National high school rankings suggest that Baltimore has turned back the clock to when it was a basketball wasteland.
No one in the USA Today Top 25.
It's a turnaround from the days when Dunbar High went anywhere, beat everyone and won mythical national titles, but those rankings can be deceptive. College recruiters keep returning to a town that has figured prominently in the past three NCAA champions, because there's plenty more where Juan Dixon, Carmelo Anthony and Josh Boone came from.
Why the inaccurate perception that Baltimore isn't turning out players the way it used to?
There is no longer a single powerhouse high school program, garnering notice by stockpiling talent the way the Poets did when they were coached by Bob Wade and Pete Pompey. In the city, far too many at-risk prospects fall short of the NCAA's academic requirements for freshman eligibility - standards their fathers didn't have to confront - and we lose touch with those kids while they're off at prep school and junior college.
There is also the matter of changing demographics. Baltimore County is no longer a basketball punch line, and the pool of talent has seeped well beyond the Beltway into the suburbs, exhibit A being tomorrow's Indiana at Connecticut game.
Marshall Strickland is the veteran point guard for the Hoosiers, averaging more than 35 minutes and 11 points. Five months out of Archbishop Spalding, Rudy Gay figures to be one of the premier freshmen in the country, but the Huskies are probably more reliant on Boone, the sophomore center whose pro stock rises every day.
Where did Boone and Strickland play together? Dunbar? Douglass? Randallstown? Someplace in the Catholic League, which is as cutthroat as ever?
Try South Carroll, a reminder that a boy's high school isn't nearly as important as his Amateur Athletic Union affiliation in the recruiting process.
The traditional, old-school network, however, is still cranking out players, as shown by a canvas of some of the nation's best leagues.
In the Big East, Gerald Brown and Byron Joynes could match up this season with Gay and Boone, respectively. Brown, who played on a fine Douglass High team in 2002, is the sixth man but the third-leading scorer for Providence. He's a sophomore. Joynes is in the same class at Rutgers, and has shed much of the weight that slowed him at Towson Catholic. He's the starting center for the Scarlet Knights.
In the Atlantic Coast Conference, Todd Galloway, who spent two seasons at City, has become Florida State's starting point guard in his third season in Tallahassee. The Seminoles were one of only two road victors in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the other being No. 24 Virginia. After starting for North Carolina as a freshman and junior, former Southern standout Melvin Scott is coming off the bench for No. 9 North Carolina.
Joey Dorsey, a freshman at Memphis who played with Brown at Douglass, is one of the most promising players in Conference USA. That league's veterans include Calvert Hall grad Reggie Bryant, who found a home at Saint Louis after stops at prep school and Villanova. The 6-2 senior guard was the Billikens' co-MVP last season, and is their current No. 2 in scoring, rebounding and assists.
Georgia will struggle in the Southeastern Conference, but not because of Levi Stukes. The sophomore guard from Randallstown will carry a heavy load for the Bulldogs, as he's their lone returning starter.
Richmond's Kevin Steenberge could blossom into a dominant big man in the Atlantic 10. He's a junior out of River Hill, in Howard County. Elsewhere in the A-10, La Salle is making do with a scandal-depleted roster, as 6-1 guard Darnell Harris is starting as a freshman. He was at St. Frances last year.
The A-10 favorite is George Washington, where the depth includes Lafonte Johnson (Dunbar) and Jaz Cowan, who earned a scholarship as a walk-on out of McDonogh. The Colonials face Michigan State in tomorrow's BB&T; Classic. The other semifinal matches Maryland and George Mason, where Will Thomas is a freshman starter. He went to Mount St. Joseph, and had some memorable games against Spalding, Gay and Terps' sophomore Will Bowers.
Missouri was happier than a retailer to get to December.
The Tigers began last month receiving penalties from the NCAA for assorted misdeeds. Quin Snyder's team came up small in consecutive losses to Davidson, Creighton and Houston. Then came the Wal-Mart heiress who had her name attached to Missouri's home court until claims were made that she committed academic fraud. The trustees hastily changed Paige Sports Arena to Mizzou Arena.
Missouri's luck finally changed in a four-point win over Murray State.
The Racers, incidentally, added two Towson Catholic grads to a mix that won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament last season. After a troubled two years at Virginia, Keith Jenifer is starting for Murray State.
Odds and ends
If it's any consolation to Skip Prosser and Wake Forest, the last top-ranked team to lose at Illinois was Michigan State, 25 years ago. Magic Johnson and the Spartans went on to win the NCAA title. ... Question: Given the Demon Deacons' pratfall and today's parity, what's the record for most No. 1 teams in a single season? Answer: See this space a week from today. ... During the Maryland-Wisconsin game Tuesday night, ESPN's Steve Lavin said Lefty Driesell "was a big influence on Gary Williams." Williams admires the way Driesell first breathed life into Maryland, but the two never worked together.