In the long history of high school boys basketball, there have been several teams that have stood out from the pack.
While it’s always an inexact science, the subject of which team ‑ or teams ‑ ranks among the all-time greatest always generates discussion and debate.
However, there probably would be little question that the Baltimore (Maryland) Dunbar High School teams of the early 1980s eminently deserve to be part of any such conversation.
Under the direction of coach Bob Wade, the Poets compiled a 29-0 record during the 1981-82 season and followed it up with a 31-0 campaign in 1982-83. In accordance with the time-honored definition of what really constitutes a great high school basketball team, Dunbar was not only a hard-working, talented and disciplined group that consistently won ballgames, it was also a fun team to watch.
Perhaps making Dunbar’s accomplishments even more remarkable is the fact that it’s an older public high school in hardscrabble, inner-city East Baltimore ‑ a tough, poverty-stricken area replete with antiquated housing projects and challenging life on the streets. Originally built in 1918 at the corner of Orleans and Caroline Streets as Paul Laurence Dunbar Elementary School, it evolved into a junior high school seven years later and in 1940, became a full-fledged high school.
The kids who played for Dunbar grew up in the immediate neighborhood and honed their games on decaying urban playgrounds. In stark contrast to its counterparts in affluent suburbia, lack of adequate funding and facilities have always been the norm for the Dunbar program, and many of its players came from financially lacking, one-parent families.
Despite those challenging circumstances and seemingly insurmountable odds, Dunbar became a highly successful boys basketball program.
Dunbar’s high level of success in the early 1980s wasn’t an isolated fluke occurrence as, from 1956 to 1988, it won 17 conference championships. In the span of five seasons, Dunbar went 132-10 with five Maryland Scholastic Association state championships. Since the Baltimore City School System joined the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) in 1993, the Poets have continued their winning ways with 12 state titles during that time, the most recent in 2011.
During their early-1980s run, the Poets won most of their games by sizable margins and the closest any team came was five points. In one game, they didn’t miss a shot in the entire first half. Along with large margins of victory, the Poets attracted a large following during that time, as it was not uncommon for them to draw as many as 5,000 fervent fans to a game.
While a 60-0 mark in two years is clearly remarkable, what made this team really unique was its sheer collection of talent, exemplified by the fact that four of its players not only played college basketball, but eventually played in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Those four players were David Wingate, Reggie Williams, Reggie Lewis and Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues.
The key senior on the 1981-82 squad was 6-5 swingman Wingate, who went on the play at Georgetown University and then enjoyed a 15-year NBA career with six different teams. Blessed with long arms and great length, he played the game above the rim and with great defensive intensity. As a freshman at Georgetown, the smooth-shooting Wingate was named to the Big East Conference all-rookie team. As a sophomore, he led the team in steals as the Hoyas won the 1984 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) title, and they finished as runner-up the following year.
Williams, Lewis and Bogues were all a year younger than Wingate as members of the Class of 1983.
Williams, who went 6-7 and 190 pounds, was the leading scorer on the team with a 25.3 points per game average. A long-legged small forward with a soft touch and an unstoppable jump shot (he connected on 57 percent of his field-goal attempts), Williams could use his athleticism to slash to the basket. In recognition of his skills and contributions, Williams was named USA Today’s National High School Player of the Year for 1982-83.
Williams followed Wingate to Georgetown, where he was a key part of the Hoyas’ success. Drafted fourth overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 1987 NBA draft, Williams enjoyed a 10-year professional career.
Despite the fact that he went on to great success at both the collegiate and professional levels and perhaps a testimony to Dunbar’s tremendous depth, the 6-7, 195-pound Lewis couldn’t even crack the Poets’ starting lineup. Playing the John Havlicek sixth-man role, Lewis was a versatile player who came off the bench. In all fairness, it was a challenge for anyone to start for the Poets, as, of the 15 players on the squad, 12 of them earned NCAA Division I scholarships.
Northeastern (Massachusetts) University landed Lewis, where he became a three-time American East Conference Player of the Year and had his uniform number retired. He concluded his career as Northeastern’s fourth-leading career scorer with 2,709 points.
In 1987, Lewis was drafted 22nd overall by the hometown Boston Celtics, where he averaged 17.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists a game, and played in the 1992 NBA All-Star Game. Tragically, his career and life were cut short when he suffered sudden cardiac death during an off-season basketball practice at Brandeis (Massachusetts) University. He was only 27 years old.
Running the offense for the Poets was point guard Bogues, who checked in at a mere 5-3 and 136 pounds. Despite that lack of physical stature, Bogues stood tall for the Poets as he was a defensive ballhawk with extremely quick hands who regularly stole the ball from opposing players.
Nicknamed “Short Man,” Bogues would neutralize opposing point guards and was the team’s catalyst. He controlled the game’s tempo and possessed blinding speed on the court.
Bogues went on to Wake Forest (North Carolina) University, where he averaged 14.8 points, 9.5 assists and 3.1 steals during his senior year. Despite being the shortest player in the history of the NBA, he was nonetheless chosen 12th overall by the Washington Bullets. Perennially proving the naysayers and doubters wrong, Bogues got the last laugh as he enjoyed a successful 14-year NBA career.
In addition to that foursome, many other players on those Dunbar teams went on to play at the collegiate level.
Among them was 6-5 Tim Dawson, who was the starting center on the 1980-81 and 1981-82 Dunbar teams. Despite his relative lack of height for the position, Dawson was a leaper and a proficient shot-blocker. He went on the play college basketball for the University of Miami (Florida) and is now principal at Baltimore City College, a public magnet high school in Baltimore.
Herman Harried was a 6-7, 210-pound reserve forward who played four years at Syracuse (New York) University and went on to play professional basketball in England. Due to his phenomenal leaping ability and long arms, he was nicknamed “Helicopter.” He also had the nickname “Tree.”
Harried has coached the Lake Clifton (Maryland) High School boys basketball team to three MPSSAA state titles and is also an assistant coach for the USA Basketball Developmental National Team. In that capacity, he assists head coach Don Showalter of Wellman (Iowa) Mid-Prairie High School.
Darryl Wood, who played briefly at Virginia State University before enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps, was captain of the 1981-82 team. Similar to Lewis and Harried, he also was a reserve at Dunbar. Today, he is a Staff Sergeant in the Marines.
Two juniors who started on the 1981-82 team also played college basketball. They were forward Mike Brown, who played at Syracuse (New York) University and Clemson (South Carolina) University, and shooting guard Keith James, who played for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Two seniors on the 1982-83 team who also played at the collegiate level were Eric Green, who played at James Madison (Virginia) University and Derrick Lewis, who played at Northeastern (Massachusetts) University.
Even coach Wade, who coached the Poets to a 341-25 record, went on to the collegiate level as he was head men’s basketball coach at the University of Maryland from 1986 to 1989. Wade is now director of athletics for the Baltimore City Schools.