For nine straight seasons, from 1983 to '92, Hughes took Dunbar to the Texas Final Four in Austin, only to lose there. In '93, on the Flying Wildcats' state-record 10th consecutive trip, he won with a vindicating brigade of 11 seniors. Some suggest there was a racial explanation for that stretch of futility, that the refs had it in for Dunbar, but you won't hear Hughes raise that issue, for he is no angry old man. "The first thing you learn at Dunbar is not to worry about officiating," he says. "I've had fewer than eight technicals in 38 years. I'm not Santa Claus. I'm not gonna give you two free throws and the ball. Like a bad marriage, you just stick with it."
Working with boys from the hardscrabble Stop Sixth section of town—the neighborhood is named after an old trolley route—Hughes knows that simple inclusion on the team, and exposure to his stern ways, can make the difference in a young man's life, "We got people wheelin' and dealin' with players that shouldn't be within a hundred miles of a boy," says Hughes, whose current roster lists 19 names, and who suited up 17 last weekend. "Might be we run out of uniforms, but we don't cut. Now, if you're a discipline problem, you're not cut—you're fired. I'm not Freud."
As high school basketball has made its steady rise, for better or worse, to a more prominent national profile. Wootten has been the sport's constant. With his national reputation, he was a sort of Gladys Knight to the other three legends' Pips last week. Over Wootten's 40 seasons DeMatha has been tops in the D.C. area more times than not and has won five mythical national championships. In 1965 DeMatha sold out Cole Field House at the University of Maryland and handed Lew Alcindor and New York City's Power Memorial their first loss in 71 games. He has sent two players to an NCAA championship backcourt (Sidney Lowe and Derek Whittenberg, with N.C. State in '83) and 12 players to the NBA. Most astonishingly, since 1961, every DeMatha senior but two, regardless of size or station on the depth chart, has been offered a scholarship to play college ball—and the two who didn't get full rides both went to Division I schools and walked on successfully.
All this success has brought Wootten scores of offers from colleges, including three from ACC schools. But he's far too wise a man to accept. With his instructional videos, five books, clinics, speaking engagements, deals with McDonald's and Reebok, and an internationally renowned summer camp (which Al Gore Jr. attended last summer), he makes more than all but the most lavishly paid college coaches, yet he lives just minutes from school and the house in which he grew up. As South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler, one of eight current Division I head coaches who once played for or coached under Wootten, recently told him with no little envy, "You get all the benefits of a college coach without the pressure."
It's a gratifying position for someone who earned $3,800 a year when he started at DeMatha, coaching two sports, teaching world history five periods a day and calling bingo on Tuesday nights. "The second year," Wootten says, "they told me they wanted me to work full time."
Like former UCLA coach John Wooden, the man with the similar surname, Wootten has metallic hair, glasses and a ministerial way of applauding from the bench. He's so muted by nature that he'll mike himself during practice to make sure he's heard. But he's heard. Proof is Greg Harris, DeMatha's current point guard. Cut from the Stag freshman team, Harris, with Wootten's encouragement, worked to improve his game and is now a senior weighing 10 college offers. Wootten, 64, is no power broker—"I don't tell them who to marry, and I don't tell them where to go to college"—but off to college all the boys seem to go, like crops coming to harvest.
He had the highest profile in Fort Worth last week, but he underscored the respect for the job that all the coaches share. "We've got more than 5,000 games among us," says Wootten. "More than 160 years of teaching experience. This weekend makes a great antiburnout statement. It says that teaching is a noble profession; that kids are fun to be around and as good as they've ever been."
If it weren't for New Mexico's limit of 22 regular-season games, Tasker would easily outstrip the other three on that victory list. But he was happy for the company last weekend—happy to be back among the pack. And while the other three schools negotiated the round-robin tournament with 2-1 records, the Eagles dropped all three games, which left Tasker grateful for the format. "No elimination," he said. "That made it nice."
Indeed, for a few days all the honorees seemed to scale back their hypercompetitive natures. Krueger joined the press in peppering Wootten with questions after his team lost to DeMatha on Friday night. On Saturday night Wootten pronounced himself glad that nobody went 3-0 and that Tasker's team had played so well in defeat. Hughes, meanwhile, likened the entire weekend to a family picnic. "Brought my pad out to scout the first night," he said. "By the end of the first quarter I'd folded it up. Not this tournament. This tournament I just came out to play. And you know what? All four trophies should look just alike. There are no losers here."
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