Last year, the U.S.S.R. junior national basketball team kicked off its 10-city tour by trouncing the Metro All-Stars, 81-66, before 4,421 at the Capital Centre.
The sparse crowd and the rather shoddy performance by the Metro team indicated one thing. Area fans and/or the players had had enough basketball for one season.
The second annual Metro-U.S.S.R. game will be played Thursday at Robinson High School at 8 p.m. but the area cast that put on a show in the Capital Classic will not be the same.
Only three of the 11-player squad that fell to the United States All-Stars, 112-92, in the classic last month will play against the Russian youth champions.
"Yes, I'm disappointed and a little discouraged that those fellows decided not to play," said Metro coach Red Jenkins. "Maybe we won't have what most people consider to be the best players in the area but with all this talent in the Washington area, even if you get the second-best seven or eight, you've got a good team."
Jenkins, who had coached at W.T. Woodson for 15 years, has assembled another team and firmly believes "we can win."
Defeating the talented, tall visitors has been quite a chore for the U.S. teams in past years, even with the best players available. Since the U.S. U.S.S.R. series started three years ago, the Russians have won 27 of the 42 games. Last year they won six of nine.
The Metro players who decided not to play for reasons ranging from being unable to make the daily practices to fatigue are 6-10 Justin Ellis of city champion St. John's, 6-9 Pete Budko of Loyola of Baltimore, 6-7 Garcia Hopkins of DuVal, 6-8 James Ratiff of Eastern, 6-5 Art Jones of Hampton. The Washington Post Player of the Year 6-5 Tracy Jackson of Paint Branch, 6-3 Kenny Matthews of Dunbar and 5-9 Craig Harris of No. 1 ranked T.C. Williams.
Harris became the latest drop-out although it wasn't entirely his fault. The All-Met guard was selected to play in the Virginia State All-Star game in July and a Virginia High School League rule prohibits any player from playing in the state game if he participates in another postseason contest in the state. His 6-6 teammate, Anthony Young, and Rich Semeta of West Springfield were picked as replacements. They also were forced to drop out in lieu of the state game.
Bob Geoghan, promoter of the Capital Classic and the U.S.S.R. contests, thinks the timing of the game is not good.
"I'm not sure this game is a good idea this time of the year," said Geoghan. "Once the Capital Classic is over, maybe the players can't get motivated to play anymore.Maybe they could care less.
"Last year, the players had a lackadaisical attitude. They took the game as a joke and got blown away," he said. "The Russians don't make mistakes.They're in good shape and have probably been practicing six months. If this game doesn't go well. I might not promote it next year."
Jenkins doesn't have time to worry about next year. He will have his hands full coping with the Russians, who have eight players 6-7 or taller.
"If we can get the ball, we can run, but that's a big if," said Jenkins, whose tallest player is only 6-7. "In the Capital Classic, we had the cream of the crop and were outrebounded 78-43. These kids we have now may be hungrier and eager to show their skills."
The revamped Metro lineup includes Eastern's Rodney Wright, St. John's Mark Pitchford, McKinley's Gary Jordan, T.C. Williams' Willie Jackson and George Richardson, W.T. Woodson's Armand Mancini, Oxon Hill's Booty Neal, Georgetown Prep's Dave Mulquin. Wakefield's Gerald Sherill and Flint Hill's Paul Keller and Mike Pepper.