Marian shows prowess — and fatigue
Birmingham Marian coach Mary Cicerone doesn't want her players to let up for a moment, let alone a quarter, a reason she wasn't happy despite coming away with a 22-point win over Catholic League rival Farmington Hills Mercy Friday night.
You see, Cicerone knows she has a team capable of repeating as Class A state champion, a feat she has yet to accomplish during her 31-year coaching career at Marian.
Marian reached three straight state championship game appearances from 1996-98, but a 58-56 loss to Grand Rapids Christian in '97 got in the way of three consecutive titles.
Marian defeated Mercy in the state semifinals last season to avenge a Catholic League title-game loss, then went on to defeat Canton in the state championship game to add to Cicerone's championships in 1996 and '98.
While Marian returned all but one starter from a year ago, Mercy lost the majority of its team. Senior guard Jaeda Robinson did a great defensive job on Mercy senior Taylor Jones, limiting the Oakland-bound guard to seven points, 15 under her average.
Marian (8-1) plays great team ball and presents problems defensively with full-court pressure and its half-court trap.
"The coaches are intense, but they are great and a lot of fun to play for," Robinson said. "We were up by more than 20 at halftime, but we didn't keep our foot on the gas so they weren't too happy with us."
Marian had a chance the next night to measure its program to one of the best in the nation, Chicago Whitney Young, the 4-A Illinois state champion and USA Today's 12th-ranked team.
Marian — rated No. 14 by the publication — showed it could play with the national power, actually carrying a 40-37 lead into the fourth quarter in the game at Ann Arbor Huron. Marian then battled back from a six-point deficit (50-44) to pull within 50-48 with Bailey Thomas having a shot to give them the lead with 35 seconds left. But her 3-pointer missed the mark in the eventual 52-48 loss. Whitney Young won its 17th straight.
"It was great to play a team like Whitney Young and it showed we can play with the best teams in the country," said Thomas, a junior point guard who committed to West Virginia earlier in the week. "We had a chance to win it, but we started to get tired in the fourth quarter. Our offense slowed down and we were late on (defensive) rotations. We'll use this game as motivation to win another state title."
Marian looked fatigued during the last 41/2 minutes, missing 4 of 8 free throws and turning the ball over with 18 seconds left.
Cicerone admitted she would have liked to rest her starters more. She gave senior forward Brittany Gray some rest near the end of the third quarter and into the fourth, but Thomas and her younger sister, 6-foot sophomore Samantha, remained on the court to face full-court pressure from a Whitney Young team which showcased four Division 1 players, including 5-11 forward Tanita Allen (DePaul), senior guards Madinah Muhammad (Mississippi) and Katrina Beck (Illinois State) and standout junior guard Kiara Lewis, who is being recruited by Texas A&M, Tennessee, Kentucky, Maryland and Rutgers.
Marian successfully broke the press during the third quarter and consistently attacked the basket, getting layups by Gray (14 points), Bailey Thomas (14 points) and Robinson. Gray scored off another drive and Thomas followed with a 3-pointer to give Marian its largest lead at 35-29 before Whitney Young started to heat up from long range, three players each making a 3-pointer spanning the end of the quarter and first minute of the fourth to take a 44-42 lead.
Lewis showed why she is one of the top recruits in the nation for the junior class, scoring 20. She opened the fourth quarter with a jumper, then a layup off a steal. Then, Allen took over, scoring her team's final eight points with the majority coming off jump hooks from the left baseline.
"I told the girls that as hard as they play and as hard as they practice, they just didn't have enough confidence tonight," Cicerone said. "Sure, we showed confidence in bursts, but not throughout. I mean, who wanted the ball against their press? Sure, Bailey and Sam went to get it and then Kara (Holinski) did, but we needed more players wanting it.
"It was nice to get the chance to play somebody we had to dig down to play. They had a lot of firepower and a lot of good ballhandlers, too. We'll learn from this and get better."
Gray agrees, saying: "We'll learn from this and take care of the little things that we didn't take care of tonight. We prepared for this and we tried our best, but we missed a couple of shots, a couple of free throws at the end. I definitely loved the competition. It was a great experience."
