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'It’s all family in the end': Baltimore City boys basketball teams put rivalries aside at state tournament

The rivalries are intense, the environments often hostile and every possession in games involving the top Baltimore City boys basketball teams are contested with ferocity during the regular season.

But this time of year, when the games move to College Park for state tournament play, there’s nothing but respect and support from all city teams involved.

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With the state semifinals set to start Thursday, it’s No. 1 Patterson, No. 2 Poly and No. 6 Lake Clifton making the trek to Xfinity Center with the same goal of bringing home more state titles to Baltimore City. And each team will no doubt be keeping a close eye on how the others are doing, appreciative of the regular-season push that helped them all get there.

A preview of area teams in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association boys basketball state semifinals.

“It’s one of those things where when you are competing against any of those teams, it’s such an intense competition and then it really is such a drastic change when you see them down there [at Xfinity Center],” said Poly coach Sam Brand, whose Engineers will bid for a third straight Class 3A state championship. “You look at each other and you know you’re there representing the same city and we always want to establish that we’re the best, so we’re together. Really, that’s the cool thing about it — no matter how intense the rivalry, it all goes out the window in the end when you’re hoping all the city teams win.”

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Poly (20-5) opens tournament play Thursday when it takes on No. 13 C. Milton Wright (20-5) in a Class 3A semifinal at 3 p.m. On Friday, Lake Clifton (22-4) takes on Douglass-PG (20-4) in a 1A semifinal at 3 p.m., with Baltimore City champion Patterson (23-3) meeting Thomas Stone (22-4) in 2A play at 7 p.m.

In the past 10 years, city teams have won 19 of the 40 state championship plaques handed out in the four classifications, with at least two titles going to the city in eight of those years.

“The one thing I’ve always said is sometimes it’s tougher to win a Baltimore City championship than a state title in all honesty,” said Patterson coach Harry Martin, whose Clippers beat No. 5 Edmondson for the city crown and then again to win the North region.

With the experienced talent each of the city teams brings to College Park this week, more success is likely on the horizon.

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Poly junior point guard Rahim Ali has been the floor leader for the Engineers’ past two title teams, and fellow junior forward Justin Lewis had a 20-point, 12-rebound performance in his state title game debut against Milford Mill last year.

Patterson captured a state title two years ago with Marvin Price earning All-Metro co-Player of the Year honors as a sophomore. He’s back, along with senior point guard Gerard Mungo, to help the Clippers try to bring home the program’s third title.

At Lake Clifton, the Lakers captured the Class 2A crown last season and will bank on the experience gained by standouts Armon Harried and Michael Gray.

“The toughnes of the Baltimore City games helps us at the end of the season because we’ve been through everything and seen everything,” Ali said.

As for wanting to see three more state titles head back down to Baltimore on Saturday?

Definitely,” Ali said. “It’s Baltimore City and you want to see everybody else win. Also, most of us played together before we got to high school, so it’s all family in the end.”

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