A late fourth-period surge against Ballou Tuesday night assured seventh-ranked Dunbar of its fifth consecutive victory, and the high-fives and celebrating began. But senior forward Johnny Rhodes was satisfied with a handshake and a pat on the back with his teammates and a wave to a buddy in the crowd.

"The high-fives, finger-pointing and celebrating on the court just isn't my style. Winning the game is emotional enough for me," said the 6-foot-5 Rhodes, who has announced plans to attend the University of Maryland. "I don't feel all that stuff is necessary. I go out to play the best I can. I don't have time to criticize referees, point fingers at opponents or talk to people."

Rhodes, who many observers think is the best all-around player in the area, has improved every facet of his game since last season. As a junior Rhodes quietly accepted his role of support player for senior All-Mets Michael Smith (Providence) and Dion Murray (South Carolina State), averaging 15 points and six rebounds as the Crimson Tide went 34-3 and won the City Title Game. This season Coach Mike McLeese made sure Rhodes understood he was the key to the team.

"Johnny is a player who isn't turned on by celebrity status," McLeese said. "In fact, if he were somewhere else, he would probably be invisible because he is so quiet and low-key. But because of all the exposure our program gets, suddenly everyone is saying, 'Hey, that guy is good.' "

High Point senior guard Wayne Bristol, who has signed to be a teammate of Rhodes's at Maryland, sheepishly said he played against Dunbar in summer league games but didn't remember Rhodes.

"I know he is good, I just don't remember him," Bristol said.

McLeese says Rhodes's main attribute is his court awareness. "Johnny knows how to play," he said. "He can play all five positions and that senior maturity really shows now. He is quiet on the court but does everything you want him to do. He has accepted his leadership role and is very serious about basketball. In fact, every so often I have to remind him this is just a game and should be fun."

Rhodes flashed a rare smile when told of his coach's comments.

"Yeah, I probably am too serious at times," he said. "But I just want to be a good player and help my teammates win some games. I'll smile if we win the city title."

Led by Rhodes and seniors Romeo Roach, Scoop Marshall and Damon Singletary, the two-time city champions are the team to beat in the competitive Interhigh League. Heading into last night's game at Eastern, Rhodes was averaging 21 points, 12 rebounds, 6 assists and 6 steals per game for the 12-3 Tide. But where Rhodes has been most valuable is on defense.

"I've worked hard three years," he said. "If we play defense the way we are taught, we'll only lose if we beat ourselves. Opponents know they have to play their best to beat us. We always have to be just a bit better than everyone we play. We lost to Dunbar {Baltimore} three times because they played a bit better than we did each time. We just made one mistake too many."

In keeping with his serious manner, Rhodes attends M.M. Washington several nights a week to study dental technology. He now works in the dental lab at M.M. Washington in the mornings, taking academic subjects at Dunbar in the afternoon. He also needs to earn at least 700 on the SAT to qualify at Maryland.

"I still want to go to Maryland and major in business," he said. "I love Maryland's style of play; it is similiar to our style at Dunbar."

The Terrapins' scrambling, pressing style is also perfectly suited for Bristol. The 6-2 trigger man for the run-and-shoot Eagles runs the court extremely well, and is exceptionally quick, a good ball-handler and penetrator. He also is a master of high-fives.

"I love to run," said Bristol, who is averaging 24 points and seven steals for fifth-ranked High Point (7-2). "I think defense is my strength and we play the type of defense here that creates offense. And I get excited when my teammates or I do something outstanding. I'm not showing up the other team when I hug, high-five, have a good time. I love to play."