Whispers that the brand of basketball played in D.C.'s Interhigh League is not what it once was are growing louder. This season, the excitement that usually has accompanied the big games and produced standing-room-only, cheering, banner-waving crowds has been missing.
Although Interhigh coaches and those of area colleges generally agree there are very few "big names or game-breakers" around the league this year, they insist the play is even better. They say more emphasis is being placed on strategy, thus yielding many uncharacteristically low-scoring games.
The 15 Interhigh teams have played 238 games this season and have scored 100 points or more only five times, 90 or more points four times and 80 or more 25 times. In contracst, Mount Vernon in Northern Virginia has scored 100 points five times while reaching the 90 mark on four occasions in 18 games.
"Overall, the Interhigh still has the best talent by far," said Spingarn Coach John Wood. "We don't have the one or two dominant teams we used to have because the talent is more evenly distributed."
Coaches have done their homework, Wood said. "That keeps the league more competitive. We have eight to 10 teams that can play with anyone and can beat each other. Coaches are tired of losing every year."
Defending Interhigh champion Dunbar is in first place with a 9-2 record, the losses coming at the hands of Coolidge, 45-42, and Theodore Roosevelt, 51-44.
Eastern defeated Roosevelt, 47-35, Tuesday in one of the league's lowest scoring games in years. These teams are tied for second place with 8-2 records. Cardozo is 8-3 and Spingarn, Ballou and McKinley are right behind at 7-3.
Only Bell (1-10), Randall (0-11), Phelps (2-9) and Wilson (3-8) have been eliminated from the eight-team playoffs Feb. 23-25. But even those four teams gave several of the league leaders a battle before falling.
"This league is rough. I know I have a good team and it's going to be hard for us to get in the playoffs," said Frank Williams, whose Coolidge squad is 5-5 with four games to play. "The league is so well-balanced and no one has any real size (except Eastern).Four years ago, you knew who the dominant teams and players were. A lot of the teams now have real good players but they can't dominate the game.
"Look at Roosevelt. They play excellent team ball. Coach (Arthur) Linder could turn them loose and let them run up and down the court and lose, 94-92. But he prefers to dictate the tempo of the game, make you play his way."
Roosevelt, enjoying its finest season in a dozen years, is 12-2 overall while averaging only 62 points per game.
Even Eastern, generally regarded as one of the best fast-breaking units ever produced in the Washington area, has begun to walk the ball up court. As a result, the Ramblers are averaging only 66 points a game, nine points fewer than last season.
"You look at the Dunbar-Eastern box score (Dunbar won, 51-45) and it looks like a nightmare," said Eastern Coach Herman Cannon. "No one scored very many points. Everyone is using these switching zone defenses and you want to take your time and select good shots. Teams have stopped running and gunning. I know we aren't scoring nearly as much as in past years, but I'm not playing deliberate ball on purpose. Teams force us to."
George Washington University Coach Bob Tallent said he didn't think the low-scoring games were an indication of a lack of Interhigh talent.
"The good players are definitely still there. The coaching philosophies have changed somewhat," said Tallent, who added he is interested in quite a few of the D.C. players. "Some years you have great players, some years you don't. Low scorers are not necessarily bad."
While every other jurisdiction in the area boasts at least four 20-point-per-game scorers, the Interhigh has none. Spingarn point guard Larry Geddie is the league's top scorer with a 19.0 average.
Some coaches feel one reason the Interhigh play has fallen off a bit is because many District families have moved to the suburbs.
"It's a fact kids have moved out of the District. I know our league (Prince George's AA) is about the strongest we've had in years," said Potomac Coach Ron Hart. "The talent is spread out now and everybody has a little bit."
Coolidge's Williams agreed.
"We've lost many kids to suburban Maryland and Virginia," he said. "That's why I'm not surprised their caliber of ball has improved tremendously.We still have excellent players. They're just spread out over the city a little more."