Clarkston defense key
Dan Fife is doing another great job with Clarkston. The longtime head coach who has guided the Wolves to 615 wins — fifth most in state history — has them off to an impressive 9-0 start, and they are winning with strong defense, limiting opponents to 35.5 points.
Clarkston won a pair of games by more than 50 points this past week, limiting Flint Carman-Ainsworth to nine points Tuesday, then Rochester to 25 before defeating defending PSL champion Detroit Pershing, 78-54, Saturday.
"We're playing great team ball and we're pretty deep, deeper than we've probably been in quite a while," Fife said. "We have a lot of players who are playing well. We've had good play inside with 6-foot-8 Cole Chewins and 6-5 Jonah Newblatt. I'm happy with Cole's progress. He's catching up with his growth. He's a great kid and a good defender and rebounder."
Clarkston had 18 steals in the 63-9 win over Carman-Ainsworth, then defeated Rochester, 77-25. The Wolves are winning by an average of 29.2 points.
In the 24-point win over Pershing, 6-3 junior guard Tabin Throgmorton scored 21, freshman point guard Foster Loyer accounted for 18 points, nine rebounds and nine assists and senior guard Andrew Myers had 13 points and nine assists.
Clarkston will puts its unbeaten record on the line Tuesday night at Oak Park.
Crowell leading Belleville
Jermain Crowell has taken over the head football coaching job at Belleville after working the past seven years as defensive coordinator at Detroit Cass Tech.
Cass Tech won Division 1 state titles in 2011 and '12, lost to Detroit Catholic Central in the state semifinals in '13 and lost in the semifinals to Saline this past fall. Belleville was 3-6.
"Sure, it was tough leaving my kids at Cass Tech, but it's a great opportunity at Belleville and the community has welcomed me with open arms," said the 42-year-old Crowell. "I was always intrigued on why the south has sent more players to college, but through my travels I realized that it was more small towns in the south where those kids came from, where the community was involved in the upbringing of those kids.
"I was offered a lot of (head coaching) jobs in high school and even college (assistant) jobs while at Cass Tech, but the only one I've ever wanted is a small-town-type job, like 'Remember The Titans.' I'm already working hard to get things rolling here and (Cass Tech head) Coach Wilcher is still mentoring me on how to get through the potholes."
Crowell already is getting Belleville players involved in weight training and conditioning, but the numbers aren't nearly as large as at Cass Tech.
"We have 25-to-35 guys at Belleville where I'm used to the numbers in the 70s at Cass Tech," Crowell said. "We had just 22 guys in the weight room, which I felt was a low number, and the trainer told me they only had 12 last year so I have some things to work on.
"I'm meeting with parents in the eighth grade, telling them what they need to do if they want to have a chance at getting kids college scholarships. I tell them how they need to have three hours of studying outside of school. I always tell people we were successful at Cass Tech because the parents there made sure their kids would be successful.
"We have to have structure. I'm telling the kids that what gets them on the field is grades. You can't have a 2.0, you need at least a 3.0 and a 19 on your ACT to have a chance at talking to college coaches. We're rolling now in the weight room and we have to make sure the kids buy into it academically, then football takes care of itself."
By the numbers
42: Points scored by 6-9 senior Trevor Manuel of Lansing Everett in a 79-71 win over Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills Saturday. Manuel will play next year at Oregon.
9: Points given up by Clarkston in a 63-9 win over Flint Carman-Ainsworth Tuesday night, getting 18 steals in the defensive effort.
2: Free throws Birmingham Brother Rice made when handed two free throws and the ball to start the second half after Detroit Catholic Central was given a technical foul for dunking the ball at halftime. Brother Rice won in overtime.
Deyonta Davis, Muskegon
Davis, the MSU-bound post player, had 15 points, 22 rebounds and 13 blocks in a 69-59 win over Romulus Saturday.
Quote of the week
"It was great to play a team like Whitney Young and it showed we can play with the best teams in the country."
— Bailey Thomas, Birmingham Marian junior point guard, talking about the Mustangs' 52-48 loss to Chicago Whitney Young, ranked 12th nationally by USA Today