much debate about that.

I’ve researched decades and decades of local high school basketball history and for my money, the best individual matchup came in a game played 40 years ago this week.

On Feb. 1, 1976, DeMatha forward Charles “Hawkeye” Whitney and Mackin guard Anthony “Jo Jo” Hunter put on show that was both stunning and spectacular.

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Charles “Hawkeye” Whitney

Both were first-team All-Met selection during that season of ’76; both were the top players on outstanding teams as well. Whitney averged 23 points per game in leading DeMatha to a 24-3 record and a No. 3 ranking in the final area poll. Meanwhile, Hunter averaged an area-best 28 points per game as the Trojans finished 23-7 and No. 4 in the area.

 

And both were at their absolute best on that cold February night 40 years ago. A DeMatha-Mackin game was always a huge draw in those days. With that in mind, the game had been moved to the gymnasium at St. John’s to accommodate the big crowd.

That turned out to be a good decision. The St. John’s gym holds about 1,700 fans. Newspaper accounts of the game listed the crowd that night at 2,200. Where was the fire marhsall? He was probably at the game, like everybody else.

But the crowd figure wasn’t the story. The numbers that Whitney and Hunter put up that night was what everyone remembers.

Even though the two big stars didn’t guard each other – Whitney was a forward, Hunter a guard – they were clearly the focal point. For most of the night, the other eight players on the floor were rendered supefluous.

Whitney, who could and did score inside and out, pumped in a game-high 41 points, just managing to lead the Stags to an 84-82 overtime victory.

Hunter, equally brilliant in a losing cause, reponded with 38 points of his own on an assortment of long jumpers (this was a decade ahead of the 3-point line) and lightning-quick drives to the basket.

Clearly, the two of them were playing on a different level – and neither was unduly selfish or reckless during their 32-minute showcase. Whitney connected on 17 of 25 shots grabbed 14 rebounds and even found time to hand out four assists. Sort of makes you wonder what the rest of the Stags were doing that night.

Hunter countered with a 17-for-31 shooting performance. He also filled up the stat sheet, adding five rebounds and seven assists.

“There’s no question those two put on one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen,” DeMaha coaching legend Morgan Wootten said afterward.

The back-and-forth between the two decorated high school stars went on all night. Whitney scored nine points in the first quarter, after which the Stags held a 23-18 lead. Hunter responded with a dozen in the second as Mackin cut its deficit at halftime to 39-38.

Hunter stayed hot after the break, too, scoring 10 points during a frantic 90-second span to start the third period. After three quarters, the Trojans had taken the lead at 62-60.

Then it was Whitney’s turn to shine. He scored seven points in the first three minutes of the fourth to put DeMatha up by six. But Hunter came right back later in the quarter with a pair of baskets within 30 seconds to tie the game at 76 with 30 seconds left.

After DeMatha’s Tony Ellis missed a free throw with 22 seconds left, Mackin rebounded and had a chance to win at the end of regulation. But a turnover ended any chance to decide the game in just four quarters.

Whitney took over from there, scoring six points in the extra session to settle the epic contest.

Both he and Hunter had given their all. Whitney had been suffering from the flu and was so weak that he missed four practices leading up to the game and needed help to get to the bathroom while home sick.

Hunter, though healthy, was just as spent. He sat on a bench in the Mackin locker room, his head down, and couldn’t summon the energy to get dressed until his teammates had showered and left.

As soon as the game ended, Wootten rushed up to Hunter, hugged him and said, “Jo Jo, there’s nobody beter than you.”

Except, perhaps, Hawkeye Whitney.

Mixed bag for Maryland transfers

It’s hard to remember now, but the perception of the Maryland basketball program was very different 16 months ago.

As Coach Mark Turgeon began practice for the 2014-15 season, he’d lost a half-dozen players during the offseason – players who were expected to play significant roles for the Terrapins. Headlines and tweets wondered if Turgeon’s job might be in jeopardy. After all, his first three seasons in College Park hadn’t produced a single NCAA Tournament berth. With all the defections, it didn’t look like it would happen in 2014-15, either.

Except, of course, that it did. Freshman guard Melo Trimble was even better than advertised and became one of the most transformative players in Maryland basketball history. Largely because of his efforts, Maryland finished 28-7 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament that season.

As a sophomore, Trimble has been no less brilliant. He’s the leader of a Terrapins team that has won 13 of its first 14 games and sits at No. 4 in the latest Associated Press college basketball poll. Since Trimble’s arrival and Turgeon’s supposed career crossroads, Maryland is 41-8.

