Spingarn reigned as Washington's king of basketball for years until the mid-60s when the muscle of Dunbar, Eastern, De Matha, McKinley and Mackin demanded a share of the power.
Having watched such standouts as Elgin Baylor (Los Angeles Lakers), Dave Bing (Detroit, Washington, Boston) and Ollie Johnson (Boston) and Ollie Johnson (Boston) headline their way out of the Northeast school, Green Wave fans might understandably have been frustrated in recent years with less than spectacular basketball.
But the 1979-80 version of Spingarn basketball, which begins practice today, might eclipse even the greatest teams of the past. Heading the lineup will be All-American Earl Jones. A recent transfer student from Mount Hope High School in West Virginia, Jones' credentials are these: 6-foot-11, 210 pounds, two-time High School All-America and an average of 25 points and 15 rebounds a game.
He was the first high school sophomore since Kareem Abdul-jabbar to be selected for the Parade magazine All-America team.
Jones is still getting used to his new surroundings, and that, coupled with his normally lowkey posture, makes the soft-spoken athlete an almost monosyllabic interview.
"Are you enjoying Washington?" brings a spare, "It's okay." "Do you like your new school?" draws a a ditto. But we'll see him do this communicating on the basketball court.
He's not the only weapon in the Green Wave arsenal. On the front line alongside Jones will be 6-foot-3 forward Clifton Cottom, 6-foot-7 center-forward John Jones (no relation) and 6-foot-3 Randall Cash.
Cottom is a smaller version of Wes Unseld, with more quickness. His bulk (210 pounds) helped him lead Spingarn in rebounding (11 per game) last season while averaging over 14 points. He is generally regarded as one of the toughest inside players in the area.
Griffin is another one of those players who takes up a lot of room around the basket. At 200 pounds, he thrives on inside position to snare rebounds and score. With two years of considerable playing time under his belt, he is one of the more sought-after players in the area.
John Jones could be the most improved big man in the area. After a slow start last season, he came on the help Spingarn capture the competitive Interhigh tournament. He scored a whopping 39 points and pulled down 27 rebounds against powerful DeMatha (which had eyes for Big Earl) in the highly regarded Jeleff League this summer.
Cash is high-jumping, tenacious defensive player who is usually put on the opponents' best offensive player. His shooting touch improved over the summer, and he has the versatility to play guard or forward.
The backcourt is also loaded and deep with such seasoned performers as Lenoid Coleman, Bruce Perry, Arthur Tyson and transfer Jeffrey King. a
The man responsible for meshing all this talent together into a cohesive unit is John Wood. A Spingarn alum, Wood has compiled a 118-55 win-loss record during his seven-year reign. In the process, his teams have qualified for the Interhigh tournament four times, winning twice. During six of the seven years, he has had at least one player selected All-Met.
And he says going in for the season, "this team has more potential and depth when any team that I have coached since I have been here."
But he quickly pointed out that it's not going to be easy. "The Interhigh just may be one of the toughest, if not the toughest, leagues in the entire country.
"In this league, you can never let up. I know that people are saying that we are a cinch to take it and all that, but we are going to have to work as hard as ever. No one is going to give us anything. We are going to have to work our butts off to win."
Some contend that Wood may run into a problem of finding enough playing time to keep all his players happy. To that, he responds, "My philosophy is that of role playing. Each player in my system has a role to fulfill. Once he accepts and undersands that role, there is no problem. Besides, the more depth you have, the better off you are."
The Interhigh athletic program, which has suffered from a low budget for years, stands to benefit greatly from showcasing Spingarn's team in general and Earl Jones in particular. The team has already accepted an invitation to play in a preliminary game before a Washington Bullets contest later this month. They will surely be an attraction whenever they play this season.
Earl Jones feels that his transfer to Spingarn will benefit him in the future.
"I decided to transfer to Spingarn because I heard that Coach Wood is a good coach, and I knew that the Interhigh is a strong league that will help me better develop my skills for college," he said.