In the late '60s and early '70s, Eastern High School's boys basketball team was the talk of the city. Under former coach A.B. Williamson (now at Howard), then Herman Cannon, the Ramblers built a solid program that took a back seat to no one. Then the inevitable happened.
"Everyone got stronger. Oh, we always finished above .500 and made the playoffs but couldn't get over the top," said Cannon, now in his 10th season as head coach at Eastern. "We've had a lot of obstacles to overcome. But we were patient and hopefully, we're on the way back."
Eastern's reclamation project suffered a major setback before the season began when the gymnasium burnt. Spingarn, Dunbar and Coolidge looked very strong and Eastern was written off as another middle-of-the-pack team.
No one seemed surprised when Eastern was beaten by highly regarded All Saints, 74-64, in its season debut. That is, no except the Ramblers.
"We felt we should have won the game," Cannon said. "We got off to a very shaky start then played them even the rest of the way. We knew then how good we could be."
After that loss, Eastern won eight consecutive games. Friday, the streak was halted by No. 7-ranked Dunbar, 62-59. Still, the No. 10 Ramblers are ranked in the metropolitan area's top 10 for the first time in several years.
Cannon credits an all-senior lineup of 6-foot-7 center Derrick Daniels, 6-6 forward Charles Hatton and 6-4 Jeffrey Holloman and 6-1 guards Curtis Daniels and Vincent Reed for the Ramblers' best start in a decade.
"These guys have been with me three years and everyone understands their roles," Cannon said. "All of them are playing very well and that's no exaggeration. Sure we have high hopes but we think we can accomplish our four goals."
Eastern has already accomplished one -- winning its holiday tournament last month. The other three will take some doing.
"We want to win the (Interhigh) league title, the league tournament and beat DeMatha ("We know they'll be there") in the city championship game," Cannon said. "If we continue to play well, these can be realities."
High School all-Americas 7-2 Tito Horford of Houston and 6-3 Jeff Lebo of Carlisle, Pa., are among four players to accept invitations to play in the 12th annual McDonald's Capital Classic at the Capital Centre, March 31.
Also expected to play are 6-10 Doug Roth of Kxoxville and 6-6 Kevin Madden of Robert E. Lee of Staunton, Va. Lebo, whose father Dave coached the U.S. All Stars in 1984, recently outscored DeMatha's 6-10 Danny Ferry, 41-29, in a matchup of two of the nation's top players. DeMatha won the game though, 81-63.
Both Lebo and Madden have signed letters of intent with the University of North Carolina. Horford is heading to Houston.
Ferry is expected to play for the Capital All-Stars.
Tickets for the game will go on sale Jan. 18 at all TicketCenter outlets in the metropolitan area.
All Saints' all-Met Michael Best has not played since the first week in December. Athletic Director Calvin Ash said Best was being held out until he completed some academic assignments. Best, a 6-3 senior, is expected to return around Jan. 20.
Should he return, he would be in the lineup when the Tonies, ranked fourth with a 7-1 record going into this week's games, take on third-ranked Flint Hill, at 7:30 p.m., Jan. 31 at Georgetown. The game was originally scheduled for last week but was moved to a larger site. The teams meet again in February.