Washtenaw County boys basketball season preview: Team capsules and players to watch
A look at the 2011-12 Washtenaw County high school boys basketball scene:
Andre Duffin (sr., 6-2, G), Milan: Averaged 15 points on 45-percent shooting and was a 79-percent free throw shooter last season. On pace to become just the fourth player in Milan history to score 1,000 points.
Mike Lewis (sr., 6-5, F), Huron: Averaged 12 points and 5.5 rebounds for the River Rats last year and, according to coach Waleed Samaha, has added a perimeter touch that will make him even tougher to defend.
Tristan Simmons (sr., 6-4, G), Ypsilanti: The only underclassman member of last year's AnnArbor.com Dream Team, Simmons averaged 18.6 points and is one of three starters returning for a Phoenix team that went 22-2.
Theron Wilson (sr., 6-4, G), Skyline: He has grown two inches and put on noticeable bulk since averaging 18.3 points as a junior last season.
The Bulldogs graduated three three-year starters in Patrick Roberts, Charlie McAlla and Mason Borders, and those spots won't be easy to fill, particularly from an outside scoring perspective, said coach Robin Raymond.
But there's little Raymond hasn't adjusted to in his 31 years at Chelsea.
He's confident in the half-court defense of his team, but would like to see them able to extend it pas the 3-point arc. Despite not having towering height, besides 6-5 center Jake Steinhauer, Raymond thinks his team will do well on the glass.
"Rebounding should be strong," Raymond said. "We’re not tall but we have size."
Strength: Half court defense, rebounding.
Weakness: Overall quickness needs to get better. Quick at the guard spots, but the big men, not so much.
The Dreadnaughts no longer have the convenience of a 6-9 primary and backup plan that was Dave LaMore, who is now playing at Cornell. The result will be a more balanced attack.
"We'll have to find whoever is having the hot game," Swoverland said. "The flip side to (being balanced) is I'm not sure we have a go to."
Strength: Balance and versatility.
Weakness: Lack of a No. 1 option or go-to player.
FATHER GABRIEL RICHARD FIGHTING IRISH
Pete Schoch knows it sound silly, but after graduating 13 feet, 3 inches worth of Division I talent in Luther Page (Alabama State) and Darren Washington (Robert Morris), he thinks his team is stronger inside.
Physically stronger, that is. In terms of rebounding and scoring, not so much. But Schoch thinks he has some pretty special guards who can pick up that slack in Kamari Davis, Ashton Hunley and Evan Fosha, a 6-5 sophomore who Schoch said has some "special gifts."
"We've got really good guard play," said Schoch. "We're really skilled on the outside."
Gabriel Richard struggled after moving up to the Detroit High School Catholic League's AA Division last year, and won just five regular season games. But the brutal schedule all seemed worth it when the Irish made a run to the regional final.
Schoch thinks his young team, with 11 of 14 non-senior players, needs more immediate results this year.
"It’ll be very hard if we’re losing that many games in a row (again)," said Schoch. "I’d like to see that (hard work) be rewarded."
Strength: Guard play. Weakness: Rebounding.
The Gryphons are relatively tall, with a lineup with several player in the 6-0 to 6-4 range, a far cry from two years ago when the average team height was 5-9.
But don't confuse tall for big.
"I'm thinking about just sending them to the weight room instead of the court for practice," coach Andrew Wright joked.
The lack of bulk is reflective of a young team with little varsity experience. Junior guard Andrew Khouri is the only pure scorer of the group, and Wright said he needs to learn when he should be trying to score and when to get teammates involved.
With only one senior, it could be a growing year for the Gryphons.
Strength: Numbers and comparable skill level helps elevate competition at practice. "Having good practices where we can improve. Our progress is going to be amazing," Wright said.
Weakness: Lack of strength and experience.
HURON RIVER RATS
Gone are eight seniors -- three of whom were four-year starters -- from a team that sat atop the state rankings the majority of last season before a disappointing early playoff loss.
But, guess what? Huron's still going to press on defense, still going to run, and has an early season schedule packed with top teams from around the state. Coach Waleed Samaha doesn't believe in rebuilding years.
"Our goals every year are to win a league championship, win a district championship, win a state championship," said Samaha. "Those goals have been hanging in our locker room for about five years and they don't come down."
After two years of providing a spark off the bench, guard Andre Bond will be relied upon to be a more consistent scorer and the leader on the court. Down low, Mike Lewis, won't have as many big bodies to help him out, but after developing a mid-range and perimeter game to go along with his moves in the low post, Samaha doesn't think that will be a problem for the big bodied 6-4 senior.
"Mike Lewis is going to dominate a lot of games," Samaha said. "We're not going to have eight or nine guys do our scoring like we have in the past, but watch out for Mike this year ... he's a bear."
Weakness: Rebounding. "We will have to rebound by committee. ... We won’t have size and length that we’ve had," said Samaha.
Coach Mike Foley said he feels a buzz around the building at Lincoln High School that he's never felt in his eight years.
