TJ basketball

Thomas Johnson’s Hasheem Alexander (23) and Terence Morris (44), shown in a 1995 game, helped the Patriots win the 1997 Class 3A state title. Those ’97 Patriots were among the top boys hoops teams in Frederick County history. But were they the best? Help decide by voting in our poll at www.fredericknewspost.com.

What are the best high school teams in Frederick this fall?

Thanks to the coronavirus, we’ll likely have to wait until next spring to find out. The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association postponed fall and winter sports until after the first semester, which ends in January, because of the coronavirus pandemic.

So to help fill the void, The Frederick News-Post thought it would be fun to ask readers to pick the best Frederick County high school teams of all-time in each sport.

Each week, we’ll feature a sport and list contenders from years past in that sport. Readers can visit www.fredericknewspost.com to vote for the team they think is best. We’ll do this for all sports, fall, winter and spring.

Each Thursday, when we list candidates for another sport, we’ll reveal the team from the previous week’s sport that got the most votes.

This week’s sport: Boys basketball. May the best team win.

1963-64 Walkersville Lions

Record: 21-3, Class B state champion

Like many teams on this list, the 1964 Lions featured a player destined to be talked about decades after graduating. That would be Gordon Smith, who later starred at the Cincinnati University and was drafted by one of the NBA’s most stories franchises, the Boston Celtics, who were coached at the time by the legendary Red Auerbach.

By the time Smith left Walkersville, the 6-foot-1½ guard was the program’s all-time leading scorer, a record that stood until 2008, decades after high school players began hitting 3-point shots, which didn’t exist on that level when Smith powered the Lions.

Smith, a junior, poured in 25 points to help the Lions beat Douglass of Uupper Marlboro 83-68 in the 1964 state championship game. He was named to the all-tournament first team.

Sportswriters insisted Smith was more than just a scorer, capable of dishing out “bullet” passes and crashing the boards. By Smith’s senior year, Frederick News-Post sports editor Bucky Summers said the standout was “fast building a reputation as the finest basketball player in Frederick County scholastic history.”

Aside from Smith, the Lions had other key contributors, including Eddie Cook and Larry Haines. In the title game, Cook had 21 points, while Haines piled up 21 rebounds.

With such firepower, Walkersville won its second state crown under head coach Bill Talley, with the first one coming in 1960.

1966-67 Frederick Cadets

Record: 21-2, Class A state champion

Frederick won state titles before and after 1967, but this was the school’s only championship team to feature standout Kenny Boyd.

If there’s ever a Mount Rushmore for Frederick County basketball, Boyd’s face should probably be chiseled on it. He went on to star for Boston University and later played for the NBA’s New Orleans Jazz during the 1974-75 season.

But during the 1966-67 season, Boyd was a mere freshman. Not so mere, though. As a 14-year-old in the 1967 state title game, he reportedly already stood 6-foot-3 and was noted for his jumping ability.

The ninth-grader helped the Cadets get their footing in the 3A state final against a bigger Surrattsville team, which they handily beat 59-41. While he finished with just four points, Boyd grabbed 11 of his game-high 19 rebounds in the first half while Frederick adjusted to its retooled offense (Boyd was moved from outside to inside by coach Homer Brooks, for instance).

There was another youngster on that team destined for athletic greatness, sophomore Chuck Foreman. The future NFL running back had a double-double — 16 points and 10 rebounds — against Surrattsville.

Willis Hall, a 6-foot-3 senior, led the Cadets with 21 points in the final. While the Cadets lost Hall, they had Boyd for three more years and later added talented athletes like Maurice Boyd (Kenny’s brother), Petey Cooper (a future pro baseball player) and Bill Craven (a future NFL football player).

Not surprisingly, Frederick remained a serious contender over the next three seasons, losing close games in the state final in 1968, 1969 and 1970. Some, if not all, of those teams could easily have been listed here. But by being a state champ, the 1967 team seems like a suitable representative of that era of Frederick dominance.

1974-75 Thomas Johnson Patriots

Record: 20-5, Class A state champion

This Thomas Johnson team, the first in school history to win a boys basketball state crown, featured one of the best players to ever come out of Frederick County, Mike Rice, and a rookie head coach, Tom Dickman, who would go down as the most successful boys basketball coach in county history.

Standing 6-foot-7, Rice was a menacing presence in the paint who went to play at the University of Pittsburgh and later professionally in the Continental Basketball Association and overseas. As a senior during the 1974-75 season, Rice averaged 27.7 points.

Thanks to picking up three fouls in the first half, Rice finished with just 12 points and a 18 rebounds in the 3A final against Catonsville. But he left his mark on that game. In the final 10 seconds, with his team clinging to a 2-point lead, Rice blocked two Catonsville shots and grabbed the loose ball and held it as time expired, preserving a 52-50 TJ win.

