DC Basketball

Joe Dean Davidson "The General"

March 4, 1978. Washington Evening Star, Mark G. Kram

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For those who can blast back to the 1970s, the memory is indelible.  A cold winter’s day.  The D.C. Interhigh League.  Dunbar High School.  The final seconds tick off the scoreboard.  A large, mustachioed man with a fashionable broad, open collar splayed over his sports jacket politely strides over to the opposing coach as if to offer his condolences.  He turns away, smiles seemingly in all directions at once, and makes his  S-L-O-W victory stroll toward the Dunbar locker room. 

Yes, we’re talking about Joe Dean Davidson, head coach at Dunbar High School from 1973 to 1983.  While Joe Gallagher and Morgan Wooten today are remembered as the era’s legendary prep coaching figures, Davidson stood right there with them.  He racked up a career record of 240-40 during 10 seasons, and his Dunbar teams were as sure as death and taxes to compete for the annual city title.

If you haven’t heard of Davidson or just need to relive his legend, take a peak at the Washington Evening Star article below from March 1978.  Although his Dunbar squad would lose the city title to DeMatha, 63-55, the 38-year-old Davidson beat even bigger odds a few months later.  He had triple bypass surgery, then an extremely daring medical procedure.  Two months afterwards, Davidson was back at work.  He couldn’t let down his kids.  

Joe Dean Davidson Building a Dynasty in the Inner City

Every big city seems to have a school which somehow manages to draw the best basketball players out of the boys’ clubs and off the playgrounds.

Dunbar High is such a place.  At the corner of New Jersey Ave. and N St. NW, it sticks out from rows of crumbling houses.

A pair of double doors opened.

“. . . We can guarantee you a top-20 ranking,” announced the coach in a tone almost condescending. 

Joe Holston, the recruitee, leaned against the wall and listened quietly as Tulane head basketball coach Roy Danforth outlined the program – each detail embellished with the blind faith that goes with recruiting.  “. . . We have to go now, but we hope you will keep us in mind.  We’ll be in touch . . .”

the latest member of the Dunbar basketball team to draw the attention of college basketball recruiters from across the nation to the Interhigh League school since Joe Dean Davidson took over five years ago. 

Craig “Big Sky” Shelton and John “Ba Ba” Duren of Georgetown, Kenny Matthews of North Carolina State, Joe Thweat of St. Francis of Pennsylvania, Louis Whiting of Youngstown State, and Greg Nance of West Virginia University are some who have had a part in building what is becoming one of the area’s, if not the East Coast’s strongholds of scholastic basketball. 

When Joe Dean Davidson took over the basketball program, the team had a combined record in the two previous years of 12-25.  Even worse were playing conditions.  Old Dunbar High School was a ruin.  No home games were played at the school simply because there was no home court.  There was just a room, barely halfcourt, that had two baskets and a leaky roof. 

Now, having moved into new housing last spring, the team plays to home crowds in a facility that rivals many colleges.  And Davidson has “boxes and boxes” of inquiries regarding some of his players piled on his desk.  A tradition is forming. 

has been remarkable.  Over the past five years, Dunbar’s teams have won 108 games and lost only 20 (only nine over the last four years) playing some of the best high school competition on the East Coast (Morgan Wooten of DeMatha has won 127 and lost 19 for the same comparable time.)

Outside of its Interhigh League schedule, the Crimson Tide has played at various times Power Memorial and Long Island Lutheran of New York, Lake Clifton of Baltimore, and Maggie Walker of Richmond. 

The 1974-75 team had one of the biggest wins in the school history. The third year coach goes the hostile environment of the number two ranked team in the nation, New York’s Long Island Lutheran. Lutheran relied on its two stars,6 foot 9 Wayne McCoy (29 points) and 6-2 guard Reggie Carter (30points).Dunbar had superior team balance( five player in double figures) and a devastating fast break with trickery of Stacey Robinson. Thweatt and Robinson kept Dunbar in the game in the first half after the big man Craig Shelton got three fouls. Joe Tweatt showed NY his sweet jumper from the deep corner on his way to 19 first half points.

Dunbar had small leads thru out the game and then closes out Lutheran 90 to 85, Joe Thweat finished with 25 points and Stacy Robinson had 17 points. Dunbar was 20-1 after the victory, Coach Davidson was quoted saying “we were ready for this big game because we caught hell all season just winning in the DC Interhigh League. We’ve played tough games all year”. The Long Island Lutheran crowd was wild and crazy and there was a drummer and a drum beat that keep the crowed crazy the entire game. Stacey Robinson on his way out of the gym runs right by the drum and the drummer, he stops and takes a look around and proceeds to kick a hole in the drum and yells DC IN THE HOUSE as he runs out the gym with fist in the air.

