Courtesy Jesse Harrison

For the older, wiser print version of Washington City Paper, I wrote this week about Jo Jo Hunter. He was a god among boys on the local playgrounds and on prep hoops courts in the 1970s.

He’s in jail now.

For the last 15 years, he’s been locked up for jewelry store robberies. A lot of the folks who played at a very high level with and against Hunter back in the day, organized by Roosevelt alum (and Hunter cousin-in-law) Jesse Harrison, are working hard to get him out of prison. They hope to have Hunter playing ball with them in a local old guys league by the end of the year.

If they succeed, well, tell me there ain’t a movie there!

Pick up a copy. Read the story. Keep your nose clean.

Hunter starred in the backcourt for Mackin High during what was as golden an age as the city’s hoops scene has ever seen. The NCAA feasted on talent from D.C.’s Interhigh and Catholic Leagues back then. And during his prep days Hunter was thought to be as good as anybody of his generation. He led the entire area in scoring his senior year, averaging 38 points a game — before the three-point line.

He shunned NBA offers for the next best thing, a scholarship from Lefty Driesell‘s Maryland Terps. Lefty’s teams were as beloved as the Redskins when Hunter showed up in College Park in 1976, and unlike Gary Williams‘ Maryland squads, were stocked with locals.

Perhaps there were too many superstars on the Terps roster — Hunter, Brad Davis, Ernie Graham, Billy Bryant, Turkey Tillman, Brian Magid, Albert King, etc. A brutal Sports Illustrated article on Maryland in February 1978 described a toxic relationship between the stars:

Maryland does lead the ACC, and perhaps the NCAA, in discord and petty jealousy, and therein lies the source of the team’s drastic slide and King’s disappearing act. From the opening week of practice Jo Jo Hunter and Bill Bryant, two sophomore guards with impressive high school credentials and unfulfilled egos, have neglected to pass the ball to [Albert] King when he has been open on fast breaks or has worked himself into an advantageous position while running the Terp patterns. Locker-room shouting matches with Driesell have not changed Hunter and Bryant’s attitudes, and their selfishness seems to be contagious. Against Virginia, freshman Ernest Graham ignored three teammates on a 4-on-1 break, barged in for the shot himself and was assessed an offensive foul.

Hunter left his hometown for Colorado after only two seasons in College Park and was largely outta the local sports consciousness until his 1996 arrest.

But the guys Hunter shared courts with around here never forgot about him. A whole lot of players from the D.C. scene in the ’70s still get together twice a week to play in a 50-and-over league at Bowie Community Center. They’re writing letters to the feds in hopes that’ll help Jo Jo Hunter get paroled later this year. They want him back on the court.

I went out to Bowie for a 50-and-over games last week, and found the level of play among the old guys to be startlingly high; but for somebody of my vintage, it’s worth a trip out there just to hear all the glory days banter.

I was also surprised how many folks  recall one particular game, DeMatha v. Mackin on Feb. 1, 1976, played at St. John’s. Hawkeye Whitney put in 41 points for DeMatha, while Hunter had 38 for Mackin, in DeMatha’s 84-82 overtime win. (Again, Hunter put up his numbers from the outside, with no three-point line.) After that night, everybody who cared was sure both guys were headed for NBA superstardom.

Instead, both ended up in jail for crimes committed almost 20 years to the day of what would turn out to be the biggest game they ever played in: Hunter for the jewelry store heists, and Whitney for the Jan. 26, 1996, armed kidnapping of Clinton aide Mark Fabiani. Amazing.

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