Team-by-team look at Washtenaw County boys basketball teams
AnnArbor.com's final entry in a series of winter high school sport previews focuses on Washtenaw County's boys basketball teams.
A.J. Mathew (jr., 6-3, PG), Huron: Back for his third season running the show for the River Rats, Mathew was the leading scorer (14.1 ppg) on a balanced River Rat squad last year. He also was the team’s go-to player in the clutch, hitting game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointers against Adrian and Ypsilanti.
Josh Herbeck (sr., 6-3, G), Gabriel Richard: With the graduation of Mr. Basketball candidate Eso Akunne, Herbeck will be an even larger focus of the Irish offense - particularly until two post transfers become eligible in mid-January. A long-distance specialist, Herbeck made 72 3-pointers in 25 games last season.
Maurice Jordan (sr., 6-4, F), Willow Run: The three-year varsity player was a third scoring option for the Flyers last season behind since-graduated Brian Cogdell and Mark Cook. He's the go-to guy for his senior season and has responded by averaging 28.5 points and 14 rebounds in the Flyers first two games of the season.
Jamie Henry (sr., 6-2, G), Pioneer: The last link to Pioneer's 20-0 team in 2007-08, Henry will be asked to be a team-leader -- and its best defender, a main scoring option and secondary ball handler -- on a relatively inexperienced Pioneer squad.
CENTRAL ACADEMY FALCONS Central Academy lost four starters, but the lone returner was the key to the Falcons’ offense. Sami Shalabi, a 6-foot-5 junior post player, averaged 21.2 points and 14 rebounds a season ago. Coach Rushdi Issa drew up a much more difficult schedule this season, hoping to better prepare his team for the postseason.
Coach: Rushdi Issa (2nd year)
Last season: 18-3, lost in first round of a Class D district.
Key returner: Sami Shalabi (jr., 6-5, F/C).
Key newcomers: Omar Hasan (so., 5-6, G), Fadi Issa (jr., 5-8, G), Abdi Mohamad (so., 5-5, G), Madji Issa (jr., 5-11, G), Lauy Shalabi (so., 5-10, G).
Strength: Passion and cohesion. Issa says “basketball is our heart” at Central Academy and these sophomores and juniors have been playing together since middle school.
Weakness: Lack of varsity experience.
Outlook: The independent team points primarily to the postseason, where they lost a first-round district game to a Washtenaw Christian team it had beaten twice in the regular season. With Adrian Lenawee Christian removed from that district this season, Central Academy and Washtenaw Christian should be the co-favorites to advance to a regional.
Coach Rushdi Issa says: “We have a much tougher schedule, so our record will probably not be the same as last year, but I think we can definitely be a stronger team.”
CHELSEA BULLDOGS With four sophomores seeing considerable playing time a year ago, the Bulldogs will be a young-but-experienced squad in 2009-10. Two more sophomores join this year’s team, which coach Robin Raymond says will be deeper and more athletic than last year’s squad. That equates to the Bulldogs wanting to play a more up-tempo style on both ends of the court.
Coach: Robin Raymond (29th year)
Last season: 6-15, tied for third in the SEC White.
Key returners: Patrick Roberts (jr., 6-1, G), Brennan Darwin (sr., 6-4, F), Conor Tait (jr., 6-5, C), Spencer Mykala (jr., 6-1, F).
Key newcomers: Jack McDougall (so., 6-0, G), Charlie McCalla (jr., 6-3, G).
Strength: Depth and athleticism. The Bulldogs have six players between 6-2 and 6-4 that, in Raymond’s words, “can get out and go.”
Weakness: Raymond says rebounding and inside defense has been a concern in pre-season practice.
Outlook: The Bulldogs should compete in the balanced SEC White, which gets tougher with the addition of Ypsilanti this season. “If we get some leadership on the court and we can make some plays offensively, I think we have the chance to be a pretty good team,” Raymond says.
Coach Robin Raymond says: “You’re only as good as your seniors is the old clichÃ©, and we only have three seniors. Some of our juniors are going to have to step up and become those seniors.”
DEXTER DREADNAUGHTS The Dreadnaughts feel like they have some unfinished business to tend to after watching an SEC White Division title slip from its grasp when they lost three of their last four home games against teams they had beaten the first time around on the road. Leading that charge will be junior center Dave LaMore and senior guard Stefan Elslager, both third-year varsity players.
Coach: Randy Swoverland (16th year)
Last season: 13-9, second in the SEC White.
Key returners: Dave LaMore (jr., 6-8, C), Stefan Elslager (sr., 6-0, G), Mike Kedroske (sr., 6-2, F), Matt Muchmore (jr., 6-1, G).
