When we decided to take a break from the college scene to look in on some future collegians, we quickly learned that while this year's class of high school seniors has its share of eagerly awaited players, the group that really has recruiters sharpening their sales pitches is a year younger. The consensus among those who follow the recruiting scene is that the current crop of juniors may turn out to be one of the best classes in two decades, along with the classes of 1979 (Ralph Sampson, Isiah Thomas, Dominique Wilkins, James Worthy), '81 (Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin) and '88 (Christian Laettner, Alonzo Mourning, Billy Owens).
"Post players and point guards are the top barometers of the quality of a class, because those players are usually the hardest to find," says recruiting maven Bob Gibbons of Lenoir, N.C. "This class of juniors is especially deep in big men."
Among the best are 7-foot Rashard Griffith and 7'1" Thomas Hamilton, both of Martin Luther King High in Chicago; 6'10" Rasheed Wallace of Simon Gratz High in Philadelphia; 6'10" Robbie Eggers of Cuyahoga Falls (Ohio) High; and 6'11" Darnell Robinson of Emery High in Emeryville, Calif. Darnell's name started appearing near the top of an increasing number of recruiting rankings after his strong showing at last summer's Nike camp for top high schoolers, in Indianapolis. "Everyone had heard about Griffith, but Robinson went head-to-head with him at the camp and outplayed him," says Van Coleman, who publishes Futurestars magazine. Darnell's regular-season competition isn't very strong, which may account in part for his extraordinary stats through last weekend: 30.0 points, 25 rebounds and 8 blocks a game.
The most talented non-big man in the class of 1993 might be Jerry Stackhouse, a 6'6" forward from Kinston (N.C.) High. "I really believe he will be the best high school player to come out of North Carolina since Michael Jordan, a guy who will draw attention like Jordan, James Worthy and Dominique Wilkins did," says Gibbons. "He's one of the most exciting players in the country, equally capable of playing inside or out." At week's end Jerry was scoring 27.0 points a game.
Most listings of the elite of 1993 also include Randy Livingston, a 6'4" guard from Isidore Newman High in New Orleans; 6'6" forward Charles O'Bannon (the brother of UCLA forward Ed O'Bannon) of Artesia High in Lakewood, Calif.; 6'4" guard Ronnie Henderson of Murrah High in Jackson, Miss.; and Dontonio Wingfield, a 6'8" forward from Westover High in Albany, Ga. "I'm not sure this class can match the class of 1979, which was the best of all time," says Gibbons, "but it is definitely above average, with a chance to be really memorable."
Poetry in Motion
Never let it be said that Baltimore's Dunbar High, which has what's widely considered to be the best high school team in the nation, ducks the leading contenders. The Poets, who were 21-0 at week's end, have defeated a number of the country's top teams, including St. Anthony's of Jersey City, N.J. There's one team, however, that Dunbar will never beat and would probably be satisfied just to match—the 1982-83 edition of the Poets. That legendary squad, which went undefeated en route to winning the Division I state title, included three future first-round NBA draft choices, forward Reggie Williams and guards Reggie Lewis and Tyrone (Muggsy) Bogues.
The players on this season's team might be just as good. The top senior is forward Donta Bright, a 6'6" slasher with a quick first step who was voted the best player at last summer's Nike camp. Senior Michael Lloyd, a 6'2" leaper, is one of the premier point guards in the country. But many recruiters think forward Keith Booth, a powerful 6'7" junior and Bright's cousin, may turn out to be the best of the group.
If any of the current Poets (the nickname is derived from the school's namesake, poet Paul Laurence Dunbar) do reach the NBA, they won't have to adjust to the travel. Dunbar, which ran up a 14-0 record in five out-of-state tournaments, didn't play at home until mid-January and has had to move some of its home games to nearby Morgan State to accommodate its large following.
One of the keys to the Poets' history of success is that Dunbar, as the only high school in Baltimore to offer a health-careers program, qualifies as a magnet school. That means players who don't live in the Dunbar district can attend the school by enrolling in the health program. Indeed, four of the 12 members of this season's Poets do not reside in the district.
This Dunbar team appears destined to become state champion, but that doesn't mean coach Pete Pompey feels he can relax. "They walk around having fun," says Pompey of his players. "I walk around taking Maalox."
Chip off the Old Block
Kristen Somogyi of St. Peter's High in New Brunswick, N.J., is expected to fill the point guard vacancy at Virginia that will be created by the departure of senior Dawn Staley, the 1990-91 women's Player of the Year. If Kristen follows in Staley's footsteps as successfully as she followed in her father's, the Cavaliers will have nothing to worry about.
A 5'4" senior who was scoring 40.3 points a game as of Sunday, Kristen is rated by many observers as the best girls' point guard in the nation. Last Saturday she had 42 points against Red Bank (N.J.) Catholic to surpass the New Jersey high school career scoring record of 3,310 points set by her father, John. Kristen wears number 24 for St. Peter's, just as her dad did, and weirdly enough, he set the mark 24 years ago.