The 1975-76 team was 29-0, taking the city championship from DeMatha with a victory which avenged a loss to the Stags in the finale the year before.  The two schools will meet for a third time at the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House for the city title again tomorrow at 3:30.  DeMatha is undefeated, ranked No. 1 in the area with a 23-0 record, while Dunbar is 25-1, with a 19-game winning streak. 

Joe Dean Davidson, lest he surrender a psychological edge, isn’t saying anything about DeMatha. 

“What is DeMatha saying about us?” he asked.  “I don’t want to minimize the importance of this game, but it is just another game.  It’s a matter of playing defense at one end and putting the ball in the hole at the other end, something these kids have been doing their whole lives.”

BEYOND THAT, he said little, something that he has a reputation for.  He is careful choosing his words, painfully so.  Seldom has he given the press much beyond the standard superficial post-game post-mortems.  Yet, he says the publicity his players have received is by no means proportionate to their accomplishments.

“Go talk to my players,” he is fond of saying when pressed.  He says he is “aware of indiscretions in the press” and would rather not have his “competency questioned in the newspapers.”  Such an attitude turns a simple interview into an interrogation.  Ask him a straightforward from what part of the city he draws his players – the zones governing placement in the city are generally considered elastic and nebulous at best – there is a long silence.

“I’m not going to answer that,” he says finally.  Another long silence.  “Where do you think DeMatha gets their players?”  Still another long, anxious silence.  “I’m not going to talk about that.  That’s a controversy in the city that I wanted to avoid – do talk to my players.”

Then calming, he said, “The average kid coming into high school is not a playground player.  He plays on the playground, but he has had the experience of playing in boys’ clubs and junior high school leagues.  These places instill discipline and are the main feeders into city basketball.  I myself am a product of the junior high system.”

DISCIPLINE, Davidson said, is the catalyst in the inner city.  He says he is “persuasive” in administering it.   “You have to be discipline to play for him,” said the 6-foot-3, veteran point guard Joe Holston, considered the key to this year’s team.  He added that they are quick to pressure and jump on undisciplined opponents. 

“Some kids have to make sacrifices to play,” Davidson said.  “And let’s face it, for some kids at our school, it is a sacrifice to go to school and study.”

“I consider myself a teacher above all,” said Davidson, a physical education instructor at Dunbar.  “There is more to teaching than just teaching basketball skill from one to 100.  I don’t want it to appear as though I teach my players everything they know about basketball because, after all, they bring a lot of that with them when they come here.”

“From 1964 through 1968, Davidson played for Norfolk State College.  He was the leading scorer on the team and considers his coach, Ernie Fears, as having a strong influence on his coaching.  Fears taught him the value of maintaining proper rapport with players that “compassion and understanding” have their place. 

THE ONES WHO had the most influence on him are his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph S. Davidson of Norfolk.  His dad is a retired longshoreman and a church deacon. 

“He used to take me down to the docks at a very early age and I learned a lot about life from those experiences working with him,” Davidson said.

Aside from adhering to a similar “fast break philosophy,” he said he doesn’t use any of the plays Fears used.  He makes a point of that:  “Everybody plays a two-three zone, everybody runs a fast break, but these plays are my own.  I don’t want it to be said that I copy from anybody.”

“These kids have worked so hard, they should try to take basketball as far as they can.  Like any other kid I had that dream, though I didn’t grow up in such an environment.  I didn’t think about playing pro ball seriously until after my senior year.  (He had a tryout with the old Baltimore Bullets.)

“Bob Dandridge, who also went to Norfolk State, and I are friends and he takes an interest in the kids.  Sometimes he comes around and give them white socks or a pair of shoes to a kid whose foot is oversized.”

“We both stress the importance of seeking a balance in life.  If a kid puts playing pro ball as his main objective, he is playing a dangerous game against short odds.”

KENNY MATTHEWS, a freshman star for N. C. State’s Wolfpack this season is one of those youngsters indebted to Davidson’s guidance. 

“He’s really a good person,” Matthews said.  “That’s just the best thing I can say about him.  He makes you keep your head up whenever things aren’t going well.  He looks after you and makes sure you’re straight in everything you do.”

Shelton, who was supposed to attend a school other than Dunbar as a high school student, received special permission to go there and led the Crimson Tide to the No. 1 ranking in the nation three years ago when Dunbar went 29-0. 

“Mr. Davidson was to me at the time a good high school coach,” said Shelton, a sophomore at Georgetown who received close to 400 scholarship offers before choosing GU. 

“I knew I would get good coaching and good teaching at Dunbar.”

March 4, 1978

Washington Evening Star

Mark G. Kram

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