A love letter to D.C.-area high school basketball

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A love letter to D.C.-area high school basketball
Feb 18, 2020

The late John McNamara’s book, “The Capital of Basketball: A History of D.C. High School Area Hoops,” reads like a 263-page long documentary chronicling the rich and colorful foundations of high school basketball in the D.C. metropolitan area.

Widely beloved in the metropolitan area for his reporting and generous basketball knowledge, McNamara was killed in a mass shooting at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, where he worked as a reporter and editor for 24 years.

Before his death, he had conducted more than 150 interviews over the last 15 years of his life as he curated a book on the iteration of basketball he loved so much: D.C. area high school basketball. The book was completed posthumously by his wife Andrea Chamblee and his friend and fellow sportswriter David Elfin.

McNamara’s investment into high school basketball began shortly after he entered high school at St. John’s College High School in Washington. He attended a game with his father and brother and fell in love with the thrills of the game and skills of the players. He was hooked. And that fascination drove him throughout his life and career.

“The Capital of Basketball” is not only McNamara’s love letter to D.C. high school hoops but also a thank you to and from his wife, Andrea Chamblee, who first encouraged him to write the book. By publishing the book, Chamblee fulfills her promise to make sure McNamara is “remembered not just for how he died, but for how he lived.”

Chamblee had the help of some of McNamara’s friends and admirers to help bring the book to life. Coaching greats Morgan Wootten and Gary Williams and sportscaster Johnny Holiday contributed their wealth of experience and understanding, affirming and expanding on McNamara’s own knowledge.

Elfin, who had co-written “Cole Classics” with McNamara and worked with him at The Washington Post, was the right person to help finish the book. Elfin conducted the final interviews and blended his authorial voice carefully and skillfully with McNamara’s.

The book spans over a century of basketball in the district, from the game’s introduction to the area at the turn of the century to its evolution in pace and style to the longstanding dominance high schools like DeMatha have had over the region.

The first chapter sheds light on two basketball revolutionaries: Maurice Joyce, the man that brought the game to D.C. in 1892 and ushered the change from nine-man teams to five-man, and Dr. Edwin Bancroft (E.B.) Henderson, who, after 1904, introduced a faster-paced version of the game to black students in the district.

The ensuing pages relish on the storied schools and the legendary coaches and players that starred there, detailing their various rises to regional and sometimes national acclaim, including the game that never happened between St. Anthony’s and DeMatha in the 1970s and the dramatic endings in championship games at the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House.

McNamara wrote at the end of his preface, “After all this time, I’m pleased to say that I’m still in the game.” He was right. His love and knowledge for D.C. high school hoops immersed throughout this book will continue to carry his legacy.

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