Key newcomers: Jay Lewis (so., 5-10, G,) Nic Miller (sr., 6-3, F).
Strength: Good overall versatility, with LaMore leading the inside play and Elslager leading the perimeter.
Weakness: Swoverland says the Dreadnaughts need to correct last year’s tendency to struggle handling the ball against pressure.
Outlook: With the county’s best student support cheering them along the way, the Dreadnaughts will be in the mix for an SEC White title. But, this time
Coach Randy Swoverland says: “We want to finish what we didn’t finish last year, which is to win our division.”
GABRIEL RICHARD FIGHTING IRISH Plenty of key pieces return from a 22-3 team for the Fighting Irish to be good again, but they’ll get a big boost (literally and figuratively) when transfers Darren Washington (Detroit Southeastern) and Luther Page (Huron) become eligible to play. Because the two post players will miss the team’s first seven games, coach Pete Schoch says practice has been difficult to manage because his team’s style will change significantly when they’re in the lineup.
Coach: Pete Schoch (5th year)
Last season: 22-3, Catholic League champions, lost in Class B regional final.
Key returners: Josh Herbeck (sr., 6-4, G), Matt Jenkins (sr., 6-3, G), Keith Mackie (sr., G, 5-8, PG), Brenden Cooper (sr., 6-4, F).
Key newcomers: Darren Washington (jr., 6-9, C), Luther Page (jr., 6-6, F).
Strength: Depth and experience. Herbeck will likely graduate as the school’s all-time leading scorer and he’s surrounded by a varsity roster that, for the first time in Schoch’s tenure, doesn’t include an underclassman.
Weakness: Defense. A passive defensive team in the past, Shoch feels the Irish need to get aggressive to capitalize on their depth. They’re not there yet.
Outlook: Along with playing an aggressive preseason schedule (mostly without Washington and Page), the Irish bumped up the quality of their postseason, too. They’ll play against the Detroit Catholic League’s Class A teams in its Central Division playoffs. Expect them to be peaking once the Class B tournament comes around.
Coach Pete Schoch says: “We have a lot of talent and the potential to be one heckuva good team. I think we’re going to do terrific things.”
GREENHILLS GRYPHONS Greenhills coach Andrew Wright will use a five-guard lineup this winter, although he’s not trying to be ground-breaking in his approach to the game. The Gryphons’ roster is full of guards. But what Greenhills lacks in height it will try to make up for in speed and hustle. Two starters (Connor Tremper and Matt Canter) return from an 8-13 team and Wright expects junior guard Matt Jong, a transfer from Pioneer, to contribute significantly when he becomes eligible in mid-January.
Coach: Andy Wright (6th year)
Last season: 8-13, lost in the first round of a Class C district.
Key returners: Connor Tremper (sr., 5-10, G), Matt Canter (sr., 6-0, G), Duane Gardner (sr., 5-9, G).
Key newcomer: Matt Jong (jr., 5-11, G).
Strength: Speed and outside shooting. With five guards, the Gryphons will try to keep their games in transition all season.
Weakness: Lack of height.
Outlook: The Gryphons joined the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference, giving them a regular season goal. But that league includes traditionally strong teams from Auburn Hills Oakland Christian and Parkway Christian, which played in a Class D state semifinal last season.
Coach Andrew Wright says: “We’re going to have to try to turn teams over on the perimeter so we don’t have to deal with defending the post.”
HURON RIVER RATS Bigger, stronger, faster. That’s what Huron coach Waleed Samaha says about his team, which returns four starters and a total of seven players that saw significant playing time during the River Rats’ 20-3 season a year ago. Feeling like he can go 10 players deep without much loss in ability, Samaha says his team plans to unleash “32 minutes of hell” each game.
Coach: Waleed Samaha (7th year)
Last season: 20-3, SEC Red runners-up, lost to Kalamazoo Central in a Class A regional semifinal.
Key returners: A.J. Mathew (jr., 6-3, G), Dante Williams (jr., 6-6, G), Matt Hastings (jr., 6-3, G), Kyle Baker (jr., 6-4, F), DeAndre Caldwell (sr., 6-2, G), Jalen Bouma (sr., 6-0, G), Andrew Gleichert (sr., 6-5, F).
Key newcomers: Mike Lewis (so., 6-3, F), Jesse Buchsbaum (jr., 6-8, F), Jeff Hugan (jr., 6-4, G).
Strength: Athleticism and team chemistry. “The kids work hard and they enjoy working hard,” Samaha says. “That’s a great starting point for our season.”
