Brian McNally

DeMatha basketball coach Morgan Wootten left an impact that spanned generations

DeMatha basketball coach Morgan Wootten left an impact that spanned generations

Morgan Wootten spoke to his players, the room hushed and hanging on his every word. 

For 46 years Wootten coached the DeMatha Catholic boys basketball team. None of them knew it, but this would be one of his final speeches to them as a coach. The scene: A locker room at Capital One Arena on March 10, 2002. The Stags had just won the City Title 59-52 against Spingarn. 

DeMatha’s players, coaches and staff gathered in the victorious locker room, jubilant. But the door stayed open for some reason and a few reporters gathered just outside to listen in on a emotional moment between a coach and his players.  

Wootten settled the room and spoke in hushed tones. He told them how proud he was of them. The Stags had gone 29-3 against what Wootten later called the toughest schedule any DeMatha team had played. They defended their Washington Catholic Athletic Conference and City championships. They were champions. 

Wootten also spoke of the future, of the lessons learned on the basketball court the players could apply in their lives beyond the sport. A few would go on to play college basketball, but there were no NBA players on this roster, no future multi-millionaires. They were just teenagers who had accomplished something special together.

Wootten believed that they could do more in their lives as adults, husbands, fathers. But that was years away. He made sure to tell them to enjoy their accomplishment. He smiled and cracked a joke and the room exploded in cheers. But Wootten’s message, the one he’d imparted to teenagers for almost half a century, lingered. It was as moving a speech as you will ever hear in a locker room. It allowed outsiders to see the guts of the thing   

Wootten died on Tuesday night surrounded by his family at age 88. He survived a liver transplant in 1996 and joked he was thankful he even had the chance to retire in 2002 just before the next basketball season started. He considered it a gift.

Legend is not too strong a word for Wootten. He won 1,274 games and coached dozens of NBA players – Adrian Dantley, Danny Ferry, Kenny Carr, Sidney Lowe, Mike Brey, Joe Forte, Keith Bogans, Adrian Branch. Hundreds more who would play in college. UCLA coach John Wooden and Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach were admirers. They were basketball royalty. In 2000, Wootten would join them in the Basketball Hall of Fame.  

You can go on and on. Wootten’s 1965 DeMatha team stunned Power Memorial from New York at old Cole Field House and their future Hall of Fame center Lew Alcindor, who became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Stags snapped Power’s 71-game winning streak that night.

But those are the specific details of a career. Wootten’s legacy is so much more than wins and losses and it remains alive in his former players, like Brown, the CBS sportscaster, and so many others who have gone on to lead meaningful, productive lives outside of basketball. 

That was the message Wootten delivered to those DeMatha players after their final championship. The brief speech, delivered to a rapt audience, represented the heart of his philosophy, what he’d hoped to impart for decades. 

It didn’t always take. There was plenty of joy over the years, but plenty of heartache, too. No coach reaches every kid. But Morgan Wootten, a teacher to the very end, never stopped trying.    

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The Big Twenty: Maryland women's basketball wins 2006 NCAA championship

The Big Twenty: Maryland women's basketball wins 2006 NCAA championship

For the next three weeks, NBC Sports Washington will be rolling out the 20 biggest stories in DMV sports in the past 20 years. Here is No. 20. 

If you were looking for local championships in the first decade of the 21st century, College Park was your best bet. 
 
Maryland’s men’s basketball team won the NCAA championship in 2002 with an older team of experienced veterans. Four years later, the Terrapin women accomplished the same feat in a much different way. 
 
The baby Terrapins started two sophomores and two freshmen, including future WNBA standouts Crystal Langhorne and Kristi Toliver, to win the program’s first national championship. As head coach Brenda Frese, herself just 35 at the time, told ESPN on the court after her team won the title game at TD Garden in Boston, “age is just a number.”
 
It was quite the turnaround for a program that had fallen on hard times. While the men were winning the title in 2002, the women’s basketball team missed the NCAA tournament for the sixth time in nine years. It was the last for longtime coach Chris Weller, who had led the Terrapins to the Final Four twice and the Elite Eight four times. 
 
Frese was hired to turn things around and she did it in just four years with an infusion of young talent. Maryland went from 10-18 in Frese’s first season in 2002-03 to an incredible 34-4 in 2005-06. 
 
The Terrapins grew as the season went on. They lost to perennial powerhouse Tennessee in November and were blown out by ACC regular-season champ Duke in College Park on Jan. 8, 2006. 
 
It was a balanced team inside and out. Langhorne led the way with 17.2 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game. Marissa Coleman, a local product from St. John’s High in the District, lived up to expectations with 13.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. 
 
