By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO
The 2019-20 basketball season proved that Baltimore City is home to one of the richest sports cultures in the region, and the highly competitive atmosphere between programs has led to yet another exhilarating year. As the regular season comes to an end, we've rounded up the city’s best public school teams and players that made their mark.
Lake Clifton (18-4): The Lakers, led by Head Coach Herman “Tree” Harried, won the MPSSAA 1A state championship in 2019 and are on a mission to repeat as state champs. Lake has managed to knock off some of the region’s most prolific programs, including Mervo, City and Edmondson-Westside en route to another stellar season. Guards Michael Gray and Zacceus Blackwell have led the way for the Lakers, who hope to win their first city championship on Feb. 25 versus Poly.
Patterson (11-11): The Clippers finished at an even .500 despite losing four of their last six games. Coach Harry Martin and his team hope to bounce back with a postseason run as they did last season, culminating with a state championship trophy.
Poly (20-2): The Engineers have emerged as, arguably, the best public school basketball team in Maryland and are coming off a dominant season and state championship in 2019. This season has gone so well for Poly that ESPN has ranked it No. 21 in the nation, making this the first time in program history that the Engineers have been nationally ranked. They hope to win their third city title in five seasons when they face Lake Clifton on Feb. 25.
Standouts – Brandon Murray, 22.4 ppg; Justin Lewis 18 points and 10.9 rebounds per game; Rahim Ali, 10 points and eight assists per game.
MERVO (15-5): As the only 4A boys basketball team in the city, Mervo posted a five-game win streak to close the regular season on a high note. Will Thomas, who leads the Mustangs with 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists a game, helped his team overcome Wildwood (Florida) in a holiday tournament earlier in the season. Elijah Rantin, a 6-foot-10 senior, is a much-need post presence for Mervo and records about 10 rebounds and seven blocks a game.
Coppin Academy (16-5): The Eagles had a stiff schedule this year and began the season winning 10 consecutive games to once again distinguish themselves as one of the city’s top- ranked programs. Defense has become a trademark for Coppin, according to Coach Chris Hardy. Senior guard Kayla Henderson has set the tone offensively for Coppin all season alongside 6-foot junior forward Nyshae Weaver, who averages 17 points and 12 rebounds. Henderson averages 22 points and has surpassed the 1,500-point mark for her career to become the all-time leading scorer in program history.
Forest Park (17-2): Junior forward Neah Henry averages about 15 points, nine boards and four assists a game, and defensive specialist Josias Mickens, a senior guard, averages about 10 points, five steals and five assists to lead the Foresters to a strong 2019-20 season.
City (15-5): Led by Coach Tim Burroughs, City played through a stiff schedule that included tough losses to Western, Poly and Forest Park, along with a big win over Coppin Academy to post a winning season. The Black Knights are still rebuilding and through hard work and perseverance, they aim to make a run in the upcoming state playoffs.
Western (16-3): The Doves put together another solid regular-season campaign behind their teamwork and togetherness. A balanced lineup, including four players who average at least 12 points, has made Western one of Baltimore’s toughest competitors as the Doves prepare for the city title matchup against Poly on Feb. 25.
Of the four classifications in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, three Baltimore programs won basketball state titles in 2019 (Lake Clifton – 1A; Patterson – 2A; Poly – 3A), which speaks volumes about its rich and competitive basketball scene.
This postseason, the local sports community can expect top-tier teams like Poly, Lake Clifton, Edmondson-Westside, and City to make playoff runs on the boys side – but of course upsets are always a possibility.
For girls, Western, Coppin Academy, Poly and Forest Park stand out as prospective frontrunners in their classifications as the state tournament approaches.
Demetrius Dilard is a freelance writer based in Baltimore, Md. with a passion for sports and community news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Meach_33.