The boys basketball state tournament will get underway in a couple of weeks, and two rivals will be tipping it off when No. 6 Detroit King faces No. 12 Detroit Cass Tech in a Division 1 district opener at Detroit Western Feb. 25.
The teams are familiar with one another, have already split their PSL regular-season series. They're on a collision course to play for the PSL championship Friday night at Cass Tech, if King (15-2) can get past Detroit Renaissance (14-3) and Cass Tech (12-5) can get past Detroit Pershing (16-1) in Tuesday’s semifinals at Cass Tech.
While the survivor of that district opener could make a long postseason run, so could No. 4 U-D Jesuit, which has an outstanding lineup in physical 6-foot-4, 220-pound forward Daniel Friday, 6-10 center Jalen Thomas, 6-6 junior forward J.T. Morgan and guards Julian Dozier, Jordan Montgomery and Caleb Hunter, who are all strong defenders.
Before U-D Jesuit (15-2) — which won the Class A state championship in 2016 with Cassius Winston leading the way — starts its postseason run it will try to earn its seventh straight Catholic League championship.
“I think we have everything we need to win a state championship,” said Friday, who will play next year at Brown. “We have great guard play, probably the best big in the state and we have me, who tries to do everything.
“(Dozier) is a great player, real crafty, smart and can do everything on the court. Jordan hustles, is a scrapper and Jalen blocks shots, rebounds and scores. J.T. is real young and real talented and can do a lot of things.
“J.T. is one of those players that doesn’t need to score to affect the game. We just need him out there, being long, contesting shots, grabbing boards and running the floor. I think I’ve improved the most attacking. I was real passive to start the season, but when I realized my team needs me to attack for us to win I started attacking more.”
U-D head coach Pat Donnelly feels good about his team — whose lone losses are to No. 3 New Haven when Thomas was sidelined with a foot injury and to Chicago Morgan Park in early January — and is thrilled to have Friday leading the way.
“He’s a great player, a man amongst boys,” Donnelly said of Friday. “He’s big. He’s athletic. He’s strong and can handle the ball and get to the rim. He’s a tough matchup for high school basketball.”
It’s hard to believe Clarkston would be in the conversation of having the potential to reach the Breslin Center in mid-March for the Final Four after it lost its entire eight-man rotation, including Mr. Basketball award winner Foster Loyer and legendary head coach Dan Fife, from its two-time state championship team.
But, Clarkston (15-2) is in that conversation, earning its No. 5 ranking and clinching the Oakland Activities Association Red Division title with a 10-0 record, while also defeating Detroit King 53-39 on Jan. 19.
Clarkston is getting things done with 7-foot junior Matt Nicholson (13.3 points, 11.4 rebounds, 4.7 blocks) and a pair of freshman guards in Keegan Wasilk (11.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists) and Fletcher Loyer (16.4 points, 4.2 rebounds), younger brother of Foster, leading the way.
While Nicholson has made it tough for the opposition to score, blocking shots and altering others, Loyer has displayed his perimeter shooting, shooting 43.6 percent from 3-point range, making nine 3-pointers in a win over West Bloomfield.
Roseville — 14-2 and ranked No. 8 — would have to be considered a sleeper, earning an early season win over Mr. Basketball front-runner Romeo Weems (DePaul) and New Haven, with guard Darien Banks scoring 27.
Roseville, coached by 24-year-old Hassan Nizam, is on collision course to face New Haven in the Macomb Area Conference Red/White tournament championship game Saturday at Sterling Heights Stevenson, if Roseville can defeat Macomb Dakota and New Haven gets by Stevenson in Tuesday night’s semifinals.
No. 15 Ypsilanti Lincoln and 6-8 freshman phenom Emoni Bates will be a team to keep an eye on. Lincoln will try to put an end to Ypsilanti’s run of 10 straight Southeastern Conference White Division championships when the teams meet Friday at Lincoln.
Bates scored 43, making 6-of-11 3-pointers, in Lincoln’s 68-56 win over Ypsilanti Jan. 19 played before a packed house, including Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.
Lincoln will be playing in a competitive district with a second-round game against the Ypsilanti-Belleville winner, with a possible title bout with No. 20 Ann Arbor Pioneer (14-2), the SEC Red champ.
Weems wants nothing more than to end his brilliant career at New Haven with another state championship.
New Haven earned its first state title in program history in 2017, then was derailed in the semifinals last year, losing to Grand Rapids Catholic Central.
New Haven has one of the top 1-2 punches in the state in Weems (28.7) and 6-1 senior guard Ronald Jeffery III (21.0), who have combined for nearly 50 points a game.
“He can shoot the ball and get to the rim; he’s quick and I love having him on the floor with me,” Weems said of Jeffery. “We’re just taking things one day at a time, getting better every day. If we play our game and do what we’re supposed to do we can compete for a state championship.”
Said New Haven coach Tedaro France: “I love this MAC tournament because it’s a great tournament, and with short prep time it prepares you for the state tournament. It’s a great atmosphere, great event for us.
“This is probably my deepest team I’ve had as far as guard play and we have the firepower, but we just have to be more consistent at doing the small things.”
Division 2 is loaded with great teams, including No. 1 River Rouge, which advanced to the state semifinals the last two years, No. 2 and defending Class B state champion Benton Harbor, No. 10 Williamston, No. 11 and unbeaten Bridgeport, No. 14 Grand Rapids Catholic Central and No. 20 and unbeaten Otsego.
After suffering its lone loss to Detroit Edison, Benton Harbor defeated Bates and Lincoln 86-83 in the RedHawks Showcase at Grand Rapids Union Feb. 2 with 6-6 junior Carlos “Scooby” Johnson scoring 38. Johnson received an offer from Michigan earlier this winter.
Benton Harbor will play host to River Rouge on Saturday.
No. 7 Flint Beecher will be the team to beat in Division 3, with Detroit Edison being a strong contender after winning the Class C state title last year.
Beecher — which won three consecutive Class C state championships from 2015-17 and two straight in 2012-13 — is led by the talented junior backcourt of 6-0 Jalen Terry, who has multiple Big Ten offers, including Michigan State, and 6-3 Earnest Sanders.
Edison has played one of the toughest schedules, earning wins over Benton Harbor, No. 13 Canton, Oak Park, Romulus and Dearborn Divine Child and losing games against U-D Jesuit, Detroit Renaissance and Chicago Orr.
Edison has size with 6-5 Brian Taylor and 6-6, 230-pound junior Bryce George showing some toughness inside.
Unbeaten Pewamo-Westphalia and Iron Mountain are also having strong seasons, as are Quincy (14-1) and Detroit Pershing.
Southfield Christian (2012-14, 2018) and Powers North Central (2015-17) have won every Class D state championship since 2012.
Well, North Central (11-4) already has lost several games this season after setting the state record for consecutive wins (84, 2014-17).
And, Southfield Christian (12-6) lost the bulk of its starters from last year’s state championship team, losing standout guards Harlond Beverly (Montverde, Fla.) and Caleb Hunter (U-D Jesuit) to transfer.
Brimley and Bellevue are unbeaten and could make a deep run, and fans will be following Marcellus Howardsville Christian (14-1) with interest, since 6-4 guard Dylan Jergens has been putting up big numbers, averaging close to 40 points.
Jergens has 2,432 career points, ninth on the all-time state scoring list. He averaged 32.1 points last season while leading Howardsville Christian to a 20-6 record and regional championship. He scored 59 in a game this season.