Lamonta Stone walked into the gym at River Rouge High School Thursday morning and was inspired by the 14 state basketball championship banners he saw.
Stone, a 1984 graduate of River Rouge, is making his third stint as head basketball coach at the school. He helped guide the program to its 13th and 14th state championships in 1998 and 1999, coming back to his alma mater in 2014 for two more seasons as head coach after working as an assistant coach at Eastern Michigan, Ohio State and Bowling Green.
Stone’s final River Rouge team in 2015-16 advanced to the Class B state quarterfinals, losing to Williamston. He inherits a program that advanced to the state semifinals the last two seasons with a combined 47-4 record, losing to eventual state champion Benton Harbor last year. The bulk of last year’s team returns, making River Rouge one of the top 10 teams in the state.
Stone’s position as head coach was approved at the school board meeting Wednesday night.
The opening for River Rouge’s head coaching job took place after former coach Mark White took the head coaching job at Detroit Renaissance, then declined it. When River Rouge administrators learned of White’s action, they removed him as head coach.
“The first thing I did when I got here this morning was walk in the gym and just kind of gazed at the state championship banners," Stone said Thursday. "The first one was in 1954 and the last one, that I won when I was here, was back-to-back championships in 1998 and ’99. That kind of got my juices flowing and I was ready to start my day.
“The main reason I came back is this is my community. This is a program that raised me on and off the court. They got caught up in the middle of the coaching change with Renaissance, so any opportunity I have to come back and help this program, help this district, help this school, I’m going to do that."
In 2012 River Rouge had an enrollment of 495. Stone believes this will be the last year River Rouge competes in Class B since its enrollment has dramatically increased, now just under 900.
“I think the superintendent is doing a great job and I told him that last night,” Stone said of River Rouge school district superintendent Derrick Coleman. “People don’t realize this but when I played here as a student we had Highland Park, Inkster and Ypsilanti Willow Run in our league and those schools are closed down. I told our superintendent and I told our board last night that I’m proud and happy that I have a place to call home and there’s always an opportunity for me to come home. I told them that I’m proud to have the opportunity to come back and coach where I went to high school.
“I played for Coach (Lofton) Greene and that was his last team (1984). I learned a lot from him, the discipline. I told everyone that back then there were probably five better players walking the halls at River Rouge High School than the starting five on the varsity team. But because of the discipline or maybe academically those kids didn’t meet the standards Coach Greene had in place, those kids not only didn’t play, they weren’t even on the team.”
Greene retired with a then-state record 728 wins and 12 state titles.
“I learned from him that discipline wins game,” Stone said. “We’re going to be a very disciplined team and play the game the right way. I had a meeting with a couple of players and told them they’re going to represent not only the program but the school, so when we walk into gyms we’re going to have a shirt and tie on. We’re going to have a jacket and represent the River Rouge school district, not just the program.
“We have a group of seniors, five seniors who have been through the wars, all of the tough games, played state semifinal games at Breslin. I’m telling these guys I’m here not to reinvent the wheel, but to make that next step and get you back to the Breslin and this time let’s win a state championship. Let’s get No. 15. It would be a disappointment if they don’t get to Lansing and win a state championship this year.”
River Rouge’s five seniors are 6-foot-6 power forward Dan Few, 5-11 point guard Bralin Toney, 6-1 shooting guard Nigel Colvin, 6-4 small forward Donovan Freeman and 6-6 Micah Parrish.
Stone is also excited about the future of 6-7 sophomore Legend Geeter, who is a post player with perimeter skills, and 7-foot freshman, 15-year-old Marquise Davenport.
“They’re excited that they get a guy who has coached some pretty good collegiate guys, who has been around some collegiate programs to come back and coach them in high school,” Stone said.
River Rouge will open the season at home against Saginaw Nov. 27, then face Detroit King in the Horatio Williams Classic Dec. 1 at Cass Tech. River Rouge will also be facing the nation's top freshman in 6-8 Emoni Bates and Ypsilanti Lincoln Dec. 28 at Ypsilanti High.
For River Rouge to win the Class B state title, Stone knows that his team will have to possibly get past Williamston in the quarterfinals, then New Haven and Romeo Weems in the semifinals and Benton Harbor in the championship game.
“It won’t be easy to win the state championship, having to get past Williamston, New Haven and Benton Harbor, but I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Stone said. “This is the 20th year anniversary of the ’99 team so what better way to go about trying to win a state championship on the 20th anniversary of the last one you won? We have the players to get it done.”