Tourney no day at beach for Poets Highly rated foes await at Del. shore


After watching his top-ranked Dunbar squad rout Baltimore City league rival Mervo last week, third-year coach Lynn Badham was reminded of the great Poets teams of the past.

The Poets (5-0) demonstrated poise in overcoming a first-period deficit for a seven-point halftime lead, as well as a killer instinct in a decisive third period on the way to an 83-54 victory.

All-Metro guard LaFonte Johnson finished with 24 points after scoring an identical total in a rout of Douglass earlier in the week. Donteaz Dean, 6 feet 6, added 16 points and eight rebounds, Pierre Tucker, 6-5, had 14 points, 10 rebounds, and third-year starter Arnold Bowie added 13 points and eight assists to a balanced attack.

"I really like this team. I like the way they play together and how unselfish they are," said Badham, a former Dunbar assistant to Bob Wade. "It's a really exciting team that has a desire to be just as good or better than other Dunbar teams that have come through."

The Poets, winners of five state titles in the past six years, will find out just how good they are in this weekend's Slam Dunk to the Beach tournament at Cape Henlopen High in Lewes, Del.

The event starts tomorrow, runs through Wednesday, includes 39 teams and will feature 45 games.

The Poets face Good Counsel of Wheaton, ranked No. 1 by the Washington Post and No. 9 nationally by the Associated Press, tomorrow at 8: 15 p.m. in the Slam Dunk to the Beach division.

In other games tomorrow in other divisions, No. 5 Southern plays St. John Neumann (Pa.) at 3 p.m., No. 7 Towson Catholic takes on Red Bank Regional (N.J.) at 4: 45 p.m. and unranked Cardinal Gibbons faces Cape Henlopen at 8 a.m.

But the Poets are clearly in the most competitive group, one that features nationally fourth-ranked Rice, New York's top-ranked team; Lower Richland, South Carolina's three-time state champ; Picayune, Miss., featuring the nation's top big man in 6-11 Jonathan Bender, a preseason Street & Smith's All-American who averages 21 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks; and Newport Prep of Kensington, Md., ranked No. 7 by the Washington Post.

"If we're unselfish, like we've been so far, we'll win. If not, we'll lose," said Bowie, who was a sophomore when Dunbar suffered a 30-point loss to Thomas Johnson in the 3A state finals and a junior on Badham last year's 2A state champion.

"We can't look to the refs for help," Bowie said. "We have to look to the coach for guidance, and what he says will set us straight."

Southern (2-1) makes its first appearance in the Slam Dunk tournament since winning the Power Series division over Pleasantville during the 1995-96 season.

"They [Pleasantville] were ranked No. 1 in New Jersey ahead of St. Anthony's at the time, but after we beat Pleasantville, St. Anthony's went on to win the national title," said Southern coach Meredith Smith, whose team won its third 4A state title that season.

"That was also the year we played St. Anthony's in the Charm City Classic and led them for three quarters before losing," Smith said.

The Bulldogs entered last week's overtime loss at Lake Clifton ranked No. 2 in The Sun and No. 9 on the East Coast by USA Today.

Smith will rely heavily on guard Melvin Scott (25 points, six assists per game) and 6-7 center Isaiah Johnson (18 points, nine rebounds) in tomorrow's Delaware Challenge Cup division game.

"Now that we've lost to Lake, you don't have the pressure anymore of trying to go undefeated, but I like the high expectations because that keeps us shooting higher," Smith said. "I'm realistic enough today to know that you can't look past anybody. Gonzaga wasn't even ranked nationally, and they beat DeMatha [last week]. So this tournament's going to tell me a lot about how my team's going to respond coming off a loss."

Towson Catholic (6-2), competing in the Tip-Off Classic division, has drawn a tough first-round opponent in Red Bank Regional. Coach Mike Daniel has to come up with a strategy to deal with two of the nation's best big men, Maryland-bound Todd Holden, 6-9, and Shawn Axani, 6-7, the top junior in his state.

To do that, he'll call on his three-guard offense of three-point specialist Gil Goodrich (17 points per game), 6-2 Keith Jenifer (12 points, six assists) and Steve Johnson.

Gibbons (3-7) continues to tackle a monster schedule as part of the Mayor's Cup division -- this with a squad boasting only two senior starters in the 6-3 Neus brothers, Dan and Matt.

Gibbons shooting guard Colin McBride (14 points) and 6-5 Ellis Hopkins (nine points, six boards) are both juniors and Kenny Gardner (six assists) and 6-4 Dwight Dean both freshmen.

"Being very young and playing these teams, obviously you have to keep a positive attitude," said coach Bryan Moorhouse.

Pub Date: 12/25/98

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