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24th annual Baltimore City Public Schools Basketball Academy starts Thursday at Morgan State

City guard Karell Booker (1) sprints on a breakaway after center Kevin Kulu (back left) blocked a shot by Edmondson's Tra’Shawn Lewis (2) as Eontae Nelson (right) chases during a key matchup of unbeaten teams Fri., Jan. 3, 2020.
City guard Karell Booker (1) sprints on a breakaway after center Kevin Kulu (back left) blocked a shot by Edmondson's Tra’Shawn Lewis (2) as Eontae Nelson (right) chases during a key matchup of unbeaten teams Fri., Jan. 3, 2020. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

The 24th annual Baltimore City Public Schools Basketball Academy is set to begin Thursday at Morgan State, and the No. 3 City boys team hopes to stay on its season-long roll, taking a 10-0 mark into the event that runs through Saturday.

The area’s only undefeated boys team will take on Baltimore County foe Milford Mill in the nightcap Friday and meet Delaware’s St. Georgia Tech on Saturday.

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The games are part of one of the area’s finest high school basketball showcases, which features 12 boys games and four girls games this year.

For City coach Omarr Smith, whose Knights got a 21-point performance from junior guard Ahmad Harrison in a 67-48 win over Edmondson in a battle of Baltimore City unbeatens last week, the plan on the hardwood is to stay the course.

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“All season, I’ve expressed to them the importance of trying to find a rhythm and not overlook any opponents. And then those times where we’re struggling, lets just find a way to win because it’s not always going to look perfect,” he said. “There’s going to be ups and downs and to their credit, some games have been a little tougher and a little back and forth but at the end of the day we’ve found a way to win.”

City’s opening game against the Millers, set for 8:20 p.m. Friday, is particularly appetizing.

In addition to Harrison’s consistent play, the Knights also bank on guards Karell Booker and Dominick Carrington to go with the inside combo of Clarence Obiajulu and Kevin Kulu. Milford Mill has a familiar point guard in City transfer Sammy Scott to go with fellow guard Jermaine Goodwyn and St. Frances transfer Detwan Montague.

The Academy experience is two-fold, with an opportunity for players to learn on the academic front as well.

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The three-day program offers academics and cultural enrichment to the student-athletes, along with parents, coaches, teachers and school administrators. Classes provide help on college admissions, social media, SAT preparation and other areas.

“I’m really looking forward to just engulfing the experience with the kids and seeing what the academic portion has to offer them. It’s great to be able to do something with them besides being in the gym,” Smith said. “It’s an opportunity for them to learn some new things and myself as well as a coach. So I’m going in there with the mindset of taking it all, learning, seeing what it has to offer, so if I get the opportunity to go back next year, I can prep the kids what to look for to take advantage of the experience.”

One for the ages: Lake Clifton over St. Frances in 2009

The Lake Clifton boys are the only team to play every year at the Academy, and it didn’t take coach Herman “Tree” Harried long to identify what he believes to be the best of so many big games played at the Academy over the years.

On Jan. 16, 2009, his No. 2 Lakers came from behind to pull off a 63-54 win over No. 1 St. Frances with Morgan’s Hill Field House at capacity. While Denver Nuggets star Will Barton led the Lakers to a state title and 28-0 season, it was his brother, Antonio, who scored 21 points with forward Cleveland Melvin dominating inside with 17.

The Panthers started fast with guard Wayne Sparrow scoring the game’s first 11 points on his way to 28 before the Lakers took hold of the game midway through the fourth quarter.

“There’s been a number of great matchups through the years, but I think everybody would agree that was the top game of all time at the Academy,” Harried said.

“This time of year, people bring up that game. It’s like ‘Oh yeah, the Academy is next week,’ and then they say remember that year when Lake Clifton played St. Frances. During the game, and actually coaching in it, was strenuous. But sitting back now and reflecting on it, it’s what you live for as a competitor, it’s what you live for as far as the brand of basketball in this area. It was everything it was made out to be and more.”

In addition to the 2008-09 Lakers, Douglass (28-0 in 2001-02) and City (27-0 in 2013-14) were the only teams to have big wins at the Academy in the midst of perfect seasons.

This year, the No. 6 Lakers (5-3) are led by the dynamic guard tandem of Michael Gray and Zaccheus Blackwell, set to take on Rock Creek Christian Friday at 8 p.m. before closing out the tournament on Saturday against Oxon Hill for an 8:20 p.m. tip.

Marquee girls game: No. 2 Poly vs. No. 10 Pikesville

Friday’s slate includes a matchup of ranked opponents with the No. 2 Poly girls (10-1) tested by No. 10 Pikesville (5-1) at 5:40 p.m.

Both teams got plenty of mileage out of their respective seasons last year with Pikesville claiming the Class 1A state championship and Poly reaching the Class 3A title game.

Pikesville coach Mike Dukes said playing a quality opponent like the Engineers at Morgan’s big gym is beneficial for down the road, especially with the Panthers now playing in Class 2A.

Pikesville, which opens the showcase against No. 14 Coppin Academy on Thursday, brings a veteran group led by Charia Roberts, Kristin Sterling and Tyra Robinson, while the Engineers are led by All-Metro guard Dasia Townes.

“We’re excited and we think the kids will be up to the challenge. We know we’ll compete and play hard and see where it takes us,” Dukes said.

“Poly comes at you extremely hard and aggressive, so we’re going to have to match their intensity. We can’t back down from them and we can’t allow them to speed us up and play uncomfortable. So as heavy as their pressure is going to be, we’re going to have to try to stay composed and attack them with intensity on the defensive end as well.”

Schedule

Tickets are $10 for each day with children under age 5 admitted free. For more information, go to bballacademy.com.

THURSDAY

Girls

» No. 14 Coppin Academy vs. No. 10 Pikesville, 4 p.m.

» Mount Carmel vs. City, 5:20 p.m.

Boys

» No. 7 New Town vs. Meade, 6:40 p.m.

» No. 6 Lake Clifton vs. Rock Creek Christian, 8 p.m.

FRIDAY

Girls

» No. 2 Poly vs. No. 10 Pikesville, 5:40 p.m.

Boys

» New Era vs. Randallstown, 3 p.m.

» Dunbar vs. Woodlawn, 4:20 p.m.

» No. 5 Edmondson vs. Rock Creek Christian, 7 p.m.

» No. 3 City vs. Milford Mill, 8:20 p.m.

SATURDAY

Girls

» City vs. No. 14 Coppin Academy, 12 p.m.

Boys

» No. 9 Dulaney vs. New Era, 1:20 p.m.

» No. 5 Edmondson vs. Woodlawn, 2:40 p.m.

» No. 3 City vs. St. Georgia Tech (Del.), 4 p.m.

» Randallstown vs. Dunbar, 5:20 p.m.

» No. 7 New Town vs. Henry Wise, 7 p.m.

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» No. 6 Lake Clifton vs. Oxon Hill, 8:20 p.m.

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