Nowadays, the country's top players such as Jared Sullinger of Northland (Columbus, Ohio) and Deshaun Thomas of Bishop Luers (Fort Wayne, Ind.) know each other well before end-of-the-season national All-Star games. But that wasn't the case back when Thomas' head coach James Blackmon participated in the McDonald's All-American Game in Atlanta in 1983 and met Dwayne "Pearl" Washington.
"Back then it was more of a reputation-type thing," Blackmon recalled. "I heard about him because of his reputation. Before the game, we had a scrimmage and I left thinking, ' I need to compete at a high level."'
Washington was a legendary New York playground star who played at Boys & Girls High (Brooklyn, N.Y.) before heading to Syracuse. Washington averaged 35 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and four steals per game as a senior. Mr. Basketball USA panelist Bob Gibbons of All-Star Sports had "Pearl" as the top player in his 1983 class rankings. Blackmon, who went on to the University of Kentucky, was ranked No. 2.
"I would have to say Pearl was the best player there," said Blackmon. "He was a little chubby, but he had all these herky-jerky, New York-style moves. I was guarding him and he had me leaving my feet on defense. I thought, 'This game tomorrow is going to be embarrassing.'
"Nowadays, Deshaun and Sullinger have had a chance to compete against each other in the summer. I think the competitive edge is still there because of all the competition. If you don't bring your 'A' game, you'll be in for a long night. I think the motivational level is still high (to win state), but the motivation is a little different."
For the record, "Pearl" was runner-up for Mr. Basketball USA to Baltimore Dunbar's Reggie Williams, who led the Poets to an undefeated record and the mythical national title.