"The football team started a winning environment and all our sports are benefiting from it," Foley said. "Football jump starts the athletics at any school. Everybody is excited, and I tip my hat to Chris (Westfall) on that."
From a skill standpoint, Foley think this might be one of the more talented teams he's had at Lincoln. And with several seniors either returning to the program from injury or other reasons, he's confident the best players in the school will be on the court rather than sitting in the stands on Friday night.
Foley knows there will be a learning curve with several first time varsity players though.
"Everybody can look good at practice. It may take them time to adjust, regardless of skill, to playing high school varsity basketball," Foley said.
Strength: Depth. Foley feels confident going 11-deep.
Weakness: Lack of experience.
MANCHESTER FLYING DUTCHMEN
Seen those inflated Manchester boxscores, yet? Dave Arnold -- who coached at Monroe last year and Whitmore Lake for three years before that -- is back in the area, and he brought his Grinnell College system with him.
Throw anything you thought you knew about the Manchester basketball team out the window because it's all changed with an offense that sprints the court and shoots constant 3-pointers, a defense that presses the entire game, and a lineup that subs all five players every 45 seconds.
Arnold turned a non-competitive Whitmore Lake program into one that contended for league and district titles and sees a lot of similarities in Manchester, which -- although it won its first district title last season -- was well under .500 and won just five games the year before.
"When I got to Whitmore Lake, they had a football program with success, and those same athletes were on the basketball team, but never had a ton of success. That's the same as here, and those athletes are the type you want to buy in," Arnold said. "If they have athleticism to be competitive in football, then we should in basketball."
There will be bumps in the road, and inflated boxscores. Whether success follows remains to be seen.
Strength: In a system where everyone gets to play, and shoot, and score. Team cohesion is often the result.
Weakness: This is about as unorthodox a system as there is, and it takes some time to get used to.
MILAN BIG REDS
The Big Reds return 10 players from last year's team, including all five starters. Leading the charge for the Big Reds will be Andre Duffin, who is on track to become just the fourth Milan player to ever score more than 1,000 points.
Third year Milan coach Josh Tropea said his team has two primary goals to start the season: Compete for a Huron League title and a district title.
The first may be in conflict with the latter, however, as Milan has moved up to Class A due to changes in enrollment. The Huron League is comprised of Class C and small Class B schools, not quite at the level of the teams Milan will now see come playoff time.
"It doesn't help us, but there are schools like (Monroe) St. Mary's that bring the type of intensity we're looking for," said Tropea. "And we've know the move up was coming, so beefed up our summer schedule."
Weakness: Inconsistent perimeter shooting.
There won't be much size differential for players 1-5 for the Pioneers this year, with just about every player on the roster falling into the 6-foot to 6-3 range.
With that in mind, and with the departure of dominant big man James Kelly, the Pioneers won't run the traditional half-court offense feeding the big man down low. As a matter of fact, there won't be much traditional about the Pioneers at all.
"I don't even know if we have 'positions'. Jimmy (Holman) is the point guard, and everyone else is fluid," said coach Rex Stanczak. "We’re just going to have to play a little bit unconventional this year. There’s always a way, you just have to find that way, create all kinds of havoc."
A three-year starter at point guard, Holman will not just be looked upon as a distributor this year but relied upon as the primary scorer as well.
Defensively, Stanczak said his team will look to create turnovers because he anticipates height will be a hindrance in the rebounding battle.
"We need to win turnover battle because we’ll struggle to win rebounding battle," Stanczak said.
Strength: Basketball IQ, ball skills (shooting, passing dribblling) and team chemistry.
Weakness: Lack of height.
Before talking about what the Hornets do have, it's necessary to address what's missing.
That'd be starting point guard Reece Dils, due to undergo hip surgery after suffering an injury incurred during football season, and Derek Owings, who is giving his aching knees a break as he prepares to play college football.
It's a tough way to start for first-year coach Matt Seidl.
"That was a quite a blow," said Seidl, who hopes Dils can be back by February, at the earliest.
No Owings -- who Seidl calls "the prototypical high school four man" -- or Dils, means 6-8 center Michael Smutny will be relied upon heavily and former role players will be relied upon for much more.
"(Smutny's) never been the number one option, so his role will be elevated," Seidl said. "It’s nice to have a post players to throw the ball in to."
Strength: Perimeter shooting.
Weakness: Lack of physicality, rebounding.
The story of the Skyline basketball team is no longer a fluffy tale of a band of underclassmen in a school without upperclassmen taking on the big dogs.
The school is now full and the Eagles return all five starters. That includes 6-4 guard Theron Wilson, who averaged 18.3 points last season, and one of the area's best big men in the aptly named 6-6 Jarrius Mann.
Coach Mike Lovelace said because of his team's athleticism and depth, they'll run a higher tempo offense and apply much more pressure on defense to try to create fast breaks for his athletes to get out and run.
"We're extremely athletic and have a lot of exciting players. Our style will let players do what they’re best at," Lovelace said.
Strength: Athleticism and depth.