Weakness: Turnovers. The River Rats’ pressure defense forced an average of 24 turnovers last season, but they also handed it back 18 times per game.
Outlook: The River Rats have five goals: Finish undefeated at home, win the SEC Red, win a Class A district, win a Class A regional and play in the Final Four. With the right breaks, all five are realistic.
Coach Waleed Samaha says: “One of our approaches all year has been to coach and prepare with a sense of urgency. Playing with urgency throughout a game prevents you from playing with desperation at the end of a game.”
LINCOLN RAILSPLITTERS The Railsplitters ended last season by winning eight of its last 10 games, including the school’s first district title. Not coincidentally, Andrew Dillon returned from an injury for those last 10 games and the three-year varsity player is at full strength to start this season. He’s flanked by three other players that started games for Lincoln, plus transfer Nate Schmidt, a two-year varsity player at Huron.
Coach: Mike Foley (6th year)
Last season: 14-11, won the school’s first Class A district title.
Key returners: Andrew Dillon (sr., 6-4, F), Latwan Wesley (sr., 6-3, G), KeAndre Taylor (sr., 6-4, F), Deshawn Cliffton (jr., 6-1, G).
Key newcomer: Nate Schmidt (sr., 6-3, G/F).
Strength: Senior leadership. Dillon, Wesley and Schmidt all are all three-year players who Foley says “have played as much varsity basketball as any kids in the state of Michigan.”
Weakness: Not necessarily a shortfall, but Foley says he always wants to improve on defense. “You can never be too good on defense,” he says. “It’s a process that every high school team must continue to focus."
Outlook: Foley says this is the first team he’s had at Lincoln that will feature a predominately senior starting lineup. He hopes that translates into a run at an SEC White title and back-to-back district championships.
Coach Mike Foley says: “Our team has some big goals on the court, but a personal goal of mine is to see my seniors playing somewhere at somebody’s university next season.”
MANCHESTER FLYING DUTCHMEN If first-year coach Brad Gerbe is anything like his father - and that’s who he says he wants to be like - Manchester athletic director Wes Gall shouldn’t need to worry about finding a replacement for a few decades. Bill Gerbe has been a varsity head coach since 1978, the last 27 years at Troy Athens High School - where Brad played for his father. Leading scorer Josh Blades returns to lead Gerbe’s first varsity team.
Coach: Brad Gerbe (1st year)
Last season: 12-9, finished fourth in the Cascades Conference.
Key returners: Josh Blades (jr., 6-4, G/F), Clayton Every (sr., 5-11, G/F), Corwin Every (sr., 5-11, G/F), Logan Zigila (sr., 6-1, G/F), Rob Carver (sr., 6-3, C).
Key newcomers: Josh Finley (so., 6-2, F/C), Brandon Casey (jr., 5-11, G/F), Scott Wharam (jr., 5-10, G).
Strength: Winning tradition. Most of Manchester’s basketball players are also part of a football team that reached a Division 4 regional championship.
Weakness: Teamwork. “Will I care more about my teammate than myself?” Gerbe asks. “If we do, we’ll be decent. If not, it will be a struggle for us.”
Outlook: Hanover-Horton and Napoleon are the traditional favorites in the Cascades Conference, and this year is no different. Gerbe thinks his team will have the quickness, team speed and toughness to be competitive.
Coach Brad Gerbe says: “My dad is my role model and my goal is to be like him. If I have a career anything like his, I’ll have had an impact on a lot of kids.” MILAN BIG REDS After a few years away from being a head coach, Josh Tropea takes over at Milan and says he “forgot how much I love being in the gym.” He’ll use his previous varsity coaching experience at Whitmore Lake, Ypsilanti and Howell to attempt to turn around a Milan program that is 3-39 over the past two seasons.
Coach: Josh Tropea (1st year)
Last season: 1-20, last in the Huron League.
Key returner: Andy Kuck (sr., 6-3, G).
Key newcomers: Andre Duffin (so., 6-1, G), Tory Martinsen (so., 6-4, F), C.J. Luvene (sr., 6-2, G).
Strength: Athleticism and optimism. “For a program that’s won three games the past two years, you never get that sense if you just met the kids,” Tropea says.
Weakness: Basketball IQ and lack of varsity experience. Only four players on this year’s roster have stepped foot on the floor of a varsity basketball game before.
Outlook: Because Tropea didn’t spend the summer with his new team, he thinks much of the team’s improvement will come after spending the holiday break essentially extending their off-season practice. “I expect us to be more consistent and a good basketball team by the end of January,” he says.
Coach Josh Tropea says: “We’re a year away, it’s going to take time to do this. But Milan wants a winner and I think we can do that in a few years.”
