The U.S. all-stars were running up and down the floor yesterday in the tiny gym at St. Stephen's School, going through their drills without incident.
Then Brad Daugherty, a 6-foot-11 stilt from North Carolina, grabbed a pass and twisted in the air, intent on slamming the ball through the net. The dunk attempt ricocheted off the rim with a loud clang and shot nearly 20 feet into the air.
"Hold it!" hollered U.S. Coach Bob Wade, a powerfully built man dwarfed by his players.
"Some of you can dunk the ball," Wade began in a low, even voice. "So if you're going to dunk the ball, make sure it's going to go in. Otherwise, put it off the glass.
"Now, let's go," Wade shouted. As he turned to walk away, his lecture finished, a grin spread across his face.
The next three players down the floor dunked the ball.
As usual, the difference between the U.S. all-stars and the local team of high school stars scheduled to meet in tonight's Capital Classic at 8 p.m. at Capital Centre can be measured in inches.
The visitors average nearly 6 feet 6 1/2. Three of them are 6-10 or more. Every one of them, from 6-1 Montel Hatcher of Santa Monica, Calif., to 7-foot Brad Lohaus of Phoenix, can dunk the ball.
The locals, who have lost the last two games after winning three in a row, average 6-3. Their tallest players, at 6-8, are Len Bias of Northwestern and Vernon Butler of High Point.
"I have to keep reminding myself I'm in a fantasyland," said Wade, who has led Dunbar of Baltimore to a 52-0 record the last two seasons and boasts an 11-year record of 168-16.
"It's a coach's dream; every one of these guys can dunk the ball," Wade said, shaking his head. "But then a dunk's still only two points. And dunking alone doesn't make them super players."
For Wade and his players, tonight's game is not considered an exhibition. In addition to the standard two-a-day practices Tuesday and yesterday, Wade planned to run the players for an hour this morning.
The local players meanwhile are limbering up their neck muscles. They will be looking up a lot.
If the Metro all-stars have an advantage, it is in the back court, where Mackin's Johnny Dawkins, South Lakes' Michael Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt's Linwood Davis possess exceptional quickness and good outside shots.
"Yeah, we're much bigger, but you can counteract height with quickness, and their guards have quickness," Wade said.
But the U.S. stars will not give up much in the back court. The most highly rated player on their team is 6-foot-4 Bruce Douglas of Quincy, Ill., who will attend Illinois in the fall.
Besides Bias and Butler, up front the locals have Terry Graves (6-7) of McNamara, Darryl Webster (6-7) of Coolidge and Mike Alexander (6-6) of De Matha. Jeff Baxter of Carroll, Doug Turner of Seneca Valley, Gary Potts from St. John's and Bill Hughes of Good Counsel fill out the local squad.
The best of the remaining players from the local team will meet in a scholarship game at 6 p.m.