or Bob Wade's Poets, meter and rhyme schemes are irrelevant. Discipline, repetition and being competitive are what count.

"We do things over and over again so that when we get into pressure situations we don't have to think. We just respond," said Wade, 37, coach of Baltimore's nationally ranked Dunbar High School.

Wade played football and basketball at Dunbar. Then at Morgan State, he concentrated on football and was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1967. He played with four NFL teams, including the Washington Redskins in 1969, before his career ended in 1971 when doctors had to reconnect the bones in his right wrist after it was shattered in a game.

"I use myself as a prime example for the kids," Wade said. "Someday you'll have to give up ball and have something to fall back on. It's our job, on this level, to familiarize kids with the rules of life. Life is just too competitive."

Georgetown Coach John Thompson agrees with that philosophy. "Because of what happened to him as a professional, he has not gotten caught up in the fantasy of sports," Thompson said. "His kids usually have things in a realistic perspective. He's a tough coach and his kids are used to working. And winning."

Wade began winning at Baltimore's Edmondson High School and accumulated a 36-17 record with "average ballplayers." Since taking over for Bill (Sugar) Cane at Dunbar in 1975, Wade has a 185-14 record; he was Baltimore metropolitan coach of the year in 1977 and 1978.

Last year his Poets were undefeated in 29 games. This year they are 2-0 and rated No. 2 in Street and Smith's 1982 preseason rankings.

Tonight at 9, they will play De Matha (2-0 and ranked third by Street and Smith's) in the first round of the Beltway Classic at Towson Centre on the Towson State campus. Coach Morgan Wootten of De Matha thinks he knows what to expect.

"His teams are disciplined," Wootten said of Wade's team. "He stresses defense and he's got his team well under control. You won't see a player of his averaging 30 points a game. He likes balance, so it's hard to stop his teams. They play as a unit and that is the toughest type of team to play against."

"You'll never see a Dunbar kid leading the city in scoring," Wade agreed. "We have five guys who could score 20 points a game, but our kids are unselfish."

Then, ever the pragmatist, Wade said, "Besides, if we depend on one guy and he sprains an ankle or gets in foul trouble, then we'd have problems."

Dunbar graduated seven of 15 players last season, including Gary Graham, who went to Nevada-Las Vegas, and David Wingate, now at Georgetown.

Despite the graduations, "we look good on paper," Wade said. "I'm not so much worried about the starting five as I am interested in the sixth, seventh and eighth men.

"Our bench is stronger than last year. We have eight returning from last year and they all saw a lot of action because we were able to use them."

Wade calls Reggie Williams, a 6-7 member of Street and Smith's 1982 preseason all-American first team, "one of the smoothest kids I've ever been associated with. He's tremendous under pressure. Offensively, he knows what he wants to do at all times."

Last season, Williams led the Poets in scoring with a 23-point average and in rebounding with an average of 12.

The Poets' Tyrone Bogues, a preseason honorable mention all-America, was chosen most valuable player at the Harlem Classic in Madison Square Garden last December. "Words cannot describe what (Bogues) can do." Wade said. "He might be 5-3, but the things he can do on the court, offensively and defensively, raise his stature."

Tim Dawson, another preseason honorable mention, jumps well, rebounds well and is aggressive around the basket. "He's dominating inside," Wade said.

Keith James (6-4 guard), Michael Brown (6-4 swing man) and Reginald Lewis (6-6 forward) are expected to fill the gaps left by the graduation of Wingate and Graham. The team's basic strategy should remain the same.

"We like pressure defense all over the court," Wade said. "From base line to base line. We like to use multiple sets and we try to be aggressive. We don't like (other teams) walking the ball up on us."

Dunbar's first real test of the year will come in this weekend's tournament. The Dunbar-De Matha game will follow a meeting of Calvert Hall (3-0 and on a 38-game winning streak) and Carroll (3-0) at 7. The consolation game will be Sunday at 3 p.m., followed by the championship at 5.

Wade said playing De Matha is "not an easy chore this early in the season; it's not easy anytime you have to match wits with Morgan (Wootten). We know his kids will be . . . physically and emotionally ready for us."