In the seven years Henry Lindsey has been head basketball coach at Cardozo, he has had three of the area's leading scorers. Yet the bundle of jump shots and twisting layups thrown in by Michael Wright, Lyndon DeBellotte (now at the University of the District of Columbia) and Earl Moore (George Mason University) were not nearly enough to guarantee the Clerks a winning record or a spot in the Interhigh League playoffs.
"We had scorers but we never had the inside people or overall balance we needed to win," said Lindsey.
"This year, we are young but we do have some people taller than 6 feet 1. We only have three people from last year's team back, but with them and the young kids, we have the makings of my best team ever."
Cardozo, which once featured one of the top basketball programs in the metropolitan area, has not had the players to compete with Dunbar, Coolidge and Spingarn in the past few seasons. Entering this week's games, Cardozo is 6-8, 4-5 in the league, but that includes a big 62-60 upset of Eastern. And had Cardozo made a few more foul shots, the Clerks might have beaten kingpins Dunbar and Coolidge.
"We missed 14 free throws against Anacostia (in an 87-80 loss), 12 against Dunbar (in a 79-77 loss) and two front ends of one-and-ones in the final 46 seconds against Coolidge (in a 64-62 overtime loss)," Lindsay said. "You know what we have been working on lately."
Cardozo also lost to Mackin by two points and McKinley by eight points. "These close games are killing me," Lindsey said.
Leading the Clerks are 6-4 juniors Marcellus Anderson and Jerry Berry and sophomore William Davis. The guards are 6-0 senior Jimmy McClurkin and 5-7 junior Gregory Bullock.
"Unlike the other teams, when we had to depend on person to do everything, each night one of those guys comes though," Lindsey said. "And Thomas Watkins and Terrance Raycrow have come off the bench to contribute a lot. We usually play eight or nine men a game with no dropoff in talent, another luxury we haven't enjoyed here."
Lindsey said the heavy schedule has hurt his team. Because of bad weather, the league has been forced to schedule three games in a week. Last week, school was in session only four days (closed in commemoration of Martin Luther King's birthday), but some schools still played three times.
"You can't expect high school kids to play that type of schedule and give all you have each night," Lindsey said. "You can't practice or prepare for the other team. You just go out and play and make adjustments along the way."
Despite the sub-.500 mark, Lindsey is confident his team can win 12 or 13 games and secure one of the six playoff spots.
"We've played and lost to the top three teams. The key is to beat the bottom teams or the ones right in the middle with us," he said. "We're going to make youthful mistakes and it's going to be tough. It'll probably come down to the last game."
Ballou, after a 2-9 start, has won three of its last four games to get back in the Interhigh playoff race. The Knights defeated Wilson, Anacostia and Eastern before losing to Cardozo last Friday. Going into this week's games, Ballou had a 3-6 league record and is battling Anacostia, Cardozo, Eastern and H.D. Woodson for fifth place.
Coolidge, Dunbar, McKinley and defending champion Spingarn hold down the top four spots.
Coolidge took over undisputed first place in the league with a convincing 81-67 triumph over previously unbeaten Dunbar last week.
The regular-season winner will earn the right to meet the Metro Conference champion for the city title at Cole Field House in March. The tournament winner (or runner-up, should the regular-season champion win the tournament) will play the Metro Conference second-place finisher in the preliminary game.
H.D. Woodson, the nation's top-ranked girls basketball team, virtually has ended the Interhigh title race. At the halfway mark, the Warriors are 9-0 in the league (14-0 overall) and have convincing wins over contenders Wilson (60-38) and Theodore Roosevelt (93-44).
Woodson gets its next big test Feb. 2nd in New York against nationally ranked Christ the King.