Pete Budko doesn't recall the 1977 game, because his memories are mostly about a European tour that followed and teammates that included a guy nicknamed Magic.
A lack of playing time in 1985 couldn't diminish the thrill Bernard Royster got out of playing in a game he twice paid to attend in middle school.
The 20th version of the Capital Classic goes off tonight at 8 at Cole Field House, showcasing some of the nation's top high school basketball players. Baltimore has had a high profile in the game: Keith Booth will be the seventh player from Dunbar and the 19th from the Baltimore area to participate, following in the footsteps of Budko and Royster.
Nearly every player who has played in the CapitalClassic thinks he's going to end up in the NBA, and even though more than 50 of them were right, there are just as many cautionary tales. Moses Malone and Skip Wise were U.S. teammates in the 1974 inaugural, and both turned pro as quickly as they could. Malone still is toiling for the Milwaukee Bucks; Wise discovered that the Baltimore Claws of the American Basketball Association weren't the path to stardom.
In 1982, Bob Wade coached the U.S. team and lost, but his Dunbar High team, with four future NBA first-round draft choices, probably could have knocked off the Capital All-Stars.
"Everyone wants to announce, 'What you heard about me is true,' when you get kids together in an atmosphere like the Capital Classic," Wade said. "It's hard to mesh all of those talents together."
The 1977 game had the most future stars: 10 of the 23 players reached the NBA. Philadelphian Gene Banks was the MVP for a victorious U.S. team that included Albert King and a legend in the making from East Lansing, Mich., Earvin Johnson. The Washington-based team was known as the Metro stars then, and they included Budko, who with Tony Guy had lifted Loyola High into the national polls.
"How many minutes did I play?" Budko said. "I don't remember anything about the game [he scored 12 points], because the next day we went straight from there to Europe. The Capital Classic was almost like a warm-up for that trip."
Most of the players at that year's game represented the United States in the Albert Schweitzer Games in Germany.
"I remember Magic, Tracy Jackson, Darnell Valentine, Jeff Lamp, Tom Baker being on that trip," said Budko, an investment banker in Charlotte, N.C. "It was my first experience playing with all of the supposed superstars, but I wasn't in awe of anyone. When you're 16 or 17 years old, everyone thinks he's the best, especially if everyone is always telling you you're the best."
Royster, an All-Metro pick for Cardinal Gibbons in 1985, attended the 1979 (Ralph Sampson vs. Sam Bowie) and 1981 games as a student at Sudbrook Middle School. Then he made the Capital team in 1985 but didn't score in limited playing time.
"I was the only Baltimorean on the Capital team, and the coaches went with the D.C. guys," said Royster, 26, the manager of the Rockville branch of Household Finance Corp. "Still, I looked at it as a great opportunity to measure my skills against the top players in the country. Just getting there told me I was doing a lot of things right."
Memories that don't fade
In 1982, Wade's U.S. All-Stars lost to the Capital team and MVP Len Bias.
Four years before his air ball for North Carolina State was the biggest in NCAA history, Derrick Whittenburg hit a game-winning jumper to steal thunder from the Sampson-Bowie duel in 1979.
Derrick Lewis supposedly didn't have any perimeter skills, but he knocked in jumper after jumper from the corners in 1984.
Then there was the North Carolina recruit who didn't start in 1981. Dean Smith might have been the only man on the planet who could slow Michael Jordan, and Ray Mullis might have been the last coach who didn't start him.
"In practice, we divided the players into two groups," said Mullis who has won 586 games in 29 seasons at Cardinal Gibbons. "Jordan's [group] didn't start, but it was obvious that he was the most incredible player I've ever seen. Even away from practice, you could see the effect he had on other players, letting them know we were here to play a game and not just go sight-seeing.
"Jordan caught the first shot [against him] and played a great game, but that's not what I remember the most about 1981," Mullis said. "The first time down the floor, we threw it into Greg Dreiling. He knocked Patrick Ewing 10 feet into the basket support and then jammed."
Ewing led the Capital team with 18 points and a record six blocks.
Losing its luster?
Bob Geoghan founded the Capital Classic to showcase D.C.-area talent against the nation's best, but he had to fine-tune the concept and add at-large selections to the Capital All-Stars to keep it interesting.
The 1974 inaugural coincided with the opening of the Capital Centre, site of 17 of the first 18 games, and the 1981 game drew 19,035, a sellout. Attendance has hovered around 10,000 for the past decade.
Competition for players is as nasty as if the promoters were college recruiters, and Booth and 6-foot-10 Joey Beard of South Lakes High in Reston, Va., are the only players from last Sunday's McDonald's All-America game in Memphis who will play tonight. There were only two other high school all-star games with a national focus when the Cap Classic began 20 years ago, but there are seven now. Since 1982, the NCAA has limited players to two postseason all-star games.
The game has contributed more than $600,000 to children's charities the past 19 years, but the Capital Classic lost its sponsor, McDonald's, after the 1991 game. Without an advertising budget, Geoghan tinkers to keep the game afloat. A dunk contest was added to the week's events two years ago, and tonight, Duke recruit Greg Newton will be the first Canadian in the Classic.
"I'm kind of slanting the game toward the kids who are going to the ACC [18 of tonight's 25 players who signed early will go to Atlantic Coast Conference teams], Big East, even the Atlantic 10," Geoghan said. "We had Jason Kidd and two kids [Dunbar's Donta Bright and Michael Lloyd] from the No. 1 team here last year, and we still only had just over 10,000 people. I don't know what fans want exactly anymore."