Rice and TJ guard Mike Smallwood, who was known for his 30-foot “knuckleball” jump shots and had a game-high 20 points in the 3A final, both made the all-tournament team to cap off fine seasons. That season, TJ also got contributions from Jeff Comer (a 6-2 forward who went on to play football at Duke), Zack Jackson (a Syracuse football recruit), guard Bob Dailey and reserve Rex Bowens.

It might’ve been tempting to think Dickman, in his first year at the helm, was only successful because he inherited so much talent from his predecessor, Jay Jacobs. But in hindsight, it seems like a hint of things to come in a legendary career. In his 29 years at TJ, Dickman guided the Patriots to six more state crowns and 592 wins. His name appears a few more times on this list.

1977-78 Frederick Cadets

Record: 26-1, Class B state champion

While falling just short of a perfect season, this Frederick team still finished with the best record in team history.

Coached by Bill Brooks (Homer’s son), Frederick capped its stellar season by beating Sherwood 64-62 in the Class B state championship game, getting a game-winning, 12-foot jumper from Kevin Allen with one second left. Another star of the game was Frederick’s cornerstone, senior Keith Lee, who erupted for 25 points and 17 rebounds to help the Cadets win the program’s fourth state crown.

By the time Lee was a sophomore, he was already Frederick’s biggest player (6-foot-3) and a go-to weapon. And while he might’ve made more of a mark in football, playing that sport at the University of Virginia, he was a force on the court for years at Frederick. Even as his numbers shrunk a bit his senior year because he shared the wealth with talented teammates, he still averaged 17.5 points, 14.5 rebounds, three blocks and — according to The Frederick News-Post — one slam dunk per game. He was the News-Post Player of the Year.

The Cadets’ Allen and Mark Grossnickle were also all-area first-teamers.

Frederick’s lone loss was a close one to Martinsburg, and the Cadets avenged that by blowing out the Bulldogs 105-75 later in the season.

1981-82 Thomas Johnson Patriots

Record: 23-4, Class A state champion

Seven years after winning its first state title, Thomas Johnson won its second by beating Andover 59-50.

Coached by Tom Dickman, the Patriots were led by forward Earl Lee, who was the News-Post co-player of the year and had a double-double against Andover. The previous season, he set a team record by getting 28 rebounds.

The Patriots’ Tim Summers was also a News-Post all-area first-teamer, and Dwayne Jenkins got second-team honors.

Locked in a tight game against Andover, the Patriots used a big game from reserve Norman Jefferson to hold on.

And sophomore Robert Griffin, in the early stages of a fine career that would see him go on to play at James Madison before becoming a well-known local referee, hit both ends of a one-and-one in the final seconds.

1983-84 Walkersville Lions

Record: 21-5, Class C state champion

The Lions concluded a dominant season in fitting fashion, rolling to a 63-46 win over Bruce in the state championship game for the program’s third state title.

By the end of the first period, the Lions enjoyed a comfortable 16-4 lead and never let up. The Lions were a well-balanced team.

And in the final, Lions coach Dave Miller employed a modified box-and-one to contain Bruce standout Gary Morris, who averaged 18 points but was held to 12. Butch Duncan guarded him most of the night, and Ronnie McAllister spelled Duncan.

Walkersville also had some sway in the paint, thanks to 6-foot-2 center James Igoe (13 points, 12 rebounds) and 6-foot-3 forward Greg Pfister (18 points, 11 rebounds). Pfister and guard George Fredericks were Frederick News-Post all-county first-team picks.

This was the first time the Lions won a state crown under Miller, who had coached state finalist teams at Poolesville and Walkersville before this and would win another state crown with the Lions two seasons later.

1985-86 Thomas Johnson Patriots

Record: 25-1, Class A state champion

When TJ beat Frederick Douglass 83-62 in the 1986 state final, it became the first (and to date, only) Frederick County boys basketball program to win two straight state crowns.

Terry Connolly, who went on to play at the University of Richmond before becoming a successful high school basketball coach, played a prominent role on both of those championship teams. The win over Douglass was Connolly’s final high school game, and he ended his career third on TJ’s all-time scoring list behind Mike Rice and Ernie Bowens.

But when Connolly got in early foul trouble in the 1986 state final, the Patriots turned to Darrick Bowens to help keep their title hopes alive. Bowens, who averaged 9.8 points that year, scored 20 points in the championship.

This Tom Dickman-coached team also notched a win against powerhouse DeMatha. Its lone loss came to a Waynesboro team that was highly ranked in Pennsylvania.

1996-97 Thomas Johnson Patriots

Record: 22-5, Class 3A state champion

A star who would go on to play at an elite level (Division I, NBA), several others capable of contributing when opponents focused on containing that star and an accomplished head coach who knew what it took to guide a team through the playoffs.

