Dunbar and De Matha.
One school is public, predominantly black, in a low-income neighborhood of Northwest Washington. The other is a predominantly white, Catholic private school off Rte. 1 in Hyattsville.
Their similarities begin and end with highly successful basketball programs and head coaches. Both men, one black, the other white, are considered among the finest high school coaches in the country. Joe Dean Davidson of Dunbar and Morgan Wootten of De Matha are low-key, intense, compassionate, unselfish and brilliant strategists. Occasionally, they are controversial.
Their teams are regarded as the class of their respective leagues. They have compiled the two best won-lost records in the area for the past five years and have played for the city title three times in that period.
In interviews with both men, their coaching colleagues and players past and present, the reasons for their success soon become obvious.
Davidson is in his eighth year at Dunbar. Going into this season, his teams had a cumulative record of 144-32, with four Interhigh League titles and one city championship. His current team is 14-0, ranked first in the metropolitan area and second in the Basketball Weekly national rankings, generally accepted as the best poll in the country.
Wootten is in his 25th year at De Matha and had a 652-91 won-lost record coming into this year. He has turned down numerous college coaching offers, including a reported six-figure salary to take over the head job at North Carolina State last year. The Stags are 16-2, ranked second in the area and sixth in the nation.
Neither coach is eager to talk about a possible fourth city tital meeting at Cole Field House in March. But the mention of such a matchup lights up their eyes. They have a genuine admiration and respect for one another, despite the longstanding feud between the Interhigh League and the Metro Conference. Over the years, Interhigh coaches have complained about Metro teams "stealing" inner-city players from their neighborhoods.
"I went to De Matha because I wanted to play for someone who knew the game so well," said Sidney Lowe, a former De Matha all-Met and now the starting point guard at N.C. State. "He knew how to relate to ballplayers. It was a relaxed atmosphere when he was around. He could bring out the best in his players, make an average player look good and a good player look great."
Wootten, always the diplomat, says he has a good relationship with most of the Interhigh coaches and bears no bad feelings toward the league.
"There are certainly enough kids in this area for everyone to have good teams," Wootten said. "Our league has rules prohibiting recruiting anyway. Besides, we don't have to do it. Many kids know about our program and want to come here. It certainly doesn't bother me that the D.C. kids want to come here. Joe Davidson has had some very good players. He is an excellent coach and his kids are very well disciplined. He keeps them right under his thumb. You don't go into a game with Dunbar thinking you will outcoach him."
Davidson, however, refuses to take the credit for his players being models of decorum on and off the court.
"These are kids with good attitudes and I can't take the credit for that," Davidson said. "I've always wanted to work with youngsters and I just try to instill in them many of the priorities I consider important. I have had instances where I had to put a couple of players off because I felt they got their priorities confused. But basically, these kids know why they come to school."
Davidson has been accused by his peers of subtly steering the good players to Dunbar. Davidson says "players go where they see opportunities and where people are working hard."
Because of the D.C. public school system's loose rules governing what schools students should attend, the athletic powers have been able to stockpile the better players. Many of Davidson's coaching foes say he and his assistants have tried to sway players away from other teams.
"Maybe I'm jealous because Joe and his assistants have a better rap than I do," said one Interhigh coach. "Most of us try to get the good junior high kids but some of us try to steal kids already in high school. Joe has had a few good, no, very good players suddently transfer in. We don't know about the others who tried but didn't get in or one reason or another.
"I don't think it's right but you'll get killed if you don't recruit. Right now, Dunbar gets most of the good players. Of course, when you're winning the kids will want to go to your school. But a lot of coaches don't like Joe because they think he oversteps his boundaries a bit."
Said another Interhigh coach, "No, I don't particularly like Joe Dean. But he's a helluva coach, and I would be the first one to admit that. I really respect him because his teams are so well-schooled on the game. He's a good coach and no one can take that away from him."
When asked to describe himself, Davidson said, "I feel I'm a good teacher, I'm concerned about others and I'm very conscientious. Maybe, because I'm quiet, people leave me alone. I have to admit, though, I might allow the kids to get closer to me than adults."
Over the last seven seasons, Davidson has coached Joe Thweatt, Steve Dade, Ken Matthews, Stacey Robinson, Craig Shelton and John Duren. This year he has two of the best players in the country, Anthony Jones and Sylvester Charles.
Shelton, a former player at Georgetown and now a reserve forward with the Atlanta Hawks, could talk about Davidson for hours.
Matthews, an N.C. State forward and another former Dunbar all-Met, said Davidson always found time because he wanted to see each member of his team improve.
"He was a hard worker and made us believe in ourselves," Matthews said. "He got us together and made us pull for one another. He would joke with us for a while but then the next thing you knew we would be hard at work again."