"It's mind-boggling to think that the person I'm eating breakfast with is not only going to break my record, but at the same high school," said John a few weeks before Kristen accomplished the feat. "What are the chances of that?"
Kristen is part player, part entertainer. She's partial to behind-the-back and no-look passes because, as she puts it, "everybody knows girls' basketball is boring. I try to make everybody enjoy the game."
Kristen has been booed on the road, sometimes by young fans who don't like her scoring so many points against their schools, sometimes by older fans who remember her father putting up big totals against their schools way back when. But Kristen clearly has enough self-confidence to deal with such treatment. When she was 10, she told her father she would break his record. John laughed then. Now he's smiling with pride.
Dare to Be Great
He is a 7-foot, 262-pound center from Nigeria with an Hakeem Olajuwon build and a Dikembe Mutombo reputation as a quick study, and in a few months he'll be playing for one of Patrick Ewing's old coaches. His name is Yinka Dare (pronounced DAH-ray), and those who have seen him play are hard-pressed to avoid the phrase "can't miss."
Yinka is a senior at Milford (Conn.) Academy who is headed for George Washington, where his coach will be Mike Jarvis, Ewing's coach at Cambridge (Mass.) Rindge and Latin High. Jarvis and Milford coach Scott Spinelli emphasize that Yinka, who played for the Nigerian national team before coming to the U.S. last May, is far from polished, but they agree that he is a potential franchise player. "The difficulty I have with him is trying to keep everything in perspective," says Jarvis. "To compare him to Patrick would be unfair, but it's not difficult to see what he could mean to the George Washington program."
Yinka's name doesn't show up on most lists of top high school seniors, partly because he didn't participate in the summer camps and tournaments in which most of the blue-chippers compete. Further, his statistics aren't spectacular—14.1 points, 10.3 rebounds, 6.1 blocks per game at week's end—because Milford, a team with five postgraduate players, routinely routs its opponents and Spinelli benches Yinka in order to hold down the score.
But Yinka, who was discovered by George Washington assistant Ed Meyers on a scouting trip to Nigeria last year, is intelligent—he has a 3.44 grade point average and speaks fluent English as well as three African dialects—and a fast learner. At the Top Notch basketball clinic last summer in Leominster, Mass., Yinka had so little trouble picking up the techniques he was taught that by the end of the camp he was teaching them.
"I've seen him steal the ball at mid-court, take it downcourt like a point guard and slam it," says Spinelli. "He's got brains, athletic ability and desire. You try not to build him up too much, but I look at the [high school] players they're talking about as the future great big men, and I know that a few years down the line, he'll be better than all of them."
A Home Away from Home
You read it here first: Keep an eye out for BYU in two years. The Cougars have seven Mormon players, most notably 7'6" center Shawn Bradley, who are abroad on church missions, and all are expected back for the 1993-94 season. Added to that mix will be Tony Woods, one of BYU's most unlikely recruits.
Tony is a 6'7", 225-pound senior forward for East Rome (Ga.) High. He helped lead his team to a state Class AA championship as a freshman and to a smaller-school Class A title as a junior, and at week's end East Rome was 18-0, with Tony scoring 23 points a game. Clemson, Florida, Georgia and Tulane were among the schools that recruited Tony, but he chose BYU, where he should fit in nicely on the Cougars' front line even if he doesn't exactly fit the profile of the average Brigham Young player.
"Some of the [recruiters] from other schools got pretty upset when I told them," Tony says. "They were like, 'BYU? You must be kidding.' They told me I'd be uncomfortable there because I'm not Mormon and because there aren't many other blacks on campus. At first, I was worried about those things, about what it would be like for me socially. To be honest, I had heard the term Mormon, but I didn't really understand what a Mormon was. But after I visited and talked to some of the players, I thought BYU was the right place for me."
Ultimately, says East Rome coach Dwight Henderson, "A big factor was that he wanted to change his environment, get away from some of the negative influences here. I guess BYU is about as big a change as you can get."
Like many high school players, Kenyon Murray, a 6'5" forward from Battle Creek (Mich.) High wasn't happy with his performance on the ACT. Kenyon, however, got a 21, easily exceeding the 17 needed for eligibility as a college freshman. He thought he was capable of a better score, so he took the test again and got a 23. Kenyon, probably the leading schoolboy player in Michigan, has signed a letter of intent with Iowa.... Gretchen Lacey, a heavily recruited 6-foot center from Shawnee Mission (Kans.) West High, is the daughter of onetime NBA center Sam Lacey.... Jarrett Lockhart is already drawing raves at St. John's. That's St. John's Elementary School in the Bronx, N.Y. Jarrett, 13, is a 6'2" eighth-grader who can dunk.
Stackhouse (42) could prove to be head and shoulders above an above-average class.
These Poets may be as well versed at their craft as their renowned '82-83 predecessors were.
Dare (dunking) is already being compared with two fellow Africans, Olajuwon and Mutombo.