PIONEER PIONEERS Few teams in the state have been more successful than the Pioneers over the last four years, when they’ve compiled a 78-15 record and are 52-4 in Southeastern Conference play. Jamie Henry is the only returning starter for this year’s squad. David Veals, the team’s fourth-leading scorer coming off the bench, will play an expanded role.
Coach: Rex Stanczak (5th year)
Last season: 17-4, won the SEC Red.
Key returners: Jamie Henry (sr., 6-2, G), David Veals (sr., 6-1, G/F), Rondale Turrentine (sr., 6-4, C).
Key newcomer: Jimmy Holman (so., 5-10, G), Nick Mrjoian (jr., 6-3, F), Aaron Schoenfeldt (jr., 6-3, F).
Strength: Defense. Stanczak says he’s already confident in his team’s half-court system. Once the transition defense is solidified, he says “we’re going to be a tough team to score on.”
Weakness: Inexperience. The Pioneers’ last two senior classes were strong, leaving little playing time for this year’s group.
Outlook: The Pioneers have counted on smart and highly-skilled players to achieve their previous success. Stanczak says this year’s squad is more athletic, but raw in their skill set. Still, he believes they’ll be good enough to compete for an SEC Red title and break a string of two straight district tournament losses.
Coach Rex Stanczak says: “The fun part of high school basketball to me is you just can’t think you’re going to do the same thing every eyar. We’ll be more of a pressing, get-out-and-get-after-you team that we’ve been in the past and we’ll do more things to get the ball inside.” SALINE HORNETS Saline’s entire roster, with just two returning players, accounted for a grand total of 0 varsity points last season. Along with graduating a big senior class - including Jake Fosdick, now playing at Eastern Michigan - the Hornets’ didn’t have many juniors in the program last season. That means this year’s squad will be ultra-young, with a freshman and two sophomores expected to be among the starting five.
Coach: Jay Plitzuweit (3rd year)
Last season: 11-12, finished last in the SEC Red.
Key returners: None.
Key newcomers: Dave Hendrickson (jr., 6-0, G), Michael Smutney (so., 6-7, C), Reece Dils (fr., 5-9, G), Garrett Stark (so., 6-3, G/F).
Strength: Size (particularly from Smutney) and outside shooting.
Weakness: A severe lack of experience. Sophomores (three) outnumber seniors (two) on the roster.
Outlook: Young and inexperienced isn’t a good thing to be in the Southeastern Conference. Especially this season, when most other teams appear to be improved from a year ago.
Coach JayPlitzuweit says: “Right now our team’s coming out with a positive attitude and keeps getting better every day. Where that takes us, I’m not sure. We just want to be the best we can be by the end of the year.”
SKYLINE EAGLES Skyline will only play a handful of varsity games during the regular season and then compete in a Class B district tournament. Last year, as a group of freshmen, they beat East Jackson in a Class C district game without a single varsity game under their belts. It’s another step in the process that has coach Mike Lovelace thinking his team will be immediately competitive when they step onto the Southeastern Conference’s varsity stage full-time next season.
Coach: Mike Lovelace (2nd year)
Last season: Won a Class C district game after finishing 16-4 against freshmen competition.
Key returners: Theron Wilson (so., 6-1, PG); Jordan Woods (so., 6-1, G).
Key newcomer: Marquis Wesley (fr., 6-2, F).
Strength: Guard play.
Weakness: Depth inside.
Outlook: The Eagles step up their game to face primarily junior varsity opponents this season. They won’t compete in the SEC until next season, so this year is once again about aiming for improvement and the postseason.
Coach Mike Lovelace says: “We’re going to hope to match or possibly better our record from last year, and hopefully pull off another upset at districts.”
WASHTENAW CHRISTIAN WILDCATS Kiren Hoosier, a transfer from Ypsilanti, joins four players with past varsity experience to form a starting five that coach Tim Goss says could be better than last year’s. But he’s a little concerned about a lack of depth after those starters.
Coach: Tim Goss (3rd year)
Last season: Finished 13-9.
Key returners: Tanner Goss (sr., 6-4, C), Kevin Stout (jr., 6-0, G), Byron Horton (so., 6-2, F), Justin Troost (jr., 6-1 G/F).
Key newcomer: Kiren Hoosier (sr., 6-0, G).
Strength: Balanced scoring from its top five players.
Weakness: Lack of depth.
Outlook: Every year since Washtenaw Christian has competed in boys basketball, Adrian Lenawee Christian has won its district tournament. Lenawee Christian heads west this season, leaving the door open for the Wildcats to win their first championship on their home court.
