January 6, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Markowski

Prep Insider: Competitive league play will be no holiday for high school basketball teams

Forward Marcus Bailey Jr. (3) has been a force on the boards for Walled Lake Western, twice grabbing 14 or more in a game. (Bryan Mitchell / Special to Detroit News)

Detroit — The holiday season is over and, with it, the end of the holiday tournament season. It’s what many coaches call the preseason for their respective league/conference seasons.

No greater emphasis is placed upon league play than in the Detroit Public School League. League play begins Tuesday, weather permitting, and one of the top games features Detroit Douglass (2-3) hosting Detroit Henry Ford (5-1) at 4 p.m. Both teams are ranked in the top 10 in Class B (for the first time, Henry Ford will not compete in the Class A tournament) and Douglass, a PSL semifinalist last season, is expected to challenge defending champion Detroit Pershing for this season’s title.

Henry Ford, normally a force in the league, fell off last season in finishing 9-13. Coach Ken Flowers returns four starters and has but one senior on the team. Flowers’ team is off to a 5-1 start, losing only to Canton (6-0), 60-56.

Realignment within the PSL adds drama to an already demanding schedule for teams like Douglass and Henry Ford. The top 10 teams, generally speaking, will compete in Division 1 with the other eight placed in Division 2. All 18 teams will complete in the league playoffs scheduled to start Feb. 6.

“D1 is loaded,” Flowers said. “It’ll be interesting. From a team perspective you look for a game or two when you can ease up a bit. We can’t do that.”

Pershing (4-1) is the prohibitive favorite but Flowers said Pershing isn’t as good as it was last year pointing out Pershing’s depth isn’t as strong.

“They have (Justin) Tillman,” Flowers said. “Tillman is the player other teams can’t match up with. I don’t see them being the dominant team. (Detroit) Cass Tech is long and athletic and they have good guard play. After that it’s up in the air. I do like my team.”

Henry Ford’s top three players are underclassmen. Junior Joshua Davis (6-4) is one league’s top perimeter shooters. Sophomore James Towns (6-0) is averaging 19.5 this season and junior Antwan Carter (6-2) is the third guard in the three-guard offense.

Mighty MAC

Overall teams in the Macomb Area Conference have shown significant improvement over the last few years. Known as a football conference, the MAC boasts Mount Clemens (5-0), ranked No. 2 in Class C, plus Romeo and Utica Eisenhower, two undefeated teams expected to vie for the Red Division title.

Warren Mott (2-2) was 12-0 in the White Division last season but coach Jeff Olind said there’s more balance this season, noting Sterling Heights Stevenson and Grosse Pointe North will be challenge for the title.

Mott returns two starters and they’re two of Macomb County’s best. Kenny Goins (6-8) is expected to make an official visit to Dartmouth in the next two weeks and junior Derek Murphy (6-5) has scored 65 points in the last two games.

Mott’s lineup will be enhanced after Martin Luther King Day with the addition of sophomore transfers D’Laino Paige and Julian Dixon, both of whom can play the point.

“We look at the December games as the preseason,” Olind said. “We look to be better in February and March. No one cares where you are in December.”

Raise the level

Last season, by all accounts, was a down year for teams in the Detroit Catholic League. Warren DeLaSalle failed to win a district for the first time in 17 years and Detroit Catholic Central was 5-16.

All five teams in the Central Division are off to fine starts. U-D Jesuit (4-1), the defending champion, remains the favorite but Birmingham Brother Rice (5-1), C.C. (4-1), DeLaSalle (3-1) and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (4-1) all have quality wins. St. Mary’s’ 59-51 victory over Clarkston last Friday stands out the most.

“Every league goes through it,” C.C. coach Bill Dyer said. “We don’t talk about last year. We graduated three seniors. We have good chemistry this year. We have four seniors and all start.

“I’m not sure U-D is the team to beat. St. Mary’s has (Ted) McCree and coach (Greg) Esler always has something going at DeLaSalle. I think it’ll be balanced.”

Noah Lee and Ryan McGillivary are Dyer’s top seniors but look for sophomore Lance Tebay to contribute significantly.

Strong for the stretch

Walled Lake Western (3-2) defeated Detroit Country Day 73-69 in its opener then split its next two.

Western opens the Kensington Lakes Activities Association North Division season Tuesday at Walled Lake Northern. Like the PSL and Catholic League, the KLAA has a postseason tournament to determine its champion and Western coach RaRedding Murray, a former coach in the PSL, likes it that way.

“We love the league games,” he said. “We want to win our division and the league. It’s extremely important.

“You’re never happy losing two games in December. We’ll be fine. We want to be strong in late February and March.”

Juniors Jerald Booker and Marcus Bailey lead Western. Murray is especially pleased with the play of Bailey who, at 6-4, is Western’s enforcer inside. Twice Bailey has had 14 or more rebounds in a game this season.

OAA realignment

Although next season teams within the Oakland Activities Association will be re-aligned in football, administrators got an early start in basketball as they decided to switch from a four-division, six-team alignment to a three-division, eight-team alignment for the boys (the girls teams used the latter format last season as well).

Instead of 10 division games teams will play 14 leaving just six non-league games.

With Bloomfield Hills, Clarkston, Rochester Adams, Southfield and North Farmington, the Red Division is the most competitive.

Deflecting attention from his team, Adams coach John Hall said Bloomfield Hills is the most serious challenger to Clarkston.

Adams (4-1, 1-0) will host Clarkston (4-1, 1-0) on Jan. 14.

Adams reached a Class A region final in 2012 and was 21-0 before losing to Romeo is a district final last season.

Hall has one of the area’s most exciting guards in 5-8 Akhemji Williams. A three-year starter and four-year varsity player, Williams averaged 18 points last season and is at 25.5 this season.

“He impacts the game at so many levels,” Hall said. “We ask him to score and distribute and that’s tough for any player.”

Football news

Detroit Cass Tech’s Damon Webb was named defensive back of the year at the U.S. Army All-America Bowl Awards Show last Friday. Webb was one of eight to receive national honors at the event. Running back Elijah Hood of Charlotte (N.C.) Catholic was named player of the year.

The West team defeated the East 28-6 on Saturday in San Antonio.

Webb has committed to Ohio State; Hood to North Carolina.

By the numbers

31-- Days before the start of the PSL playoffs.

47-- Consecutive games won by the Grand Haven girls basketball team before losing to Muskegon Mona Shores 45-41 last Friday

56-- Days before the state of the state tournament.

tom.markowski@detroitnews.com

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