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Dave Goricki previews the high school basketball state tournament with Edison's Rickea Jackson, Cass Tech's Tyson Acuff and New Haven's Romeo Weems. The Detroit News

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Detroit — Shawn Hill’s heart has always been with his alma mater at Detroit Pershing, leading the boys basketball team to a Class A state championship in 1992 as a player and now running the program as head coach.

 So, Hill is thrilled to be coaching Pershing with his sons Paire and Tharren playing key roles with the team’s success.

Pershing advanced to the PSL semifinals, losing to champion Cass Tech, and is one of the premier teams in Division 3 with a 16-2 record.

Tharren, a 5-foot-11 freshman guard, was named first-team All-PSL with Paire, a 6-2 senior, earning a spot on the second-team. Tharren averaged 22 points prior to the PSL playoffs. Paire is averaging 15 points after not playing last season.

Shawn Hill — nicknamed “Twig” for his size (6-5) and thin frame — left his mark on Pershing’s program when he scored a game-high 18 points in a state title game win over Benton Harbor in ’92 and then playing for Gene Bartow at Alabama-Birmingham. Pershing repeated as state champions the following year with Willie Mitchell scoring 22 before earning the title of Mr. Basketball in ’9. He then joined Hill at UAB.

“I was an assistant coach last year, really for the last four years at Pershing and when Wydell (Henry) decided to step down I decided to take the job, after all I’m an alum. I went to Pershing and it’s just my time, I guess,” Hill said.

Although this is Hill’s first year as head coach of Pershing’s boys team, he is not new to being a head coach, holding that position for several years a decade ago with Pershing’s girls basketball team, led by Caprice Dennis.

Hill and his wife, who have nine children, took in a pair of players from the girls team — Dennis and Monique Howard — who stayed with them for most of their high school careers.

“All of my kids went to Pershing, I have nine kids and I have a couple of them with me now, a freshman and a senior,” Hill said. “It’s just the pride and the bloodline that we’ve all believed in.

“My freshman led us in scoring and I was surprised because I wasn’t sure that he would be mature enough to do that. My senior son was second or third in scoring, but he’s the verbal leader that brings us that mental toughness. You know, coming from a coach’s son, he sees the game from a different point. Expectations weren’t that high so we didn’t have a lot of pressure on us which was good.”

So, how much fun is Hill having coaching his alma mater … and his sons?

“You learn things as you go as a coach, you learn as they learn,” Hill said. “It’s very, very, interesting. I’m kind of excited because just getting them to buy into the program. You know, coming into a new situation the biggest thing is to get the kids to buy in so we put a lot of work in with the discipline and all the things to fit our style of play. I’m lucky to have a great coaching staff and every one of the guys bring something to the table.”

Pershing’s style of play has changed from a year ago when Henry, who is now head coach at Warren Lincoln, had a lot of size to work with, including 6-4 guard D’Juan Seal and 6-6 Jaylin Benning, the younger brother of former Michigan State center Derrick Nix.

“When Wydell left we lost seven seniors so with the personnel we had to be scrappy because we were small with our biggest guy at 6-4,” Hill said. “Wydell had a couple of guys 6-7, 6-6, so his style of play was more of an offensive team. We had to be more of a defensive team so that’s what we strapped on, being in shape, using our legs and being real scrappy. We’re guard loaded so most of our stuff is based on defense. We go 94 feet, that’s what we strive on.”

In addition to the Hill brothers, Pershing also has received strong production from Emmanuel Gates and Emmanuel Williams.

“We play eight or nine guys and honestly all of them are about the same aside from Tharren,” Hill said. “We never have a game where our opponent can key on just one player. If you try to key on one person it’s going to hurt you because there’s going to be someone else.

“Tharren just has a knack for scoring. He makes basketball plays, but everything is in the flow of the game. It’s kind of hard to key on just scoring because he rebounds. It puzzles me sometimes to see how he ends up with 25 or 22 or even 17 points because it’s quiet, all within what we need and it’s not like flashy, just efficient.

“Paire is more like the engine, the verbal leader. He’s calling the defenses and most of the stuff amongst our scoring goes off our defensive end. Paire is also one of our best shooters so once he gets going it’s kind of hard to stop him. He’s really the energy guy.”

Hill feels Pershing could make a long run in the state tournament, which begins Monday with district play.

“We have potential,” Hill said. “We’re playing in Division 3 and our guys are hungry and they believe so I think we can make a good run at it.”

The Hills now have four children still at home with 14-year-old Paris Hill starting high school next year … at Pershing.

dgoricki@detroitnews.com

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