In shining armor

The Baltimore Sun

Mike Daniel's City boys basketball team is so young that he worries about whether the players will make too much of their newfound status of ranking among the area's elite teams.

Daniel has been a coach for more than 25 years, so worrying about one thing or another is second nature. But, because there are only three seniors on the roster, Daniel is concerned that No. 3 in the area is awfully heady territory for this group, at least for right now.

"I worry about it every day," Daniel said earlier this week. "With kids, you never know when it might hit, the 'Hey, are we really supposed to be doing this?' I'll worry every game until the season is over."

Luckily, Daniel said, his Knights have given him little to be anxious about. City, which is 10-1 heading into today's game with Mervo, pulled off the signature victory of the area boys basketball season to date, a 53-48 win over then-No. 2 St. Frances at the Basketball Academy mixer at Morgan State last week, overcoming a 12-point deficit.

"It was just a great game and it really brought us together as a team," senior forward Justin Satterfield said. "Everybody was with everybody else - the bench, players in the game, defense, offense. We were all together in that game. We had to really pull it together to beat that team."

For Daniel, the St. Frances win also served notice that teams in the city's public school league are capable of holding their own with the talent-laden teams in the Baltimore Catholic League, and he should know.

Daniel won 361 games and four Catholic League tournament titles, amassing a .661 winning percentage in 20 years at Towson Catholic, where he coached Denver Nuggets star Carmelo Anthony. Daniel was forced by school officials to resign three years ago, when they decided to require their coaches to also teach there.

To this day, Daniel refers to Towson Catholic as "the other school," and acknowledges that he has not been able to get past what happened.

"I'm still not over it. Still not over it. But the day is going to come when I will be," said Daniel, who also coached former NBA player Ken Bannister in summer and recreational leagues.

Daniel said after the end at Towson Catholic, the disappointment was so profound that he considered getting out of coaching. But when City officials approached him about taking over there, Daniel couldn't say no, especially given the school's reputation for academic excellence.

"I couldn't have gone to a better situation," said Daniel, who is the facilities director at City. "A door closed, but a window opened and the window of opportunity is Baltimore City College. I think I'm blessed that I was able to take advantage of that."

The feeling is more than reciprocated at the school.

"I would not want to see a young, inexperienced coach with a team like this because it could be a nightmare for the coach and for the players," said City principal Tim Dawson, who was a part of the great Dunbar teams of the early 1980s. "But Coach Daniel is patient enough to know they're young, they're growing and they'll make mistakes. You have to constantly reassure them ... to get them back on the right track when they do make those mistakes. Having Coach Daniel is a great asset to the program."

Daniel says this City team, which he affectionately calls "absolutely crazy," reminds him of the 1998 Towson Catholic squad with Deone Carter, Lafonte Johnson and Todd Sykes that lost five of six to close the regular season, then beat - who else? - St. Frances in the Catholic League tournament to end the Panthers' three-year reign.

And with some luck, these Knights can get a title just as the Owls did, and keep their coach from worrying so much.

"I've got great kids, man," Daniel said. "I don't know if every high school coach or college coach for that matter can say that, but I've got great kids. They're good guys. ... They talk about their books and where they want to go to college and what they want to do to better their basketball game. They're crazy like me. We laugh a lot, but when it comes down to business, they know."

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