Said Davidson, "Maybe I put a little pressure on them but it's not intentional. When you're ranked first, people expect certain things. I don't set objectives but I want the kids to improve individually."
One person who doesn't mind the hard work or the criticism from Davidson is all-America Jones. "He has worked with me on all phases of my game to help me be a well-rounded player," Jones said. "We listen to him because he knows what he's talking about. He's a good coach and because of him, I think I've improved each year."
Two years ago, Davidson wasn't sure he would return as the Crimson Tide coach. He underwent a heart bypass operation and missed the first two months of the basketball season.
Still, he wants to become a college coach some day.
"I feel I can coach on any level of college but I realize the difficulty in being taken directly from the high school ranks," he said. "I'm not ruling out the possibility of going somewhere as an assistant but I feel I could be a head coach. People know I'm here. I believe the opportunities are there for those who are willing to work hard. But on the other hand, I don't play the game of politics too well and that might be my biggest drawback. I just come to dunbar every day and work with my kids."
Wooten's personality is exactly the opposite. The man who spurned North Carolina State and what was reportedly one of the most lucrative contracts to be offered a high school coach is outgoing, personable and a master of playing the game of "political basketball.
Wootten has also been accused of recruiting. Since many of his players did attend D.C. schools, some Inter-high coaches feel Wootten, his assistants and other so-called "well-meaning" friends of the De Matha program have steered many excellent athletes to the Hyattsville school.
Many area coaches prefer not to play De Matha during the year. They feel Wootten intimidates officials.
"He has blackballed so many refs, the few who work his games are going to give him a break," said one coach. "And the breaks always come in the final minutes of the last period."
Still, Al McGuire, former head coach at Marquette and now a television color man, once referred to Wootten as "one of, if not the top high-school coach in America."
Joe Gallagher, St. John's longtime coach, has known Wootten for 30 years. Wootten was Gallagher's assistant for three years before moving to De Matha. And for the past 22 seasons, the two have waged a friendly but intense rivalry.
"The one thing I've always admired about Morgan's teams is the way they never lose their poise or get flustered," said Gallagher, who also runs a summer camp with Wootten and is one of the few coaches to have some measure of success against him on the court. "We beat them last week (52-51), the sixth time in the last 10 games, and that was one of the few times we've been able to apply enough pressure to win a close one."
A history teacher and an avid reader of ancient literature, Wootten always goes first class and plays as many as a dozen road games a year against some of the top teams in the nation. Whenever the subject of Wootten's leaving arises, he tactfully avoids the issues and quickly begins talking about his present situation.
"I've always been happy at De Matha. My roots are here, my family and friends are here and I have no regrets about not going to State," said Wootten.
Wootten's "wait-your-turn" system might have turned off some players but the Stag players don't see bothered by it at all.
"He kept everyone happy, you had a role and he made sure you did it," said Dereck Whittenburg, another former Stag all-Met and Lowe's back court mate at N.C. State. "The 15th man under Coach Wootten wasn't unhappy because of the way things were organized. That was the key. De Matha basketball was a good experience. He believed in fundamentals but we had a lot more freedom on the court than most people thought."
For the past 24 years, no fewer than 90 De Matha seniors have been awarded college scholarships, every graduate for the past 20 years. Wootten has sent nine into the professionals, including Adrian Dantley (Utah), currently the leading scorer in the league, Kenny Carr (Cleveland) and Hawkeye Whitney (Kansas City.)
Many of Wootten's assistants have gone on to better jobs. Nearly 20 former De Matha assistant coaches have either become high school head coaches -- including Good Counsel's Bernie McGregor, George Mason's Jim Spiridopolous, Paint Branch's Hank Galotta, Carroll's Jack Bruen, and Springbrook's Bob Molloy (football) -- or college assistants. Of the latter, Marty Fletcher moved on to N.C. State, Perry Clark to Penn State, Eddie Fogler to North Carolina, Terry Truax to Colorado and Ray Hite to Western Kentucky.
Like Davidson, Wootten runs a highly structured practice. Precision drills, emphasis on the finer points and maintaining poise regardless of the situation are empasized. Both teams are superb defensively, accurate at the free-throw line, commit few mental mistakes and adapt quickly to game situations.
"I think the Interhigh and the Metsro are the two best balanced leagues anywhere," Wootten said. "You'd have to go a long way before finding two better leagues. Over the past years, the teams on the East Coast have been dominant. Teams in D.C., Philadelphia and New York are consistently rated highly and demonstrate they deserve the honors."
And in Washington, Morgan Wootten and Joe Dean Davidson are two reasons why