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Many see greatness in Karcher


He has played with and against some of the best players in recent Baltimore basketball history. Sam Cassell. Muggsy Bogues. Rudy Archer. Donta' Bright. Keith Booth.

And he's only 15 years old.

Meet Mark Karcher, who will be a sophomore in the fall at St. Frances. If what he has accomplished so far is any indication, he will someday be at the top of that list of names.

At a lanky 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, Karcher's body is still maturing, but his game already resembles that of a senior.

He is considered to be Maryland's top sophomore and one of the country's best after a strong showing at the Boo Williams Junior Amateur Athletic Union 17-under Invitational in Hampton, Va., in April and the Midwest Future Showdown and Shootout in June in Columbus, Ohio.

Last winter, Karcher averaged 21.4 points, 11.9 rebounds and 3.8 blocks for St. Frances, which reached the Catholic League Tournament championship game. He was a first-team All-Catholic League selection as well as an All-Tournament pick.

The last freshman to be named first-team All-Catholic League was Duane Ferrell of Calvert Hall in the 1980-1981 season. Ferrell went on to star at Georgia Tech and completed his sixth season with the Atlanta Hawks in May.

"He's a natural talent," said Calvert Hall coach Mark Amatucci, who coached Ferrell and observed Karcher in two league meetings last season. "There are a lot of similarities. He can put the ball on the floor, post up and be in the right spot on the floor. Duane was a little more advanced skills-wise at that stage, but Karcher is the closest to come into the league since him."

Said Karcher after a Craig Cromwell League game against Carver on Thursday evening: "It feels good to be mentioned in the same breath with some of the great players that have come out of Baltimore. I don't put a lot of expectations on myself and take it one game at a time."

With all the accolades and attention he has garnered, Karcher hasn't felt any pressure. Well, he did have a few butterflies in his first varsity game against Phelps of D.C. last December. Thirty-nine points later, those butterflies were gone.

Though he spent last season playing at power forward and center, Karcher has all the tools of a shooting guard or swingman. Those skills have developed playing in different 21-under and unlimited leagues, like the one at the Madison Square Recreation Center on Monday and Wednesday evenings.

He's also playing at Madison with St. Frances once a week in the Craig Cromwell League, which features most of its Catholic League rivals and city public school powers like Dunbar, Walbrook, Southwestern and Southern. Karcher was selected as an all-star for the second straight year.

"He's a man in a child's body," said St. Frances coach William Wells. "He plays hard, he's coachable and he listens. That's what you really want . . . a guy who wants to do his job -- and Mark does that."

Karcher is comfortable playing with older players, especially Cassell, who played a big role in helping the Houston Rockets to the NBA title in June, and Bogues, the starting point guard for the Charlotte Hornets.

Another former Dunbar star, the late Reggie Lewis, an all-star with the Boston Celtics, was Karcher's favorite player.

In the eighth grade, he planned to follow in his hero's footsteps and attend Dunbar, with its rich basketball tradition. It was at that time he began going to Madison, where he developed a friendship with Greg Billups, who attends St. Frances.

Billups told him about the school and its private, yet comfortable, surroundings, and Karcher was sold.

Since he has been at the school (student population 150), located in the middle of East Baltimore around the corner from Dunbar, Karcher has been selling the idea that he's staying. Rumors of him transferring are frequent and irritate him.

"Sometimes it gets very frustrating," said Karcher. "I never mentioned to anyone that I was transferring to any school."

After a slow start, Karcher adapted to St. Frances, academically and mentally. He credits his cousin, Steve Lewis, who plays for New Mexico State and was a standout at Edgewood High in Harford County, for helping him on and off the court.

With the pace that he's on now, Karcher is destined to surpass Clemson star Devin Gray as St. Frances' top performer. Whether Karcher ranks among the best to come out of Baltimore remains to be seen. There's no doubt that the potential is there.

"Not at age 15 have I seen anyone this advanced as Mark is at this stage," Wells said. "He's playing with the guys like Donta' Bright [a junior at the University of Massachusetts]. What is he going to do when he gets their age?"

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