Junior Shay Doron was the experienced upperclassmen and the only junior or senior among the top seven players. She scored 13.4 points per game and led with 4.5 assists. Toliver knocked down 40 percent of her 3-point attempts and was a revelation in big moments. Nothing fazed her. Sophomore Laura Harper was the unsung hero at 11.5 points and 7.2 rebounds. She was MVP of the Final Four.  
 
But Maryland wasn’t quite considered in league with the very best teams in the country. No one thought a team that young was ready to win it all. The Terrapins had two wins over a ranked Boston College and beat Michigan State when it was in the top 10. Maryland also beat Virginia Tech when it was on the edge of the top 25, too. 
 
But it took a 98-95 win at No. 1 North Carolina in February to really get everyone’s attention. And while the Terrapins immediately lost the next game again to Duke by 10 points at Cameron Indoor Stadium, you started to wonder what the ceiling was for this group. 
 
The Tar Heels finished 13-1 in conference play and Duke and Maryland tied for second at 12-2 with the Blue Devils owning both wins. But the Terrapins got revenge in the ACC tournament semifinals with a 78-70 win over Duke. It was not the last time they’d play. 
 
North Carolina beat Maryland in the ACC final, but the Terrapins entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed with a 28-4 record. The only losses were to the No. 1 seeds Duke and North Carolina and to Tennessee, which won the SEC and was a 2 seed also. 
 
The draw went well. Maryland was in the same region as No. 1 seed and Big 10 champ Ohio State, which lost in the second round. Maryland took care of No. 3 seed Baylor by 19 points in the Sweet 16 and outlasted No. 5 seed Utah in the Elite Eight. Then came the hard part: North Carolina and then Duke in the Final Four. 
 
Harper had 24 points against the Tar Heels and Maryland opened up a double-digit lead in the second half before holding off a North Carolina rally to advance to the championship game against the Blue Devils. 
 
It was an instant classic, one of the best women’s basketball title games ever played. Toliver hit the cold-blooded game-tying 3-pointer on a cross-over dribble with six seconds to go. 
 
Duke took the lead three times in overtime, but Toliver drew a late foul with 34 seconds to go and knocked down both free throws to take a 76-75 lead. After a defensive stop, Coleman hit two more free throws and the Terrapins held on.
 
In the years ahead, Langhorne was the sixth overall pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft. Harper went 10th that same year. Coleman was the second pick in 2009 and Toliver went third. She’s still hitting big baskets as the veteran point guard for the WNBA champion Mystics. 
 
In 2018, Langhorne was a key player off the bench for the Seattle Storm when they beat the Mystics in the WNBA Finals. Coleman, too, has had a long WNBA career and still plays for the New York Liberty. Harper is an assistant coach at High Point now. But it started for all of them in College Park with a young, talented team that proved to be the best in the country.  
 

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Alex Ovechkin inches closer to 700 career goals

Alex Ovechkin inches closer to 700 career goals

WASHINGTON — Alex Ovechkin is flying up the NHL leader board. 

Doesn’t matter if you want to specify this season or his career overall, Ovechkin’s hat trick on Thursday night in a 5-2 win against the New Jersey Devils helped in both cases.

Start with the big names. Ovechkin now has 689 career goals. He is inching closer to the magic 700 mark. Only seven NHL players in history have reached it. Before then he will pass Mario Lemieux (690) – fittingly maybe on Super Bowl Sunday Feb. 3 when the Capitals play the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

Then Steve Yzerman (692) and Mark Messier (694) are up next. These are incredible names, the greatest to ever play the sport. Ovechkin has etched his name into the record books with them all.

“[Lemieux was] one of my idols when I'm growing up,” Ovechkin said. “I get lucky I have a time to play against him, was on the ice with him a couple times. It's huge….They're legends. To be close to those guys, it's pretty impressive.”

Just looking at this season: Ovechkin is now at 31 goals. He needs 19 more in his 32 remaining games to reach 50 for a record-tying ninth time. For a time this season that appeared to be drifting away from Ovechkin. Now? Seems reasonable. Ovechkin will miss the Jan. 27 game against the Montreal Canadiens to serve a suspension for skipping the All-Star game in St. Louis next week. 

Ovechkin has pulled to within five goals of Boston’s David Pastrnak for the NHL lead (36) and is in third place overall. Toronto’s Auston Matthews is second (34). 

“It seems like every week at least that he’s breaking someone’s record,” Capitals teammate John Carlson said. “And they’re not cupcake records, either. I’ve said this before. I don’t think that as a teammate you realize what’s happening. It kind of becomes maybe a little more normal than if you’re in a different job or on a different team even.”

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