Still Poet at heart Bullets' Wingate gives Dunbar a return on its investment


First came his old English teacher. Then his math teacher, followed by the school custodian and finally his guidance counselor. They waited politely in line to shake David Wingate's hand and revive memories of the time he had spent in their classrooms and as a member of the Dunbar High's national high school champions in the early 1980s.

"Thomas Wolfe once wrote you can't go home again," said principal Elzee Gladden, "but here, this morning, David Wingate proved, that, indeed, you can come home again."

Now a starting guard for the Washington Bullets, Wingate was back in his element, and thanking his alma mater for good times when he ran the Poets fast break with Reggie Williams, Muggsy Bogues and Reggie Lewis, who all followed him to the NBA.

He presented 72 pairs of athletic shoes to the Dunbar boys and girls varsity teams, and also 1,000 tickets for student use at the four Bulletsames scheduled at the Baltimore Arena this season, beginning Dec. 28 against the Charlotte Hornets.

Wingate looked at all the Maryland Scholastic Association and national championship banners hanging from the rafters of the school gym and smiled broadly.

"Yeah, this is really like home," he said. "The best thing to happen to me as a kid was playing summer league ball at the Cecil-Kirk Recreation Center and meeting Anthony Lewis and Calvin Johnson. They told [then-Dunbar coach] Bob Wade about me, and that led to my transferring from Northern High after my freshman year.

"Every kid in Baltimore wanted to play for Dunbar. You knew that if you were a good player, the college scouts would be coming after you."

Wingate's basketball success continued at Georgetown, but his five-year professional career has been marred by injuries and off-the-court problems, including two charges of rape in Texas and Maryland last year that eventually were dismissed.

But the 6-foot-5 guard has had no trouble since joining the Bullets this season.

Yesterday, Unseld, who attended the Dunbar ceremony, said: "Everything David has brought to the club, on and off the court, has been exemplary.

"Defensively, he has been unbelievable. And his offense has been a plus. He's been focused on playing basketball, and that's all we can ask."

Bullets general manager John Nash, who drafted Wingate in 1986 when Nash was with the Philadelphia 76ers, said: "I knew he was a good player capable of playing good defense and scoring in spurts. But he has really been a solid performer for us, occasionally doubling as a point guard. He's been all that we could hope for."

Because of a number of injuries, especially to shooting guard LaBradford Smith, the No. 1 draft pick from Louisville, Wingate has started 15 of the Bullets' 20 games, averaging 8.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists.

He has been one of the team's more pleasant surprises, but not quite as big as rookie forward Larry Stewart of Coppin State, who also was honored yesterday.

Stewart, a native of Philadelphia, was praised by athletic director Ron DeSouza for helping bring recognition to Coppin State, leading the school to appearances in the National Invitation Tournament and NCAA tournament.

"Larry has made it a lot easier for our coaches to sell Coppin State to out-of-town recruits since we don't have television lTC exposure," DeSouza said.

NOTES: F Tom Hammonds, recovering from a groin injury, hurt his ribs when colliding with C Ralph Sampson during practice yesterday. Hammonds was examined by team doctor Steve Haas, and his status is day-to-day. . . . Saturday's home game with the Bulls is sold out.

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