Weakness: Going from the constant underdog to a favorite will be a new experience for the entire team.
WHITMORE LAKE TROJANS
After losing in every way possible last season, the Trojans are out to a 2-0 start, which coach Casey Livingston says will help his team's confidence going forward.
"After a tough season, they're starting to understand they can win," said Livingston.
While the Trojans no longer run at the break-neck pace they did under Dave Arnold, they still will aim to play up-tempo as their roster is full of guards, and extremely undersized.
Strength: Guard play.
Weakness: Boxing out, rebounding.
WILLOW RUN FLYERS
Willow Run has five transfers on its roster, including 6-8 sophomore Jamal Poplar, who can play every position on the floor.
Poplar has already displayed his effectiveness in a cross-town rivalry, with 18 points, 20 rebounds and five blocks in a win over Lincoln. Coach George Woods can't help but dream about how Poplar and Justin Tillman would have done together.
But after a stellar freshman year, Tillman transferred from Willow Run. As a whole, coach George Woods likes the athleticism of his team and feels that in senior guard NyShaun Marks he has an experienced leader who can bring together a group playing together for the first time.
"NyShaun Marks isn't going to give you 20 points a night, but he's going to give you 115 percent and lead by example," Woods said.
Weakness: Team hasn't played together much.
The Phoenix have an embarrassment of riches with four players taller than 6-6 and five more between 6-2 and 6-4.
But the Phoenix aren't just tall. They're experienced and have a wealth of players that can score the basketball, none more so than Tristan Simmons. The 6-4 guard averaged 18.6 points for Ypsilanti last year.
Ypsilanti will also have an injection of young talent with 6-8 sophomore Jalen Johnson developing into a player over the summer that coach Steve Brooks said can play any position on the court.
With expectations at an all-time high, Brooks knows his team won't sneak up on anybody this year.
"Hopefully the guys aren’t talking the talk about you’re supposed to be good and all that," Brooks said. "But we have some guys who are really ready to show what they can do."
The injury bug has bitten Ypsilanti, though. Simmons suffered a hairline fracture to his tibia over the summer and is not yet at 100 percent. Darryl Tipton is just now recovering from an ankle injury he suffered during football.
Behind or not, Ypsilanti will be thrown into the fire right away with the likes of Huron, Saginaw, Detroit Southeastern and others on its early season schedule. The aggressive schedule is reflective of where the Phoenix hope to be at the end of the season and a needed boost since they will be head and shoulders -- literally and figuratively -- above their SEC White competition.
Strength: Length and experience.
Weakness: Lack of quickness down low.
CALVARY CHRISTIAN COUGARS
Calvary Christian won only a single game last season. Coach Steve Thurmond doesn't have outlandish expectations for his squad, but does think they are capable of a .500 season or better.
Calvary Christian will benefit from having Travis Reed back out on the floor after having to sit out the entire 2010-11 season due to medical problems.
Strength: Team defense.
Weakness: Ball handling, scoring.
CENTRAL ACADEMY FALCONS
The Falcons will have to adjust to life after Sami Shalabi, which will be no easy task. The 6-5 center/forward averaged 21.6 points and 10 rebounds last season as Central Academy won its first ever district title.
"Cleaning up the boards will be tough without Sami," said coach Rushdi Isa.
Returning from last year's team, though is senior guard Omar Hasan, who earned a reputation as a strong outside shooter last season.
"We've got quick guards and good shooters," Isa said.
But with teams not having to commit double teams to Shalabi, it will certainly be more difficult for Hasan and those other guards to get the open looks.
Strength: Outside shooting.
Weakness: Lack of height and depth.
EASTERN WASHTENAW MULTICULTURAL ACADEMY CHARGERS
What the Chargers lack in height, they'll try to make up for in quickness, according to coach Jibri Taylor. The Chargers will press on defense, whether it will be a full-court pressure or a half court will vary.
"I want to confuse people by switching our defense up constantly," Taylor said.
On offense, the Chargers' will spread the floor, and depend a lot on junior guard Cornelius Saxton.
Weakness: Lack of height.
RUDOLF STEINER STORM
Nick Sherwood will take over for the Rudolf Steiner Storm and believes there could be some growing pains to come along with implementing a completely new offensive and defensive philosophy.
The good news for the Storm is that their leading scorer from last year Koji Vroom, who averaged 15.6 points last season, is back and will be for another year after.
Sherwood is excited about coaching newcomer Jackson Greenstone, a senior playing organized basketball for the first time, but according to Sherwood the best athlete on the team.
Weakness: Completely new system and limited preparation time.
WASHTENAW CHRISTIAN WILDCATS
Coach Aaron Hoesli knows that basketball isn't the first love of most of his players.
"We're basically a team full of soccer players playing basketball," Hoesli jokes.
The benefit to that: fitness. Hoesli said his team's training on the pitch has them in great shape, which will come in handy as he Wildcats will press and run the entire game to try to make up for a lack of size.
Weakness: Many players are still learning the game.