Gene Doan, a basketball architect

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When Gene Doane was a young man, he thought he might become an architect or an engineer.

“I always had an interest in designing things,” he once said.

Ultimately, he was diverted from such pursuits. Basketball was in his blood, so instead he became a coach – a builder of successful high school basketball programs, an architect of winning teams.

Doane, who passed away last month at the age of 82, was one of the most successful coaches in Montgomery County – back when Montgomery County basketball was at its peak. From 1971-79, county schools won a dozen state titles. It took them another 30 years to win their next 12.

Doane compiled a 441-113 record and won with three programs – Sherwood in the 1960s, Blair in the 1970s and Seneca Valley during a half-dozen years there in the 1980s.

He won a pair of state championships at Blair, in 1975 and 1977. His success there is what he was most famous for locally. The ’75 team, which finished 23-2, probably set the standard for excellence among Montgomery County basketball teams.

“They were unreal,” marveled Mel Laughner, who coached at Sherwood at the time and led that school to a state title in 1979.

Doane probably could have stayed at Blair forever and won a few more titles – that was home to him, after all – his alma mater. But he grew restless if he stayed anyplace too long. He was constantly looking for another project to work on. To him, the real satisfaction in coaching was building something.

“I liked to get to a high school, put it on top and stay there for a couple of years and go on to another one,” he said. “It’s fun to do that. I never stayed at a school more than nine years.

“I liked challenges. I loved going to a school, building from scratch and making a winner.”

That’s what he did. He guided Sherwood to the state semifinals in 1965 – that school’s first-ever appearance in the state tournament. Then came the two Class AA state titles at Blair. At Seneca Valley, he took over the program at a football-crazy school in 1978. By 1981-82, he had the Screaming Eagles 23-1 and was named “Coach of the Year” in the metropolitan area by The Washington Post.

He did this by being fiery, meticulous and leaving nothing to chance. No matter where he coached, he went the extra mile. At every stop, he watched junior high games, met with kids and adults in the community, tried to place his team in a strong summer league and started basketball camps.

He was just as detail-oriented when it came to practices and games. He constantly drilled his players – he always thought other coaches did too much scrimmaging – breaking the game down into its component parts so that players could understand and execute what he wanted.

One day, when legendary North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith came by a Blair workout on a recruiting trip,he was heard to say as he was leaving the gym, “Now that’s how you run a practice.”

“He wasn’t a coach, he was a teacher,” said Cedric Boatman, one of the stars on that ’75 Blair team. “What made him so good was his preparation. The reason Coach Doane’s teams won so much was because we were so prepared in practice.”

Doane delighted in the intricacies of in-game strategy as well. Someone like Springbrook’s John Barrett would adjust to something Doane was doing, and Doane would have to counter it.

“I think the main joy he got out of coaching – aside from the relationships he had with us – was figuring out how to counteract things and figuring out how to make things work with the pieces he had,” said Brian Magid, the shooting star of the ’75 Blair team.

Doane found plenty of challenging opponents in the county coaching ranks back then. From 1977-79, for example, county teams won eight of the 12 state championships contested in four Maryland classes. At one point in the late 1970s, there were eight county coaches working the sidelines who had won at least one state championship.

There was Barrett at archrival Springbrook, Laughner at Sherwood, Jim Conner at Rockville, Dale Miller at B-CC and Wootton, Tom George at Woodward, Hank Galotta at Paint Branch and Les Lombardi at Churchill – all of whom won state titles for the county during the 1970s.

“The coaches they had then – they worked at the game,” Doane once said. “They knew the game, so you had to be good to beat them.”

His players and his colleagues could always appreciate the passion he brought to coaching. To the public at large, however, he could sometimes come off like a madman. No one was more animated on the sidelines and often the only thing louder than his sportcoat was his voice as he yelled at his players. Maryland’s Gary Williams wouldn’t be an inappropriate comparison in that respect.

But his players came to understand – although maybe not always in the moment – what Doane was trying to do.

“If I can say this in the most affectionate way, he was a taskmaster,” said Willis Wilson, who played on the ’77 Blair team and later became a college coach himself. “He was very driven and very detailed. He always used to say, ‘There’s a method to my madness.’ He was always going to keep the heat on his players and his teams to really reach down and find their best.”

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.

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.

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