In most years past, it was easy to name the area's best high school basketball players.
Names that came quickly to mind were "Jojo" (Anthony Hunter, Mackin and Colorado), "Hawkeye" (Charles Whitney, De Matha and N.C. State), "Big Sky" (Craig Shelton) and "Bay Bay" (John Duren, both of Dunbar and Georgetown), "A.D." (Adrian Dantley, De Matha and L. A. Lakers), "Turk" (James Tillman, Eastern and Eastern Kentucky), "Rat" (James Ratiff, Eastern and Howard), and "Tracy" (Jackson, Paint Branch and Notre Dame).
Area coaches agree there is no dominant figure this season but, overall; the prep crop is better than most years.
"i'm impressed with this year's group of kids," said Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell."I've seen several very good players and we're interested in a few of them."
Penn State Coach Dick Harter, here with his staff to watch the De Matha-Mackin showdown Tuesday night at Capital Centre, said he was impressed with several players.
"The D.C. area has the best players, maybe with the exception of Los Angeles," said Harter. "There are at least 15 every year who go major college."
Asked whom he liked in particular, Harter named De Matha guards Sidney Lowe and Derek Whittenburg.
Lowe and Whittenburg are regarded as the finest pair of guards in the area. The 6-foot Lowe is an excellent ball-handler, penetrator and passer. He rarely makes a mistake and can shoot.
With Whittenburg hobbled with a broken toe for eight games, Lowe picked up the scoring load, averaging 15 points and eight assists per game.
"A Sidney Lowe comes along once in a great while," said W.T. Woodson Coach Red Jenkins.
Georgetown Coach John Thompson agreed. "Lowe is an excellent guard. I also like (Kenny) Payne at Mackin," Thompson said. "We have some fine players around. I think this is a better year overall in terms of nymbers. Thurl Bailey (Bladensburg) is a good one."
Lowe took only five shots in his team's 67-55 victory over Mackin, electing to pass off to red-hot Whittenburg and run the offense. Lowe also did a good job of shadowing Payne, holding him to five field goals in 17 tries.
Whittenbur, also 6 feet, excites crowds with his flying leaps to the basket for finger-roll layups and vicious dunks, all varieties. The senior who won a slam-dunk contest against such notables as Maryland's A1 King and Duke's Gene Banks two years ago, is extremely quick and hits the 15- to 18-foot jumper often enough to average 22.1 points per game.
Another excellent back-court combination is Spingarn's Larry Geddie, the Interhigh's leading scorer (19.0), and All-Met Diego McCoy. The 6-1 McCoy, with spider-like arms, has been hampered by elbow and ankle injuries, but he is still averaging 14 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and five steals for the high-scoring Green Wave (14-2).
Mackin floor leader Payne uses his herky-jerky moves to get open for driving layups or 15-foot jumpers. In trouble, Payne passes off to 6-6 leaper Kevin Payne, one of the top forwards in the area. Mackin's Kevin Black, with an impressive 18-point and 14-rebound performance against DeMatha, is tough both inside and out. In the loss to De matha, Kevin Payne and Black contributed 33 of their team's 55 points.
The area also has an impressive group of pivot men. Bladensburg's 6-11 tower of strength and the dean of the big guys is Bailey. The rail-thin senior, who would rather block shots than stuff, is throwing down 20 points and grabbing 14 rebounds per game.
A step behind and a few inches shorter than Bailey are Robinson's 6-8 Mike Tissaw, who has announced plans to attend Duke, O'Connell's 6-7 Kevin Darmody, who will attend South Carolina, W.T. Woodson's 6-6 Pete Holbert and Gonzaga's 6-3 Tom Sluby.
Sluby, a strong rebounder, recently burned Oxon Hill for 46 points on near-perfect shooting from the field and free-throw line.
Tissaw is Mr. Aggressive. An intimidating type, Tissaw honed his shooting touch over the summer and now is about as effective outside as inside.
"He'll be an even better player in college," said Woodson Coach Jenkins, whose team "held" Tissaw to 32 points in Woodson's 90-66 win this year. "Right now, he has to play center and the little guys get in his shoestrings. In college, Tissaw will be a great forward."
The one player Jenkins and other Northern Virginia coaches rave about is Holbert.
"Out here, you start with him," said Jenkins, admitting favoritism.
Holbert may be the best pure shooter this side of Kevin Grevey. He led the tough D.C. summer Jelleff League in scoring with an average of 27 points and is currently among the top five in the area with a 23.3 mark.
O'Connell's Darmody opened the season with a 45-point effort against McNamara and hasn't stopped filling the hole. The left-handed bank-shot artist is equally effective taking the ball low or at the top of the key. Either way, look for him to connect on the way to his 29.4 average.