In the 1950s, the star was a player named Elgin Baylor. In the '60s, there was a jump-shooting guard named Dave Bing. The next decade produced all-Metropolitans Harry Nickens and Diego McCoy. In 1980, Earl Jones migrated from West Virginia to lead Spingarn High School to the city championship.
In the 32 years since Spingarn opened its doors in Northeast Washington, the school has turned out as many, or more, successful teams and players as any other school in the District of Columbia. But in all those years, with all those players, no Spingarn team of the past could have matched this year's squad for sheer entertainment value and, perhaps, for success.
"This team is much different from the teams I've had in the past," said John Wood, who has a 254-85 won-lost record, two Interhigh League titles, four league tournament championships and one city title in 13 years as coach. "This team is extremely quick and they complement one another. They just know where one another is out there. They've been together for a while and have good court presence."
The best "presence" of all is that of guard Sherman Douglas, who is a major reason the Green Wave is ranked No. 1 in the metropolitan area with a 22-0 record (14-0 in the league). The 6-foot-1 senior has averaged 26 points per game, including 48 to open the season, in helping Spingarn become the area's highest-scoring team at 86 points a game.
In fact, Douglas and his teammates have been so entertaining that Wood and Bobby Burrell, his assistant of 10 years, say they often find themselves playing the role of spectators.
"I do like to sit back and watch," Wood said. "But we have certain rules we follow out there. I don't want them to have too much freedom. We gamble in a lot of situations, but we are a disciplined team."
Wood says he's not totally surprised by Spingarn's success, not with all starters returning from last season's 24-6 team.
Relying on a superior transition game, Spingarn has settled the suspense in most games by halftime. Douglas and his teammates score half of their points following turnovers and steals. In six of their first nine games this season, they scored 90 points or more.
The Green Wave has had one close game, holding off H.D. Woodson, 92-90, last week. The Green Wave faced Woodson again Tuesday and trailed by 14 points early in the second period. By the middle of the third period, Spingarn led by 16. Final score: Spingarn 88, Woodson 74.
"Rebound, fast break, dunk," is the way sixth man Ernie Hall describes his team's play.
Most teams acknowledge that to have a chance at beating Spingarn, they must stop Douglas. "I haven't seen anyone as good as he is yet," said Spingarn forward Manuel Jones. "Everyone has a role to play on this team, but when we need a big basket, we go to The Man."
DeMatha Coach Morgan Wootten said, "From what I saw, Sherman Douglas is a tremendous player. He did a lot of things on the court that deserved the high marks that everyone is giving him. He impressed me."
Douglas impresses easily. He has the ability either to go to the basket or hit the 20-footer, and is the area's second-leading scorer (Cardozo's Earl Moore leads with a 28.7 average). He also is a fine passer, rebounder and defensive player and has been recruited by a number of schools, although he won't name them.
Al Skinner, an assistant coach at Rhode Island who has been trying to recruit Douglas, said, "He has great skills, a natural athlete. He has a lot of intensity on the court and could play either point guard or shooting guard without any problem. He'd be a great player for us."
American University Coach Ed Tapscott said, "He's the perfect AU player. We'd love to have him. He knows how to play, and that's an underemphasized point when you look for a player. He's aware of everything that goes on on the court. It helps that he plays for a real good team, but he still stands out."
That was certainly the case in one three-minute span of a recent game. Douglas made a 20-footer, deflected a pass that led to a steal and layup by a teammate, dunked after a steal, started a fast break with a rebound, hit a twisting, fallaway bank shot, had an assist, scored on a breakaway and made two free throws.
"He creates on the court," Wood said. "He loves to go inside and takes a lot of pride in what he does on the court. We play three guards and Sherman often comes up with uncanny moves."
Douglas averaged just under 10 points per game after being brought up from junior varsity at mid-season of his sophomore year, and 22 points per game last season. He says he doesn't want to be known as a one-dimensional player.
"I know I score a lot but I really enjoy passing and getting steals," he said. "It's nice when all of your teammates get double figures. That's what we strive for each game -- get everyone involved. We've got the perfect mix."
Douglas' back-court mates are 6-foot Robert Smith (11.5 points), the designated jump shooter, and 5-11 point guard Melvin Middleton, an adept ball handler and passer who is averaging 11 assists, three steals and five points per game.
Spingarn depends on Jones and Anthony Duckett, each 6-5, and Hall, who is 6-6, for rebounds. Duckett (11.5 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and countless dunks), is described by Wood as the most improved player on the team. Jones (10 points, five rebounds) is the team's "garbage man" and Hall comes off the bench to dominate the backboards.
"I like the power game," said Hall, who averages nine points and 10 rebounds a game. "My job is to hit the glass and get the ball out to the guards. I work on my rebounding techniques because that's a big part of our fast-break game . . . We haven't been outrebounded yet. We're pretty entertaining to watch."
Spingarn Principal Clemmie Strayhorn says the players also present a positive image for the school.
"In terms of winning and losing, we're successful," Strayhorn said. "But I'm pleased at the attitude of the youngsters. They reflect a good positive tone and image in the building and I like that. They have this community excited."
Spingarn holds a three-game lead in the league with six to play. The league winner will meet the Metro Conference winner for the city championship March 10 at Cole Field House. Barring upsets, Spingarn should play DeMatha for the title.
"That's what we're hoping for," Douglas said. "A Spingarn-DeMatha matchup. DeMatha is the team you want to play because everyone talks about them. One of our goals is to win the city championship and that means playing DeMatha."
But Douglas and his teammates now are more concerned with finishing unbeaten in the league.
"We still have some tough teams to play," he said. "With the season we've had so far, it would be disappointing if we didn't win it all now. We're sure going to try."