The 1997 Patriots had all those things, which helps explain how they not only won a state title, but did so by blowing out one of Maryland’s most storied high school boys basketball programs, Dunbar, in the title game. TJ thumped the Poets, who had won four straight state crowns and 20 state playoffs games, 82-51 in the final.

The Poets had no answer for Patriots star Terence Morris, a multi-faceted 6-foot-8 forward who finished the final (and his TJ career) with 25 points, 13 rebounds, 10 blocks and seven assists, inflicting the same kind of damage against the Baltimore power as he did against pretty much everybody else that season. Morris went on to play for the University of Maryland and three seasons in the NBA with the Houston Rockets and Orlando Magic.

After facing (and typically holding its own) against nationally prominent powers like St. John’s Prospect Hall, Rice (New York), Oak Hill and DeMatha earlier that season, TJ wasn’t susceptible to the Dunbar mystique.

Throughout the season, the Dickman-coached Patriots had plenty of contributors besides Morris, too, and many of them helped stifle the Poets.

Point guard Hasheem Alexander, who later played for American University, had 17 points and eight rebounds in the final. TJ’s sixth man Randall Jones (who played football for the University of Maryland) and starter Wes Buchanan held Dunbar star Tim Lyles (20 points per game that season) to two points. Junior Chad Dickman, who now coaches Hood College’s men’s hoops team, had 16 points and five assists.

1997-98 St. John’s Prospect Hall Vikings

Record: 25-0, national No. 1 ranking

St. John’s Prospect Hall (now St. John’s Catholic Prep) was a national power during head coach Stu Vetter’s six seasons at the school, boasting a roster that included talented players from different states and, in some cases, different countries.

But the 1997-98 season, Vetter’s last at the Frederick school, proved to be the Vikings’ most successful. The Vikings were declared national champions by every major prep poll. Any doubt about their No. 1 status was removed when the Vikings concluded their season by beating fellow national power Oak Hill Academy of Virginia 32-25 at Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., allowing St. John’s to clinch the mythical national title.

The two players who shined the most that day were Jason Capel and 6-foot-7 junior Damien Wilkins, who both were making their final appearance for the Vikings. Capel had a game-high 13 points, and Wilkins had eight points and helped St. John’s handle Oak Hill’s bevy of towering post players.

Capel, a senior who went on to play at North Carolina, averaged 21 points and 11.8 rebounds. He earned a slew of awards, including AP Player of the Year, The Frederick News-Post Player of the Year and Gatorade Player of the Year for Maryland. Wilkins, who averaged 20.5 points and 10 rebounds en route to earning News-Post all-area first-team honors, went on to play for NC State, Georgia and five seasons in the NBA with Seattle, Oklahoma City, Minnesota, Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia and Indiana.

Another all-area first-teamer was guard Sherrod Teasley, who averaged a county-best 9.8 assists.

2013-14 Oakdale Bears

Record: 22-5, Class 2A state finalist

While falling short of a state title, this Oakdale team ended a noticeable drought, becoming the first Frederick County boys basketball team in 12 years to reach a state championship game.

The Bears, coached by former TJ star Terry Connolly, had a realistic shot at becoming the first county team since TJ in 1999 to win a boys basketball state crown, trailing mighty Potomac 47-43 with 5 minutes, 1 second left in the final. But Oakdale ended up losing 64-51.

So ended the career for the Bears’ top guns, versatile forward Zach Thomas and point guard Clay Conner.

Thomas, who went on to star at Bucknell, left as one of Frederick County’s most prolific boys basketball players. Leading the county in scoring four straight years, he had 2,281 career points. His senior year, he averaged 24.9 points and 9.5 rebounds.

Conner’s overall numbers were impressive enough his senior year — 13.9 points, 5.1 assists. But he turned it up even more in the postseason, when he averaged 19.2 points and 4.6 assists, including a game-high 20 points in the 2A final. He went on to play at Shippensburg and is now a graduate assistant for Virginia Commonwealth University’s men’s team.

(5) comments

mikec

There are really only two considerations- the 96 - 97 TJ team and 97 - 98 St. John's team. My vote goes to the TJ squad. Great team and great coach who didn't duck the competition. St. John's was also great, but they weren't on the same playing field as typical high school teams- recruited players like a college program and traveled like an NBA team. TJ, under Dickman was the best public high school program in the state of Maryland.

mikec

Not on the News-Post list, but also a really good team were the late 80s Walkersville team(s). Forget the exact year, but I think one of them won a state championship, let by Derek Shackleford.

mikec

err..."led by"

DickD

And there was the 1977 Middletown team that blew out all.local competition, many by 50 points, only losing in the State final. .It featured 6'10" Ken Wilson and point guard Billy Miskell, who was a great coach later at Middletown and now coaches TJ.

zum50

I know this was a hard choice but I really thought the Brunswick Boys from the 1976-77 era was outstanding as well as some of the Middletown teams from the 73-74 seaon--so many good teams but some of those teams could have played with the best....

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