The Dunbar gym was sweltering during the Poets' boys basketball game against Baltimore City rival Edmondson earlier this season.
It wasn't any different than countless other nights in past decades when the team had a big matchup, but the atmosphere was still new to Dunbar's transfer guard Daxter Miles.
"There was a lot of emotions involved, a different vibe. That was the game so far," Miles said. "I know a lot about Poet Pride. You can see from all the banners on our wall. … It's great tradition here and an honor for me to play here. So I'm just basically trying to live up to the name and I had a lot to prove in that game."
At 6 feet 3, Miles has brought instant offense, brash confidence and a strong will to win to Dunbar. And as the Poets' leader, he has shown he can handle the pressure that comes with playing for the storied program.
Dunbar has won three straight Class 1A state championships (its 14 overall titles are the most of any school) and the Poets are also the defending city champion.
Despite no returning starters from last year's top-ranked team, No. 3 Dunbar has maintained its success with Miles taking center stage. Going into Tuesday's regular-season finale at No. 8 City, the Poets are 18-2 and have secured a spot in the Baltimore City championship game with an 8-1 record in the league.
Miles averages a team-high 16 points this season, as well as contributing 5.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.
With the Red Storm visiting and the intensity level in the packed gym as high as the heat, the Jan. 9 game was easily the biggest in Miles' brief career at Dunbar.
For Miles, a highly touted Division I recruit who played at IMG Academy in Florida last year, the game was his first big chance to showcase his skills in front of his hometown crowd.
More importantly, he wanted to bring home another Dunbar win.
The Poets trailed many times that night, down by 10 at one point, but showed they were never out of the game. Miles did all he could to bring them back from the deficit.
He hit four free throws in the final 10 seconds of the first overtime to send the game to a second extra period.
And then — with the overflow crowd on the edges of the court — he scored all nine of Dunbar's points in the second overtime to lead the Poets to a 82-75 win.
At the end of the game, he had 32 points and a split lip that required a couple stitches and served as a badge of honor.
"He's a tremendously talented kid with great athleticism who can pretty much score from anywhere," Dunbar coach Cyrus Jones Sr. said. "As Magic Johnson puts it, he's brought 'Showtime' to Dunbar and just having him around has been exciting."
After spending his first two seasons at Archbishop Curley, the East Baltimore native transferred to Dunbar in the spring of his sophomore year.
But Miles' first stint at the school didn't last long and he transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., for his junior year. Returning to Dunbar this year — having gained some exposure with the program during the offseason of his sophomore year and then continuing to improve in Florida — has enabled him to immediately step in and be the go-to player for the Poets.
It's a responsibility he enjoys.
"I know all eyes are on me, and I got a spotlight on me because I'm a top player or whatever. My role is to lead my teammates — get them pumped up — and put buckets in the basket, don't slack on defense and just play hard," Miles said.
So far, so good.
"He brings a lot to our team," said guard Kamau Stokes, who also transferred to Dunbar — from John Carroll — before this school year. "The No. 1 thing he brings is toughness and a lot of energy, and that's what the team needs. He gives us a spark. Dax plays with a lot of confidence, he's always been like that — confident with himself and his teammates."
What stands out the most for Miles is his ability to score points. His 3-point range has defenders on constant watch. And when they come too close to guard him, Miles' explosive first step gives him easy access to the basket. In transition, he's always running the floor and finishes strong.
"What's special about Dax is he's super confident," Poly coach Sam Brand said. "He goes into every game thinking he's the best player on the court. He came back with the mindset that he is the best player in Baltimore, and he's as tough a matchup as there is in the city. He can score from anywhere on the floor."
Edmondson coach Darnell Dantzler saw Miles' ability to take over during the double-overtime game.
First came the four free throws he made in the final seconds of the first overtime and then the scoring binge that followed in the second.
Dunbar had the opening possession in the second overtime and decided to stay patient with the ball.
After taking nearly two minutes off the clock, the Poets worked the ball to Miles in the left corner. Just as it looked like he was going to send the ball back to kill more time, he quickly spun to the baseline and finished a drive for the first two points of the period. The play set the tone for the rest of the overtime.
"He has what they say you can't teach — the 'it' factor. He has that refuse-to-lose attitude, just plays hard throughout and is a great all-around tough player," Dantzler said.
Miles, who has drawn interest from UCLA, Miami, Southern California, Villanova, Xavier, Oklahoma State, Providence and Colorado State among other colleges, recognizes the lofty expectations that come with playing at Dunbar. He welcomes the challenge and wouldn't want it any other way.
"There's pressure trying to win another city and state championship," Miles said. "We just have to do the same thing as last year, and play even harder. We want to win everything — we're hungry, we're starving."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun