Is this the greatest Dunbar team ever?

And, no, this is not about the end-of-the-game, in-your-face give-and-take between the 6-foot-8 Dunbar High School forward and Mentor Lake Catholic guard Joey Vuyancih.

That was just unrestrained delight and utter frustration colliding after Dunbar’s 75-60 victory over the Cougars in the Division II state semifinal at the Schottenstein Center.

The exchanges got a bit nasty, especially in the postgame handshake line, but each team’s coaches pushed the senior stars in opposite directions and that was it.

Lake Catholic headed off to the dressing room, while undefeated Dunbar kept marching toward a state title and a perfect season.

And that’s when Hawkins — who had had 19 points, 12 rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot — said something that was kicked around quite a bit.

While Dunbar has had four other state championship teams over the years, none has finished the season unbeaten. If these Wolverines should defeat Elida today for the D-II crown, they would end up 28-0.

Does that make them the greatest Dunbar team ever?

“Oh yeah, this year’s team has to be the best,” said Hawkins, who also started for the 2010 title team. “Even with Daequan (Cook) and Norris (Cole) on the ’06 team, we’d have to be considered the best. We’re gonna be 28-0 by the end of this weekend.”

But Hawkins’ assessment wasn’t even fully embraced by one of his own teammates.

“As far as going down as the best team in history, there’s been so much talent that Dunbar has had that we really can’t count just being undefeated,” said fellow senior Andre Yates, who scored a game-high 26 points against Lake Catholic. “We just want to close it out so our name will be up there with some of the greats.”

And when you’re talking Dunbar basketball, you are talking about a lot of great players and teams.

This year’s team has three players who have signed scholarship offers with NCAA Division I programs: Yates is headed to Creighton, Hawkins to Wichita State and Gary Akbar to Cleveland State. And freshman guard Amos “A.J.” Harris, he of the bulky plastic goggles and slick cross-over dribble, has already been wooed by the University of Dayton.

The 2006 team had five guys who played in college, two now in the NBA.

Cook made a splash at Ohio State for one season and now plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Cole was the Horizon League Player of the Year at Cleveland State and now is a rookie point guard for the Miami Heat.

Center Aaron Pogue just finished up at Cleveland State, Darren Powell played football at the University of Cincinnati and 6-foot-7 Mark Anderson was a junior college All-American at Sinclair and was headed to Miami University until academics did him in.

The 1987 state title team sent five players to Division I basketball as well, said Renaldo O’Neal, one of that team’s star guards who then played at Wright State and is now a Dunbar assistant coach.

“We had Mark Baker (the Ohio State star who made it to the NBA), Kirk Taylor (who was on the Michigan team that made it to the NCAA title game in 1992), Mike Haley (Wright State) and Troy Harris.”

That 1987 team went 24-4. The 2006 team finished 26-2 with the two defeats coming to national powers out of state. The 2010 champs were 25-3.

And the 1971 state runners-up went 24-2 and had four guys play major-college basketball, while the fifth, Wild Bill Higgins, was an All-American at Ashland and then made the ABA’s All-Rookie team with the Virginia Squires.

“You can’t just go by record,” said Dunbar head coach Pete Pullen, who is in his eighth season as the Dunbar boys coach and has brought five teams to the state tournament. “A lot of times you don’t play the same people and the eras are different and you have different type players.

“Talent-wise, I can’t talk about Mark Baker and them because I didn’t see them play. But if you look what was on the ’06 team, it’s hard to argue against them. They ended up with two NBA players. That’s not saying two won’t come off this bunch, but probably not.

“But then again, this team is undefeated and you can’t argue that either.”

O’Neal agreed: “I don’t believe you can just go by the record, but you can’t take away from what these guys are doing. The object of the game is to beat whoever is in front of you and these kids have done that.

“Going unbeaten is tough to do anywhere. Look at this tournament. Nobody else (but Jackson Center) is doing it.

“That said, this is a different bunch than both ’06 and our team in ’87.

“You didn’t have to motivate us. We were aggressive and hungry. We were determined to kill your will from the start. The ’06 team, you kind of had to pump them up to get them going.

“This team needs motivation. The guys have a low emotional level, so you can’t go as hard with them as we did in ’87. But you can’t allow them to lay back the way you could the guys in ’06 either. It takes this bunch longer to get going.

“The main thing is that all the teams were great, they just had different personalities. And you can’t really focus just on the championship teams. The tradition they have continued was built by a lot of guys over the years.

“There have been so many guys that it’s become a kind of brotherhood.”

And with that he rattled off just a few Dunbar stars of the past, guys like Darrell Dunlap, Ricky Gates, Cornelius and Lorenzo Cash, Raymond Gaffney, Dynell “The Duck” Springer and Paul Hawkins.

He also mentioned “Big Daddy” Wilkinson and Na’Shon Goddard, two Dunbar hoops players who made their names in the NFL.

And that’s when Hawkins said something that got no argument:

“When you put on a Dunbar jersey, you know you’re representing a whole lot of great players. To do that, you’ve got to make it all business, because you know when other people see your Dunbar jersey, they are gonna come at you and try to play their best.

“So each time we have to play a little better than that.”

And this season — every game so far — they have done just that.

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