City senior guard Omari George did a double-take in the school’s hallway one day at the start of the school year.
Was that really Kamau Stokes walking to class?
To George’s delight, it was Stokes, who transferred to City for his senior year afterhelping Dunbar win state and Baltimore City titles last year.
After winning 20 games and reaching the region title game last season, the No. 4 Knights already had a dynamic one-two combination returning in George and fellow senior guard Timmy Bond. The addition of Stokes, another talented guard, gives City what it hopes is a one-two-three knockout punch.
“It’s going to be special,” George said. “Tim can do everything. Kamau is a great floor general. And I do a little of everything. So, yeah, it’s going to be special to watch.”
All three players earned All-Metro second-team honors as juniors and each bring special attributes to the court.
At 6-foot-5, Bond (13 points, 5 steals and 4 assists per game last season) is difficult to match up against with his size and point guard skills. The 6-foot-4 George (16 points, 7 rebounds per game) brings valuable consistency to the hardwood. Stokes (14 points per game) has deadly outside aim, is a tenacious defender and has the championship pedigree.
When you add in emerging junior guard Blair Davis and senior twin forwards Juwan and John Grant — also starters from last season — the Knights have an overflow of talent that makes them the Baltimore City league favorite.
“My wife and I were out eating one Sunday and a guy came up and said ‘Hey, I heard you got everybody back and you’re going to be real good,’” City coach Daryl Wade said. “I said ‘We’re going to be alright.’ So the man walked away and my wife says ‘You need to stop with that humble stuff. Do you know how good you guys are going to be?’”
Wade is well aware of the potential — he smiles at the thought — but he also knows there’s work to be done. He sees the talented roster as a big puzzle and his responsibility is putting all the pieces in the right places.
It starts with Bond, George and Stokes, and the advantage the Knights have is the trio’s familiarity with each other. Bond and George have been playing together since they were 7 years old, winning two straight Maryland AAU state championships for the Baltimore Stars. Their bid for a third straight fell short when Stokes won one playing for the Bentalou Bombers.
“We have a lot of talent, but Coach Wade always tells us hard work beats talent,” Bond said. “So even though we have that talent, we know we have to make sure we’re working hard every day in practice to reach our goals.”
While Stokes was enjoying his championship junior season at Dunbar, the Knights suffered a disappointing ending with a 70-65 loss at eventual Class 3A state champion Milford Mill in the North region title game. City scored four straight points to tie the game at 65 with under a minute left, but weren’t able to go ahead. The disappointment hasn’t left them.
“It gives us all the motivation in the world,” George said. “That loss at Milford shows us we need to be able to play through adversity and maintain our mental toughness. We have to push past any boundaries and any comfort level we may have. So this year, we’re going to take all that into account to get further.”
In addition to his fine basketball skills and knack for making the big shot, Stokes brings confidence and has regularly pulled through in tough times. He’s also comfortable with change. After playing at John Carroll (he helped the Patriots win a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship in his sophomore season) his first two years, he made a smooth transition and major impact at Dunbar.
“Coming in, I’m just trying to fit in. I want to step in and be a leader to help us win,” Stokes said. “Almost everybody on our team is capable of making a big play, so it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
While Wade is fortunate to have the task of putting it all together, opposing coaches will have the chore of trying to contain City’s big three.
“One of the main things that’s going to make City hard to beat is that all three of those guys have a lot of experience,” Edmondson coach Darnell Dantzler said. “How do you stop those three? ... One of the main things is just playing them hard. You play them straight up, come with match-up zones, some help-side defense and hope they have an off day.”