Western coach McDowell is up to new challenge

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Detroit — Derrick McDowell guided Detroit Redford to the PSL basketball title 10 years ago.

Now, McDowell will be taking his unbeaten (17-0) Detroit Western team into Friday's 7 p.m. PSL championship game against Detroit Renaissance (11-6) at Calihan Hall and says if Western comes out on top it would be even sweeter than the title a decade ago.

Why? Well, Western's last PSL title came in 1922, but McDowell is trying to change all of that.

"I've won three PSL titles at Redford, but this would be the biggest one since they have no basketball history here at Western," said McDowell who also guided Redford to Class A state runner-up spots in 1997 and 2002 before the PSL title, then moved on to become assistant coach at Eastern Michigan before taking over at Western prior to the 2011-12 season. "I sure don't remember them ever doing anything and I've followed this league since I was 9 when I was a ball boy at Northern in 1970.

"This is my fourth year here and to pull this out, putting the program together so soon, it would mean so much, a big compliment to the kids who are buying in to everything we're trying to do here."

McDowell said the team's strength is its depth. It had a strong nucleus of guards Brailen Neely and Armani Tinsley and forwards Karim Murray and Aaron Austin, then got stronger when transfers Josh McFolley and 6-foot-8 Gerald Blackshear — both Detroit Mercy commits and transfers from Mt. Clemens — became eligible last month.

McFolley scored 30 and Blackshear had 16 points and 15 rebounds in a 70-60 semifinal win over Pershing on Friday.

Still, McDowell said Neely is the team leader.

"Brailen Neely is our leader and he knows he's our leader and it's important for him to stay focused for the entire 32 minutes for us to be successful," McDowell said.

McDowell knows Western will have to be at its best to beat a Renaissance team that has won seven straight since guard Darryl Smith, a transfer from Detroit Community, became eligible last month. Western defeated Renaissance 58-41 in the lone meeting between the teams, but that was before the transfers became eligible.

"They have quality guys, you can't just key on (guard) Justin Turner and A.J. (6-7, 285-pound Jackson)," said McDowell.

Jalen Tobias, a 6-5 freshman, has also played well for Renaissance, which last won the PSL title in 2004 when it went 27-0 and won the Class B state championship.

King will face Renaissance in the girls title game at Calihan at 5, just before the boys take the court.

Marissa Thrower played a part of three straight PSL titles as a member of Renaissance from 2002-04, ending King's run of six straight PSL championships.

Now, Thrower will try to put an end to King's run of three straight titles when she guides Cass Tech (14-3) against the Crusaders (16-0).

It's been a long, long time — 1987 — since Cass Tech last won a girls' PSL title. Four schools have won since then: Murray-Wright, Pershing, Renaissance and King, with King winning 15 championships since Cass Tech's last title.

King will be going after its fourth straight PSL title, having defeated Cass Tech in the championship game the last two years.

If the first meeting between the teams this season is repeated, the title game should be a treat. King pulled out a 54-47 win at Cass Tech when Crusaders guard Micaela Kelly made three of her four 3-pointers during the fourth quarter, one to give King a 45-41 lead with 5:18 remaining, then consecutive long-range shots to open up a 53-44 cushion.

No doubt, Thrower will be keeping a close eye on Kelly, but Cass Tech also needs to slow down 6-3 senior Malaysia McHenry, who scored 18 the first time out.