Prep insider: Neely gives Western chance for repeat
Detroit Western earned its first state championship in school history Saturday afternoon at the Breslin Center.
Now, the big question is can Western repeat as the Class A state champ next year?
Well, there's no reason to think it's not a legitimate possibility with standout point guard Brailen Neely leading the show.
It was the junior Neely who led Western to a 9-0 start, including an upset win over Saginaw Arthur Hill — led by Texas-bound guard Eric Davis and sophomore sensation Brian Bowen back in December — well before transfers Josh McFolley and 6-foot-8 post player Gerald Blackshear were eligible to play.
There's no doubt McFolley and Blackshear played huge roles Saturday in the 62-59 rematch win over Arthur Hill to win the state title.
It was McFolley who was the catalyst in bringing Western back from a 25-21 halftime deficit to earn the victory and complete a magical 26-0 season.
McFolley, who rolled his right ankle at the end of the half, returned and played some of the best basketball of his life.
Arthur Hill was making life miserable for Blackshear inside during the first half with Bowen & Co. doubling him up and blocking his shots. Neely was having a tough time finishing with drives as well.
McFolley tossed aside any thoughts of his ankle injury putting him on the sidelines and let the adrenaline take over. He scored 10 third-quarter points, making two 3-pointers to help Western take 41-34 lead. Western led the rest of the way.
McFolley had 13 points, five assists and four steals during the second half.
While McFolley and Blackshear will be playing together at Detroit Mercy, Neely feels Western has the pieces to make a run at repeating. And, why not?
Junior forward Karim Murray showed he is a high-caliber player, scoring 15 in the title game while slowing down Davis, limiting the Mr. Basketball runner-up to 15 points on 6-for-15 shooting.
Junior forward Jaye Patrick, and junior guards Armanti Tinsley and Kyree Boynton also will be back.
"Brailen did what he always does and that's orchestrate the offense and the defense with what we're doing," Western coach Derrick McDowell said of Neely, who averaged 16 points and 4.5 assists. "He's not scoring a lot (eight points in title game), but without him we're just not all the way there. He sacrificed a lot of his game this year to get us to where we're at."
Neely put aside his ego for the good of the team, for the ultimate goal of the team, which was winning a state championship.
Neely talked about the journey and the future. Western went from 15-6 in Neely's freshman year to 6-15 his sophomore season, failing to get out of the districts.
"It was a process," Neely said. "My freshman year we were young, had only one senior and had a lot of growing to do. The next year, our 10th-grade year, we thought we had it so we weren't really listening. We were knuckleheads and it showed in our game. We didn't have our best year and people didn't come see us which humbled us down. This year, we were on Coach Mac's page and it led us to tremendous success."
And, Western's success wasn't just a state title, but also its first PSL title since 1922 — or before the Great Depression.
"That's why so many eyebrows have been raised," Neely said. "When we were at Calihan (for the PSL final), they (fans) hear it's Renaissance and Western and they're like 'Western, well they've never had a program.' People come out to see us and it's just great, it's a great experience."
About next season, Neely said: "We've gained a lot of experience from this and we know what we can accomplish now. When those guys leave, it's pretty much the same group that started ninth-grade year so we'll still be strong."
Oh, and there will be no more stories from McDowell about his coaching days at Detroit Redford with players like Mr. Basketball award-winners Dion Harris and Manny Harris as topics.
"I'm done with the Redford stories so it's on to the McFolleys, the Blackshears, the (Julius) Palmers, the Neelys stories now with the guys coming in," McDowell said. "They deserve it."
Jesuit could be back
Neely will be called upon to play an even bigger role than this year if Western has a chance to make another run.
And, you can bet Western will run into Detroit Jesuit again. Who knows, the teams could meet again next year in the Operation Friendship game and during the final week of the state tournament.
Western defeated Jesuit in the Operation Friendship game, then again in the state semifinals Friday night at Breslin, 55-46.
Jesuit returns the top junior in the state in 6-2 point guard Cassius Winston (22.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.7 assists), along with improving 6-9 sophomores Greg Eboigbodin and Ike Eke, 6-4 junior forward Matt Schearer and freshman defensive stopper Elijah Collins, who could be a special player in the years ahead at the offensive end.
Jesuit loses just one starter in Gary Collins and returns eight from its nine-player rotation.
"It stings getting here two years in a row and losing on Friday," Jesuit coach Pat Donnelly said. "We want to be here next year, and we want to win next year. I definitely believe we have the talent to make a run next year."
Jesuit should with Winston being the Mr. Basketball front-runner with Neely, his AAU (The Family) teammate also in the discussion for being the state's top player.
Henry Ford's future bright
Detroit Henry Ford made a surprising run to the Class B state championship game.
Henry Ford was bounced out of the PSL tournament by East English Village in the quarterfinal, but then bounced back to win eight straight games before falling to talented Wyoming Godwin Heights in the title game Saturday night, 85-68.
Henry Ford coach Ken Flowers is proud of what his team accomplished, finishing 21-6 with regular-season victories over Ann Arbor Huron and Class C state champion Flint Beecher, then ending New Haven's perfect season with a quarterfinal win before a semifinal victory over Cadillac.
Sure, Flowers will have to replace Mr. PSL Josh Davis (17 points, 6.8 rebounds), who is headed for Western Michigan, but has the luxury of having point guard James Towns (16.5 points, 3.5 assists) run his offense again next year.
Towns had an outstanding effort — 24 points, six rebounds, four assists — in the 64-38 rout of Cadillac. He will be joined next year by 6-5 junior forward Antwan Johnson and 6-4 junior Alston Hunter.
"This will be a big motivation," Flowers said. "We have a good core group of guys who will put the hard work in when summer league starts, cross country and fall practice workouts. We'll be back. We'll be ready."
Martin strikes chord
Caleb Martin, a 6-6 junior, helped Powers North Central make the trip from the Upper Peninsula to Breslin a successful one, taking care of business and returning home with the Class D state championship and a 27-0 record.
Martin had 13 points in the 67-47 win over Morenci on Saturday morning while also clogging the middle to block or alter shots.
While Martin was an impact player for North Central, he is also a musician, feeling comfortable playing in front of big crowds.
"I play the drums and I'm also a DJ," Martin said. "I'm in a band with my dad and my brother. I play the drums, my dad plays the guitar and we all sing. We like our rock."
So, where does Martin perform? "Well, bars I guess and when I DJ, I work homecomings and proms, things like that. It's lots of fun."
Martin definitely had fun at Breslin, leaving with a smile and the ultimate trophy.