Morgan Wootten coached at DeMatha Catholic in Hyattsville, Md., from 1956 through 2002. His record was 1,274 victories and 192 losses. He retired in November 2002, as practice was starting for another season.

Wootten had made the decision during the summer but kept it quiet until the season was at hand. He didn't want "outsiders" to try to convince returning DeMatha players to transfer.

There were other reasons for making the announcement effective immediately, rather than at the end of a season:

A) He didn't want the players to face the pressure to win that would go with Wootten's final season; and B) Morgan didn't want all those rocking chairs that he would receive as his team visited a rival school for the last time.

Mike Jones, an assistant and former DeMatha player, was named interim coach. The job was made permanent the following spring, and Jones is now is in his sixth season.

DeMatha, the all-boys school from the Washington, D.C., suburbs, is the most famous basketball school in the country.

On Saturday, the Stags made their first visit to the Timberwolves Shootout at Target Center. They faced Hopkins, the powerhouse team of Minnesota basketball for the past decade.

"This is our third showcase-type event of the season," Jones said. "... We'd like to come back next year. The only thing is, I might try to talk to someone about getting an easier opponent."

Jones said this 45 minutes before tipoff. He knew Hopkins by reputation and also by watching videotape. And his concerns proved legitimate, as Hopkins outmuscled DeMatha for a 73-66 victory.

Hopkins was a heavy favorite to win another Class 4A title last March, and then the Royals were upset by Minnetonka in the section semifinals.

As usual, coach Ken Novak Jr. has assembled an all-star collection of talent from various communities. The Royals start four juniors, and the first two players off the bench are sophomore D.J. Peterson and freshman Marvin Singleton.

He's another kid who grew up in Minneapolis and has made his way to Hopkins. Singleton is a solid 6-4 and could turn into the second coming of Kris Humphries.

Even with all these underclassmen, Hopkins was a crusty bunch compared with DeMatha. The Stags had a typically strong team a season ago, and then graduated all five starters.

DeMatha started two juniors and three sophomores. The most productive player off the bench was Quinn Cook, a ninth-grader. That tells you why Jones would like to come back next January -- to show off a more experienced club that might offer Minnesotans a better look at what DeMatha basketball has been all about.

When a reporter referred to Jones as Wootten's successor, the coach smiled and said: "It would be more accurate to say I followed behind him. No one could actually succeed Morgan Wootten."

DeMatha's roster included players such as Kenny Carr, Adrian Dantley, Danny Ferry and Sidney Lowe. Wootten is talked about with reverence by DeMatha alumnus, rival coaches and also Washington sportswriters of my acquaintance.

"He's absolutely the finest person you could meet," Jones said. "He's also one of the best basketball coaches at any level in the history of game. He has the personality and the character that allowed him to relate to young people from the 1940s to today."

For years, there was speculation that Joe Wootten, Morgan's son, would be his replacement at DeMatha. The elder Wootten kept coaching and Joe eventually went to Bishop O'Connell, where he has built a major rival for DeMatha.

"We played Joe's team last month, and they beat us by 10," Jones said Saturday.

In the fall of 2006, Morgan Wootten received a kidney transplant. The donor was Joe.

DeMatha is 7-4 after Saturday's loss. Jones' guards kept driving into the lane and firing off-balance shots through traffic.

If we see the Stags here a year from now, those young players might have the strength to create space on those drives.

Not right now. On Saturday, Hopkins had the mature athletes in juniors Raymond Cowles (26 points), Mike Broghammer (11 points, nine rebounds) and Trent Lockett (16 points). The Royals were clearly a better club than the one representing the most famous high school hoops program in the country.

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. •