Baltimore has become well-known for high school basketball since the 1980s, thanks to Dunbar's national prominence and solid programs at Lake Clifton, Cardinal Gibbons, Southern and Calvert Hall, which also have been nationally ranked in the past decade.
But since the Beltway Classic in 1982 and 1983, the Baltimore area has long lacked a high-profile tournament that could showcase the local teams and bring in some of the nation's best.
Enter Bill Spotts and Charm City Classic today and tomorrow at the Towson Center.
"I've kind of been laying the hay, watching Baltimore basketball and seeing it lose some of the respect it had gained the 1980s," said Spotts a former coach at Towson Catholic who helped organize the Beltway Classic. "I wanted to bring back some of that respect. We kind of got lucky. We picked a pretty good year with Dunbar being as good as they are and Southern also playing well."
Along with Dunbar, the area and the nation's consensus No. 1 team and Southern, the field also includes St. Anthony's of Jersey City, N.J., the nation's No. 3 team according to USA Today, and No. 12 St. Raymond's from the Bronx, N.Y.
No. 11 Simon Gratz of Philadelphia will be in town tomorrow for a 5 p.m. preliminary contest against the Baltimore area's No. 5 team Walbrook. St. Frances and Towson Catholic meet in a preliminary game Friday at 5 p.m.
Dunbar already has beaten seven nationally ranked teams this season, including two wins over Simon Gratz and one over St. Raymond's. The Poets beat St. Raymond's, 89-81, in a semifinal of the Beach Ball Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on Dec. 29. The margin of the victory was the Poets' smallest this season, with the exception of three- and one-point wins over Simon Gratz.
St. Raymond's (12-2) also lost to No. 8 St. Joseph's (California) after beating the same team earlier this season. The Ravens are led by 6-5 senior Dana Dingle, who had 30 points and 14 rebounds against Dunbar in Myrtle Beach.
St. Anthony's (9-0) is led by versatile 6-7 senior Roderick Rhodes, who has signed a letter of intent with Kentucky. Rhodes, one of the nation's top five seniors, averages 24 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and four steals.
St. Anthony's coach Bob Hurley is being heralded for using the talents of Rhodes, senior guard Mike Goines (13 ppg.) and a group of fast-developing underclassmen to keep his team in contention for a national title. St. Anthony's has won 38 straight.
"In basketball a really good player surrounded by guys that work hard can be competitive," said Hurley. "This year's team with Rod Rhodes we knew would be pretty good because of Rod's presence. We have a couple of juniors who have really played much better than we anticipated, Jalil Roberts [6-5] and Roshown McLeod [6-8], and we've been playing very well."
Tomorrow's 9 p.m. matchup between St. Anthony's and Dunbar is being touted as the best game in the tournament, but Hurley isn't looking past tonight's matchup with Southern.
"They [Southern] have a lot of talent there, the coach does a good job," he said. "We're not coming down here to get ready for Saturday [tomorrow] night. We have to get ready for Friday night [tonight]. If not we'll lose Friday [tonight] and come out and maybe lose Saturday [tomorrow]."
Southern (10-1) moved into The Associated Press Top 20 last week at No. 24. The Bulldogs have yet to crack USA Today's Super 25, which is more widely recognized, despite an impressive showing in an overtime loss to No. 4 Christ the King and three easy wins in the Trills Holiday Tournament in Washington.
"We don't have any input into what the rankings are," said Southern coach Meredith Smith. "We can't worry about it. We have to go out each day and do the best we can and hopefully the results will be successful."
Seniors Kwame Evans (6-6) and Derrick Watkins (6-5) are keying Southern along with sophomore point guard Damon Cason (6-1) and junior center Abdul Brown (6-8).
All of the proceeds from the tournament will go to three charities -- East Baltimore Resources, a job agency for mentally retarded adults; Grant-A-Wish Foundation for terminally ill children; and Stay In School It's Your Best Bet, a tutorial program for Baltimore area basketball players in conjunction with the Metro Basketball Coaches Association.
The tutorial program has special meaning to Spotts because of his nine-year-old daughter Jamie.
"The reason the tutorial program is so important to me is because my daughter couldn't read as a first grader," said Spotts. "She was a level 5 kid which is special education. Fortunately we had enough resources so that in three years of tutorial help she has gone from a Level 5 and now is main stream, reading at a fifth grade level. We know what tutorial help can do."
NOTE: There are about 2,000 tickets remaining for each night. Tickets are $7 and $9 and can be purchased at all TicketCenter outlets including the Towson Center, Baltimore Arena and Hechts.
Facts and figures
What: Charm City Classic
Where: Towson Center
When: Today: Preliminary -- Towson Catholic (8-6) vs. St. Frances (4-7), 5 p.m.; St. Raymond's-N.Y. (12-2) vs. Dunbar (14-0), 7 p.m.; St. Anthony's-N.J. (9-0) vs. Southern (10-1), 9 p.m.
Tomorrow: Preliminary -- Walbrook (8-4) vs. Simon Gratz (13-3), 5 p.m.; St. Raymond's vs. Southern, 7 p.m.; Dunbar vs. St. Anthony's, 9 p.m.
Rankings: USA Today Super 25: Dunbar (1), St. Anthony's (3), Simon Gratz (11), St. Raymond's (12)
Associated Press: Dunbar (1), St. Anthony's (2), St. Raymond's (8), Simon Gratz (9), Southern (24)
Players to watch: Dunbar -- Michael Lloyd, 6-2, Sr., G; Keith Booth, 6-7, Sr., F; Donta Bright, 6-6, Sr., C/F; St. Raymond's -- Dana Dingle, 6-5, Sr., F; Danny Basile, 6-1, Sr., G; St. Anthony's -- Roderick Rhodes, 6-7, Sr., F; Simon Gratz -- Rasheed Wallace, 6-11, Jr., C; Jamahal Redmond, 6-5, Jr., F; Southern -- Kwame Evans, 6-6, Sr., G; Derrick Watkins, 6-5, Sr., F; Abdul Brown, 6-8, Sr., C; Damon Cason, 6-1, So., G; Walbrook -- Jermaine Porter, 6-7, Sr., F; Eric Carroll, 6-3, Jr., G
TV: Baltimore City's Cable 44 will tape the last 2 games today and all 3 games tomorrow for broadcast Sunday through the following Saturday, Jan. 25. (Check local listings)
Radio: WCBM (680 AM) will broadcast tomorrow's 9 p.m. game -- Dunbar vs. St. Anthony's