Tracy Jackson and James Ratiff probably broke into very large grins when the no-dunk rule was rescinded for college and high school basketball.
The two widely recruited all-American forwards immediately added the popular stuff shot to their already filled bag of playground tricks and broke open many a game, not to mention a finger or two of an unwise defender looking to gain a reputation.
The 6-foot-5 Jackson of Pain Branch and 6-8 Raiff of Eastern, both repeaters from last year's first-team. All-Metropolitan, headline a contingent of rim-benders and sharpshooters on The Washington Post's 1977 All-Met team.
The players were selected by coaches and the paper's high school sports staff.
Jackson had an unbelievable season. The quiet senior led the area in scoring with a 30-point average and added 16 rebounds, six steals and five assists a game. While many area basketball enthusiasts would jokingly ask "what's a Paint Branch?" Jackson was taking the Panthers to the Maryland State Class B Tournament.
For his efforts, Jackson has been selected as the Player of the Year.
Against three of the area's strongest teams, De Matha, St. John's and Mackin. Jackson totaled 105 points and collected 44 rebounds. The Panthers lost tow of the three games but the opponents left with a better knowledge of what and where Paint Branch is.
Ratiff, the Rambler tower of power, averaged 25 points, 17 rebounds and four blocked shots per game, but to some people it wasn't enough. While Eastern was losing more games (15-7) than it has lost in seven years, Ratiff was under tremendous recruiting pressure.
"I guess I wanted to have a super senior year and tried too hard," said Ratiff. "Everything was rough in the beginning but it finally came together." Ratiff went over 30 points six times this season while working on his passing and defense. "When I get to college, I want to be a complete player," said Ratiff.
As Craig Harris goes, so goes the T. C. Express. The No. 1-ranked team in the area, T. C. Williams, raced unmercifully through Northern Virginia en route to a berth in the state tournament in Charlottesville this weekend.
Only 5-9, Harris played like 6-11 on many occasions with his lightning quick moves to the basket and fantastic range from the outside. He averaged 19 points for the well-balanced Titans and picked up six assists and five steals per contest. While the Titans were running up their 85-point-per-game average, the streak-shooting Harris would often hit five or six from the 20-foot range to break open the games early.
It was no accident St. John's dethroned Metro Conference dominator De Matha for the title this season. For openers, the Cadets whipped the Stags three times to earn a shot against McKinley for the city title. Every good team has a catalyst and Mark Pitchford, a 6-4 jump shooter, serves the purpose for the Cadets. A member of coach Joe Gallagher's "Iron Five," Pitchford pumped in 18.5 points per game.
"I like playing all the time," said Pitchford, a seond-team choice last year. "It's good for your confidence knowing you can make a mistake and you won't get snatched."
McKinley's racehorse style of basketball earned it the Interhigh championship. The Trainers' enforcer was Gary Jordan, a 6-5 shot-blocking whiz with a devil-may-care attitude. He averaged 16 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and three rejects per game.
McKinley recently had its 23-game winning streak snapped by Spingarn, but as long as Jordan is lurking in the middle of the Trainer pressing defense, one can make book McKinley won't lose two in a row.
Garcia Hopkins of DuVal could easily have had his name changed to "Tomahawk" and it would fit perfectly. It ever anyone could dominate a game, the 6-8 Hopkins would be the one. The lefthanded intimidating senior scored 21 points, pulled down 15 rebounds and blocked three shots per game to lead the Tigers to the Prince George's AA title. His two-handed coming-from-behind-the-head slam dunk destroyed many a coach's game plan as well as changing many opponents' defensive assignments.
Gwynn Park's run-and-shoot army cpatured six Maryland State titles in 10 years. This year's chief of staff, Mark (The General: Clark certainly did his part - 23 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots - in leading the Yellow Jackets to another (ho hum!) Prince George's AB title. Always expressionless, the 6-3 leaping Clark singlehandedly won many a game for Gwynn Park.
If onw wants a lengthy argument, just stand among a group of Interhigh followers and ask "who is the best player in the league?" A dime will get you a dollar that most of them will answer Kenny Matthews of Dunbar.
The No. 1 ranked team in the nation last year with a 29-0 record, the Crimson Tide lost four starters, leaving only the 6-3 Matthews to carry most of the load. His shoulders may have gotten heavy at times but it is hardly reflected in his 24-point, eight-rebound, six-assist and five-steal per game averages from his guard position.
The Tide won 18 of 23 games this year, many of them on the heroics of Matthews. He had the single-game high this year with 51 points.
Lee came within a missed shot of knocking off T. C. Williams in the Regional semifinal clash between the two Virginia powers. The Lancers' floor leader and leading scorer, Jay Atchison, called the best all-around player in Northern Virginia by many scouts and coaches, led his team to a 22-2 mark. He averaged 22 points, eight assists, seven steals and five rebounds while playing the kind of defense that has brought scouts from Virginia Tech, Old Dominion and Mississippi in droves.
Most of the Interhigh teams were glad to see Coolidge stalwart James (Stretch) Gregory, an Al-Met last year, graduate and go to Wisconsin. But up pops "Little Stretch," Claude, and it is the same grief all over again. The 6-7 scoring and rebounding machine, who may be better than his 6-8 brother, poured in 23 points per game and pulled down 15 rebounds per game. Gregory appears to be moving in third gear until a pesky guard drives down the lane looking for an easy layup. The referee then must retrieve the ball from the third row of the stands.
The "Stretch" brothers could send the Badgers all the way to the top of the Big 10.