For the past six years, the Edmondson boys basketball team has played hard, with a great deal of passion and to the very end. The Red Storm is a reflection of their coach, Darnell Dantzler.
It's been that way since he first came to the program in the 2007-08 season. In that time, he has produced a 114-31 record with a Baltimore City championship in the 2009-10 season. The 1991 Dunbar grad won two Maryland Scholastic Association championships as a player and has instilled a winning tradition at Edmondson, a West Baltimore school that was mostly known for its powerhouse football teams.
With a 6-1 mark and another gifted backcourt leading the way, the No. 4 Red Storm is primed for a run at another City title and an elusive first state title. There have been plenty of close calls in the first five seasons under Dantzler -- each of the Red Storm's losses in the region playoffs have been to the eventual state champion -- and the plan is for this to be the breakthrough season.
A big test comes on Wednesday when the Red Storm visits No. 3 Dunbar, which is coached by Dantzler's high school teammate, Cyrus Jones. The game guarantees added intensity and excitement.
By Dantzler's side for his six years at Edmondson is his brother and assistant coach, Terrell, and Richard Harrison. The passion for basketball and the Red Storm program is shared among the three.
When Dantzler is not coaching, he enjoys spending time with his wife, Josie; daughter, Dymond, now a freshman at Delaware State; and 6-year-old son Darnell, Jr.
What would it mean to bring a state title to Edmondson?
It's what it's all about. In the [first five] years I've been at Edmondson, every team we lost to in the regional playoffs went on to be the eventual state champion [Randallstown, City twice, Lake Clifton, Digital Harbor]. We've had that championship taste of winning the Baltimore City championship [in 2010] and I was proud of my kids, but it would complete our program if we would be fortunate enough to win the state championship. That's been our goal from Day 1, it would mean everything to the community, the kids, the school and to the coaches. Playing at Dunbar, we won championships. And for our kids to be able to look back 10, 15, 20 years from and say I was a state champion would be special. It's about giving the kids an opportunity and experience of a lifetime.
The program has produced a steady stream of quality guards since you've been coach. What's behind the consistent backcourt success?
It all started with Rodney Pratcher, Kavon Pyatt and Sean Thomas -- those guys were a special group that I first had. The thing about them was they just came out and played so hard. My three guards this year remind me of those guys. Isaiah Tripp, I consider him one of the best point guards in the state. Darius Walker has been a leader all the way around ever since he's been a part of the Edmondson Red Storm family. And Darius Hubbard just refuses to lose and he's going to do whatever I need him to do. So I got three really good guards that play hard, play well together that are pretty much interchangeable.
What's it like when you play Dunbar and go up against your childhood friend and Poet teammate Cyrus Jones?
We've been friends since playing rec league ball when we were 8 years old and we went on to play together at high school, so we've been close friends for a long time. It's always been competitive with us and the one thing about it is we don't talk basketball to each other at all. That's the one thing we stay away from. We always know that when I go in to play Dunbar or he comes in to play at Edmondson, it's going to be a dogfight. It's hard hat, time to go to work and that's what we look forward to the most. We shake hands and hug before the game and then talk after the game. But in between the lines, he has a job to do to try to get a win and I have a job to do to get a win as well. So it's fun, it's intense when it's going on, but after, we're right back being good friends.
What is your primary coaching philosophy and who was instrumental in forming it?
I preach defense. I played basketball under the guidance of two coaches when I was little. The first was Bucky Lee at the Oliver Recreation Center and he always told us that you win with defense. And then I played with Henry 'Sarge' Powell at Madison. I consider them two of the best coaches in Baltimore City. They always stressed defense and playing with guts and toughess. When you go in, you have to play as hard as you can with the heart of a champion and then if you leave it all out there on the floor, you know everything is done and you can hold your head up even if you took a loss.