A few days ago I watched a documentary about North Carolina State basketball and its improbable run to the national championship in 1983.
The late Jim Valvano, the coach of that team, plays no small role in the documentary, which made its debut 30 years after the Wolfpack's national championship season.
Nearly 35 years ago, two important players on that North Carolina State team, Sidney Lowe and Dereck Whittenburg, played at the Lake Charles Civic Center in the first W.O. Boston-Pepsi Cola Classic. The NC State documentary reminded me of their appearance in Lake Charles way back when they were high school teammates.
They played for DeMatha, based in Hyattsville, Md., coached by the legendary Morgan Wootten, and ranked as the No. 1 high school team in the country at the end of their undefeated 1977-78 season. On Dec. 10, 1978, the American Press published a preview of the tournament, highlighting DeMatha's talented roster. Lowe was considered the best guard in the country. Whittenburg was noted as having won a slam dunk contest as a sophomore against Albert King of Maryland and Gene Banks of Duke.
A week after its preview story, the American press reported on one of the greatest high school basketball games ever played in Lake Charles, DeMatha's 98-94 victory in five overtimes against Wheatley from Houston. DeMatha was without two important pieces for reasons that were not explained in the story. Whittenburg got hurt and didn't play in the second half or in any of the five overtimes. Lowe had 16 points and was credited with being a unifying force when DeMatha had to go with some younger players.
"Lowe kept the younger players together," Wootten said. "He was a steadying influence in those crucial moments. We turned to him."
Bob Ferry had 25 points in his fifth varsity game. If that name sounds familiar, it should. Bob Ferry Sr., his father, is a former NBA player and GM of the Washington Bullets. The younger Ferry's brother, Danny, played for Duke, then in the NBA, and is now the GM of the Atlanta Hawks. The younger Bob Ferry went on to Harvard after playing for DeMatha.
I wish I could say I went to the game when DeMatha defeated Wheatley in five overtimes, but as a high school senior I was still a few years away from working for the American Press, and I was still mourning my high school's loss in the 2A state championship football game the night before. (There was something else to lament the following Monday: The end of the nickel call. The Public Service Commission voted to increase the charge for local pay-phone calls from a nickel to a dime in Louisiana, the last state to cling to the nickel charge.)
A few footnotes: Ron Everhart, who went on to coach McNeese basketball in the 1990s, played for Wootten at DeMatha as a high school senior (a couple of years after DeMatha played in Lake Charles), moving in with an aunt in nearby Washington, D.C., to do so. The DeMatha team that played at the Lake Charles Civic Center finished 28-3 and ranked first in the D.C. area.