February 10, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Markowski

Prep Insider: Taylor Truman coach sees lack of quality opponents as liability

Barring an upset, Detroit Pershing at Detroit Southeastern will tussle again in the PSL final at Calihan Hall on Feb. 21. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

Taylor — Barring a major upset, Taylor Truman (12-0) will enter the Class A tournament undefeated. That’s not necessarily a good thing.

As a member of the Downriver League, Truman is obligated to play 16 league games against inferior competition when compared to the other teams ranked in the top 10 (Truman is No. 3).

Coach Chuck Suttles’ hands are tied and he isn’t happy about it.

“Last year we had 11 league games plus three playoff games,” he said. “That gave us six outside our league to play some of the best teams around. This year, we have four.

“We’re trying to keep our focus on what we do well and also improve on the things we don’t do well. The kids have done a good job of not paying much attention to the rankings. We’ve got our sights on moving up one step of the ladder at a time.”

Truman, 9-0 in league play, hosts the league’s second-best team, Taylor Kennedy (9-3, 8-2), tonight at 7 p.m. The city rivals will also play on Feb. 21 and likely again on March 5 in a district semifinal. Truman must defeat Wayne Memorial in a district opener for that to take place.

Expectations were high at Truman this year. It was ranked No. 19 in the preseason and Suttles said he’s pleased with his team’s play to this point.

Aaron Foster-Smith (6-foot-6), a possible Mr. Basketball candidate who signed with Detroit, is averaging 21 points and 11.8 rebounds.

Anthony Whartley-Fritz (6-7) is averaging 9.8 rebounds and has become a more consistentt player.

“He’s playing his best basketball,” Suttles said. “He’s had a number of double-doubles.”

Devain Newbill runs the point and an added dimension is Devante McGregor. McGregor (6-4), who signed with Ferris State for football, didn’t play for Suttles last season but returned to the program and is averaging 5.5 rebounds.

PSL heats up

The state’s best league tournament enters quarterfinal play Tuesday as the Detroit Public School League playoffs enter Week 2 with games to be held at Detroit East English Village Prep and Detroit Renaissance.

The pairings featured some odd matchups but, overall, the current format is fair.

Detroit Mumford and Detroit Osborn were the two top seeds from Division 2, the weaker of the two divisions, and both were in a bracket with three Division 1 teams. Mumford was eliminated by East English 68-54 on Friday and Osborn beat Detroit Cody 59-43.

There’s no question Mumford got a bad draw. East English whipped Cody, 94-52, during the season and is a formidable team despite many close losses.

The format does reward the top teams from Division 1, in this case Detroit Pershing and Detroit Southeastern. The current divisional alignment eliminated the possibility of teams playing each other twice before the playoffs. For example, Pershing and Cass Tech are in the same Class A district and should they meet in March, as they did last year, at most it would be their third meeting. In the past there was the possibility of teams playing each other four times. That’s just too many times to play one team in a season.

Of the eight teams remaining, six have a legitimate chance at winning the title. Osborn’s and Detroit Henry Ford’s feet are too big to fit in this glass slipper.

Even East English (10-7), a No. 5 seed, can win it. Coach Juan Rickman’s team has all the pieces but they’ve been an enigma. East English has held the lead in all nine of its division games but lost six.

“We can play with anyone,” Rickman said. “We were up by 10 against Cass Tech then ran into foul trouble. We led Pershing by 12. We lost to Douglass and Southeastern at the buzzer. We’re working on mental toughness. Our kids, when they make mistakes, they get down on themselves. I’ve got to keep them positive.”

Mar’Qywell Jackson (6-5) is one of the league top seniors. Senior Deitrich Cole (6-9) is one of the league’s most improved post players. Three sophomores started last season and the best one could be Cedric Lattimore (6-5).

All-Star lineup

Southfield’s Malik McDowell and Lawrence Marshall, rated No. 3 and 4, respectively, on the Blue Chip list, head an all-star lineup for the first Border Classic High School All Star Football Game between Michigan and Ohio to be played on June 14 at the University of Findley. The time of the game has yet to be determined.

Forty players from each state are selected to participate. The head coach of the Michigan team is Walled Lake Western coach Mike Zdebski and he said the game’s organizers and the coaching staffs received tremendous support from the universities.

Before, when the Michigan High School All-Star Game was played, many of the top seniors did not participate. Zdebski said moving the game to the middle of June — and not the end of the month or July, as it had been on most occasions — has allowed the seniors to participate without missing any time with the schools they will play for in the fall.

“The only school, and they didn’t say no to their player, was Notre Dame,” Zdebski said. “They just told Jhonathon Williams (Berrien Springs) he might lose his spot on the depth chart if he did play.

“Ohio State said they like their kids playing in these types of games. Iowa’s (assistant coach) Phil Parker said the players he has won’t miss any significant time playing in this. All the universities were good with it.

“It would be good if (Michigan High School Athletic Association executive director) Jack Roberts would change his policies. If we could play it anytime I’d play it at Ford Field the day before the bowl game there.”

According to the MHSAA if a player participates in a postseason all-star game that player is stripped of his or her eligibility for the remainder of their high school career.

Standing firm

Give credit to Detroit Loyola football coach John Callahan for trying to play with the big boys.

Loyola, a member of the Catholic League AA Division, is attempting to schedule a game with Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, a member of the state’s top division, the Catholic League Central. Loyola has an opening in Week 3 but that won’t work. St. Mary’s is booked that weekend but athletic director and football coach George Porritt said the schools are working toward a possible matchup in Week 8. It is still in the works.

This is a quite a departure from another member of the AA Division.

In a show of good faith and an attempt to ease scheduling for some of its football programs, league director Vic Michaels strongly suggested, with the backing of the board of directors, that the three teams that finished at the top of the AA Division last season, Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard, Loyola and Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, play one crossover game against the third-, fourth- or fifth-place team in the Central Division, those being St. Mary’s, U-D Jesuit and Warren DeLaSalle, all Class A schools.

Last season Notre Dame Prep, a Class B school, outscored its five opponents outside of the AA Division, 221-16. Perhaps a more competitive nonleague schedule would better prepare Notre Dame Prep for the state playoffs.

“We grew up as a Class C school in the late ’90s,” Porritt said. “We started playing teams like Birmingham Brother Rice once a year and built up our program. It’s not easy scheduling. I know their community would be excited if they played (a team from the Central.”

Michaels said Notre Dame Prep administrators didn’t take to that suggestion and appealed the decision by Michaels and the board to the superintendent, Brian Dougherty. Dougherty granted the appeal so there will be no official crossovers.

Quote of the week

“Anyone can win it. I won’t be surprised whoever wins it.”

— Juan Rickman, Detroit East English Village Prep coach, on the PSL playoffs

By the numbers

By the numbers

3 — Points scored by Pontiac girls basketball team in their game against Rochester Hills Stoney Creek on Saturday.

4 — PSL quarterfinalists that have never won a PSL title (Douglass, East English, Henry Ford and Osborn)

5 — Overtime games Douglass has played this season

Top performance

Joan Andoni, Livonia Churchill, 6-3 sophomore

Andoni (33 points) outscored Canton 17-10 in the third quarter, 24-20 in the second half, as Churchill defeated Canton 52-51 on Tuesday. On Friday Andoni scored a school-record 39 points in a 70-58 victory over Wayne Memorial.

tom.markowski@detroitnews.com