The Internet is now Tweeting a different tune about the Coach; but what about those players who left the program that summer and opted for the court not taken? Unable to find anything on-line or anywhere else on this, this is for Maryland fans who are interested to know whatever became of Charles Mitchell, Seth Allen, Nick Faust, Rody Peters, Shaquille Cleare and Trayvon Reed.

Terps

Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare in Terrapin uniforms in 2013.

Here’s a brief rundown:

Continue reading Mixed bag for Maryland transfers

Everyone knows Markelle Fultz now

It’s fair to say that DeMatha basketball standout Markelle Fultz is on the fast track.

Markelle Fultz
Markelle Fultz

Fultz, a 6-foot-5 guard, was a virtual unknown at the beginning of last summer. He’d failed to make the DeMatha varsity as a sophomore and wound up playing for the Stags’ junior varsity squad in 2013-14.

With a breakout summer last year, he put himself on everyone’s list of topflight college basketball prospects. He did nothing to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm during this past regular season, leading another excellent DeMatha team in scoring with a 16.5-point average. Fulz also averaged more than seven rebounds and four assists per game. He was named the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference’s Player of the Year, a rare honor for a non-senior.

Continue reading Everyone knows Markelle Fultz now

Ex-Terp Vasquez is on the move again – to Milwaukee

In case you didn’t notice amid all the hubbub about wardrobe choices during the NBA Draft or all the free agent speculation following it, former Terrapin Greivis Vasquez (Montrose Christian) was on the move. Again.

Greivis Vasquez headshot
Greivis Vasquez

The much-improved Milwaukee Bucks (41 wins this past season after 15 the year before) sent a 2017 first-round pick (via the Los Angeles Clippers) and the 46th pick of the 2015 Draft (Norman Powell) to bring in Vasquez for the backcourt depth and extra floor leadership they’ve been seeking. I’m probably prejudiced when it comes to Vasquez, a 2,000-point scorer for the Terrapins and one of the most colorful and passionate players to wear a Maryland uniform in recent years. Continue reading Ex-Terp Vasquez is on the move again – to Milwaukee

Jerian Grant third Stag to reach NBA off 2009-10 DeMatha team

The further you get away from the 2009-10 DeMatha basketball team, the better it looks.

That year, the Stags were their typically excellent selves, going 32-4 en route to a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title and a victory over Ballou in the City Title Game at Verizon Center.

The Mike Jones-coached Stags lost only to national powers Mater Dei (California) and St. Anthony’s (New Jersey) and twice to league rival Gonzaga. The second loss to Gonzaga came in the finals of the season-ending Alhambra Catholic tournament at Frostburg State.

Through the years, DeMatha’s had a host of 30-win seasons and league championships under both head coach Morgan Wootten and Mike Jones, a former player at DeMatha.

The school’s basketball has been so consistently good, it’s difficult to make comparisons between one team or one era and another.

But as time goes on, the collection of talent Jones had at his disposal looks more and more impressive.

On Thursday, Jerian Grant, a member of the 2009-10 Stags, was selected 19th overall by the Washington Wizards in the first round of the NBA Draft. He was almost immediately sent to the New York Knicks as part of a three-way trade that also involved the Atlanta Hawks. Grant was an All-American this past season at Notre Dame, averaging 16 points and six assists per game.

He becDM logoomes the third player off that particular DeMatha team to get drafted. Two years ago, Ex-Stag Victor Oladipo went second overall to the Orlando Magic. Last year, Grant’s brother Jerami, went in the second round to the Philadelphia 76ers. He, too, played at DeMatha in 2009-10.

Continue reading Jerian Grant third Stag to reach NBA off 2009-10 DeMatha team

Bench led Warriors to title 40 years ago against Bullets

So, the Golden State Warriors win an NBA title at last in part because they get a huge lift from someone who normally comes off the bench – namely Andre Iguodala.

That’s the same recipe the Warriors used to win their last NBA title, 40 seasons ago. Fans of professional basketball in Washington who were around back then need no reminders of that.

Four decades ago, the Warriors pulled one of the biggest upsets in the history of the NBA Finals, knocking off the heavily-favored Washington Bullets in four straight games.

GS logo

Bullets logo

Up to that point, it was just the third Finals sweep in league history. The series also marked another landmark – it was the first major sports championship contested by teams who were both coached by African-Americans – Golden State’s Al Attles and Washington’s K.C. Jones.

Continue reading Bench led Warriors to title 40 years ago against Bullets