- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2001

Two high school basketball coaches have activated the issue of sportsmanship after each had a player score 100 points in a game Tuesday night.

Dajuan Wagner of Camden, N.J., scored 100 points in a 157-67 victory, while Cedric Hensley of Cleveland, Texas, scored 101 points in a 178-28 victory.

Their excellence added a certain panache to what were mostly dreary contests.

It is a remarkable achievement, scoring 100 points in a game, and those who witnessed the latest two players to earn a notation in the National High School Sports Record Book undoubtedly will discuss all the details in the years ahead, using the occasion as a benchmark to evaluate the next adolescent phenom in their midst.

Like it or not, however, the occasion comes with baggage and no clearly defined boundaries. The argument against the coaches is basic. Each allowed a noncompetitive game to become a sideshow. Each ran up the score and embarrassed the opponent. Each sent the wrong message, sacrificing the team concept in celebration of a gifted individual.

All those charges have an element of truth in them, but only an element.

Glen Jackson, the Camden coach, permitted his team to stay in a fullcourt press the entire game. It seems his team won by only 90 points. He apparently was hoping the margin would be 91. That is somewhat tacky, although not the grievous offense some would make it out to be.

The self-esteem crowd in high school rarely notes its culpability in these lopsided affairs, which is: Your team stinks, and why is that? Either do something about it or deal with it. Don't look for charity from the opposition.

The run-up-the-score chorus, amply represented in the Washington area, never explains how losing by 40 points is somehow preferable to losing by 60 points.

Somehow, to these folks, the illusion of a faint respectability is comforting. The illusion serves another function as well. It shifts the onus to the victors. You blame them. You put them on the defensive. You deflate their spirit. You're too good, and that's not fair.

Well, life isn't fair, although life is usually more fair for the middle-class, milquetoast types in suburbia than it is for the street urchins in the inner city.

Some school districts fret over their students playing dodge ball. Other school districts worry about their students playing dodge the bullets.

No, life isn't fair, and the outcome of a game is the least of it.

In 1990, when Lisa Leslie was a senior in high school in Inglewood, Calif., her coach would honor his seniors one game a season by encouraging them to shoot the ball as often as they liked.

On Leslie's night, she scored 101 points, and believe it or not, that was just in the first half. The opponent, disgusted and frustrated, refused to play the second half. That was too bad in a way. Leslie might have hit the 200-point mark, which would have been as close as there is to an unbreakable record.

High school coaches have an obligation to be fair to their players, not to the opponent, and in the case of Wagner, regarded as one of the top prep players in the nation, that can be tricky.

Wagner has elicited the attention of NBA scouts, just in case he opts out of his commitment to the University of Memphis. Wagner is the quintessential man among boys, a 6-foot-3 guard who tries to pattern his game after Allen Iverson's. Is it fair to reward his specialness with a seat on the bench?

A coach who plays the team managers half the game in a rout often passes as a good sport in the high school ranks.

At least two coaches stepped outside their box this week and permitted their star players to be all they can be, and the night turned magical. A few feelings were hurt, and distinctions, however nebulous, were made.

Yet a mismatch is a mismatch, whether the margin is 150 or 90. The good sport merely delivers the insult in a different form. Either way, the losers, deep down, know the deal. They stink. So don't whine. Get in the darn gym and practice.

And don't forget to applaud the efforts of the victors, specifically the two prep stars who accomplished the improbable this week.

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