In­terim coach restor­ing fun for Po­ets

In 1st game with­out Booth leading it, Dun­bar rolls to win

Baltimore Sun - - VARSITY - By Kyle J. An­drews

Stu­dents and par­ents en­tered Dun­bar’s gym on Thurs­day night to watch the Po­ets boys bas­ket­ball team take on For­est Park, just three days af­ter coach Keith Booth was fired dur­ing his first sea­son.

Bal­ti­more City Pub­lic Schools is­sued a state­ment Tues­day an­nounc­ing Booth’s dis­missal with no de­tails of the cause, cit­ing a con­fi­den­tial per­son­nel mat­ter.

Booth, a for­mer stand­out at Dun­bar and Mary­land whobe­came the 28th over­all pick in the1997 NBA­draft, posted a state­ment on Twit­ter on Tues­day, writ­ing that “the in­ci­dent in ques­tion con­cerns an in­ap­pro­pri­ate in­ter­ac­tion be­tween two Dun­bar stu­dents who, at the time, were un­der my su­per­vi­sion.”

On Thurs­day night, the Po­ets re­sponded with a re­sound­ing 88-30 vic­tory as three play­ers fin­ished in dou­ble fig­ures and all 11 on the ros­ter scored. It was Dun­bar’s first game un­der the lead­er­ship of the school’s ath­letic di­rec­tor, Dana John­son, who will serve as an in­terim coach for both the var­sity and ju­nior var­sity teams for the re­main­der of the sea­son.

Ac­cord­ing to some of the play­ers, the difference be­tween play­ing for Booth and play­ing for John­son, a Western grad­u­ate who coached for two sea­sons at her alma mater and spent 11 sea­sons as the boys var­sity coach at Southside Academy be­fore the school closed in 2013, was the “fun” that they had, fea­tur­ing a fast and loose style.

“I just want them to have fun,” John­son said Thurs­day. “In the end, this is about them. This is their high school ca­reer.

“Yeah, you want to win, but in the end I just want them to have fun. Just re­lax and play the game. They know how to play the game, but I just want them to en­joy play­ing the game.”

Some of the par­ents of the play­ers no­ticed the difference as well, see­ing their sons fly up and down the court with ex­cite­ment. A ma­jor­ity of the play­ers com­peted with each other on the ju­nior var­sity team and are now leading a squad with­out any se­niors.

David Charles, whose son plays for the team, said that Booth didn’t de­velop a strong re­la­tion­ship with his play­ers.

“You’ve got to have a re­la­tion­ship with the coach,” Charles said. “Keith coached with his emo­tions and they don’t un­der­stand that — he’s old school. So he’s a good dude, but a ter­ri­ble coach and he doesn’t have a re­la­tion­ship with the kids.

“He snatched their mo­men­tum, he snatched their talent from last year. So they weren’t able to do what they know how to do be­cause he wanted them to be what he wanted them to be and not what they are.”

Dun­bar (6-9, 6-4) is in sec­ond place in the Bal­ti­more City B Divi­sion be­hind No. 2 Poly (20-2, 12-0). John­son said that the key for the play­ers isn’t to look ahead but to stay in the mo­ment and im­prove each time they step onto the court.

“They’re going to fight,” John­son said. “These young men don’t give up and they have fight in them, so we’re not wor­ry­ing about stand­ings. Like I said, we just want to get them bet­ter each day, let them know that we’re here for them no mat­ter what hap­pens and just want them to stay fo­cused and play the game that they love to play.”

Charles is hop­ing for a new coach that can build a rap­port with the play­ers and en­cour­age them, just as he be­lieved that John­son did in Thurs­day night’s game. He felt that Booth pulled his play­ers out of the game too soon af­ter mak­ing mis­takes in­stead of coach­ing them through their er­rors.

“They looked con­fi­dent, they looked happy that they beat some­body by 58 points,” Charles said. “They feel good. Going for­ward, that’s just what they need: They need to be able to play for them­selves be­cause they’re play­ing for their fu­ture.

“If they aren’t happy, how are they going to go to col­lege? How are they going to get the stats that they need to present to other coaches if they’re get­ting pulled out of the game as soon as they make the wrong move? Going for­ward, hope­fully they can get some­body in his po­si­tion that can boost their con­fi­dence and not take it from them and maybe Dun­bar will be Dun­bar.”

The pro­gram won’t be­gin a coach­ing search un­til the sea­son is over, ac­cord­ing to John­son.

“We’re not hav­ing a search,” John­son said. “We’re just try­ing to get through the sea­son. We­want to fo­cus on the kids and get them through the sea­son and know that we’re still here for them and in the end, it’s about them and not about the adults.

“So we’re just try­ing to get through the sea­son, let them stay fo­cused, let them play hard. Then when the sea­son is over, we’ll worry about the next coach.”

KYLE J. AN­DREWS/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Dun­bar play­ers hud­dle to­gether with in­terim coach and ath­letic di­rec­tor Dana John­son on Thurs­day night.

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