Coach Tim Goss says: “We have to develop some depth, and if we do I think we can improve over last year, record-wise and in the playoffs.”
WHITMORE LAKE TROJANS The Trojans are starting their second full season running the “The System” of Grinnell College coach David Arseneault, which incorporates a continual full-court press, a barrage of 3-point shots and substitutions of five players at a time every 35 to 40 seconds. The Trojans set a state record by making 292 shots from beyond the 3-point arc last season, and they’re planning to eclipse that mark this year.
Coach: Dave Arnold (4th year)
Last season: 12-9, tied for fourth in the Tri-County Conference.
Key returners: Colton Judge (sr., 6-0, PG), Alex Cattley (sr., 6-3, F), Chase St. Charles (sr., 5-11, F).
Key newcomer: Andrew Kolich (jr., 6-4, F).
Strength: Perimeter shooting (especially in terms of volume) and another year of experience in their unusual system.
Weakness: Defense. Although it appears defense is forgotten in the Grinnell system, Arnold says it’s actually the key concept in running it well. He says his team needs to make a full commitment on that end of the court.
Outlook: The teams that finished ahead of the Trojans in the Tri-County Conference bring back most of their key players. So, to move up, they’ll need to make a significant improvement themselves.
Coach Dave Arnold says: “We’re in a position where we could cover the spectrum. We could compete for a TCC title and in districts but we have to make sure that we’re doing what we need to do.”
WILLOW RUN FLYERS Maurice Jordan and Keyontaye Tubbs are third-year varsity players for first-year coach George Woods, who comes to Willow Run after one season as the head coach at Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy. Woods has previous coaching experience in Washington, where the Detroit native settled after 21 years in the Army. He has been immediately impressed by Jordan, who should be the team’s leading scorer and rebounder this season: “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a young man like Maurice Jordan. He’s very respectful, a true leader on and off the court whatever school picks him up is going to get a good player and good person.”
Coach: George Woods (1st year)
Last season: Finished 11-11.
Key returners: Maurice Jordan (sr., 6-4, F), Reno Boyd (sr., 6-1, F), Jamaar Bonner (sr., 5-10, G), Keyontaye Tubbs (sr., 5-8, G), Garret Davis (sr., 6-3, C).
Key newcomers: Malcolm Hayden (jr., 5-9, G), Desmond Brown (jr., 5-3, G).
Strength: Defense. Woods likes to apply pressure defense for entire games, which suits his roster of quick athletes just fine.
Weakness: Interior game. Big-bodied Garret Davis, an All-State football lineman, is manning the post, but the Flyers are lacking in height.
Outlook: Now an independent without a championship to shoot for, the Flyers are focused on grasping Woods’ system in time to make a postseason run. Woods says “I think we have the right group of guys and the right coaching staff to do it.”
Coach George Woods says: “Our goal is to establish a program down to the middle school and teach the program so as players move up, everybody understands the concept. We’ve already made some strides.”
YPSILANTI PHOENIX A string of injuries took its toll on Ypsilanti last season, but they may have set the Phoenix up for success this year after several players were allowed to gain unexpected varsity experience. Nine different players started at least three games. For a veteran coach like Steve Brooks, seasons can kind of run together. But this year, he says, is just going to be fun. The Phoenix enter the Southeastern Conference for the first time and Brooks says he and his players are going to enjoy every minute of it. “Going to different schools, seeing the SEC’s student sections, not really knowing anybody that’s a lot of fun from a coaching standpoint.”
Coach: Steve Brooks (6th year)
Last season: 8-13, fifth in the final season of the Mega Red.
Key returners: Connor Heine (sr., 6-6, F/C), Kyle Woodyard (sr., 5-9, PG), Jevonte McGuire (sr., 6-2, G), Dejaun Boyd (sr., 5-9, G), Ty’shaun Allen (sr., 6-4, F/C), Marsean Wilson (sr., 6-2, F), Derrick Richardson (so., 6-3, G), Aaerion Allen (jr., 6-3, F), Ryan Brooks (sr., 6-1, F).
Key newcomers: Carlos Williams (jr.), Arnie Lincoln (jr.).
Strength: Experience, depth and quickness. The Phoenix struggled last year when seven players missed at least five games because of injuries, but their replacements gained invaluable experience.
Weakness: Outside shooting.
Outlook: Brooks says his team is eager to make a good showing in its new conference, putting in extra work in the weight room and on the court. They should immediately contend for an SEC White title.
Coach Steve Brooks says: “If we were still in the Mega, I would have a good idea about how we’re going to do. We’ve got quite a bit of experience back. But with this new conference, it’s just kind of hard to gauge right now.”