Tillman, Elliott, Jackson headline Mr. Basketball candidates

David Goricki
The Detroit News
Macomb Dakota guard Jermaine Jackson

Xavier Tillman has to be considered the frontrunner for the Michigan Mr. Basketball award, but there are a number of contenders, including Detroit East English Village's Greg Elliott and Macomb Dakota's Jermaine Jackson Jr.

And don’t forget North Farmington's Amauri Hardy and Kalamazoo Central's Isaiah Livers.

Holland's Demetrius Lake, as well, has definitely entered the picture as a high-scoring combo guard.

Tillman, a 6-foot-8, 270-pound post player who will play at Michigan State, is averaging 13.7 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.2 steals and four blocks in 21.5 minutes to help Grand Rapids Christian (10-0) to an unbeaten record.

“His motor is awesome,” Grand Rapids Christian coach Mark Warners said of Tillman. “We run our offense through him because of his decision-making and unselfishness. He sees the floor incredibly well.”

Elliott, a 6-4 guard/forward, has three games of 40 or more points this season. He is averaging 32 points, nine rebounds, four assists and 2.5 steals for the defending Detroit Public School League champion East English, which is 11-2 this season. He has been offered by Michigan State, Marquette, and Providence among others.

“He’s a high-character, high-academic kid,” East English coach Juan Rickman said. “As it relates to basketball, Greg has the ability to do everything well on the floor, and that’s his best attribute.

“The fact that he is able to do all the intangibles at a high level in combination with his ability to score is what makes him special and a joy to coach. It’s always a recipe for success when your most talented player is one of the hardest workers and more coachable players on your team.”

Elliott and junior point guard David DeJulius form the best 1-2 punch in the state with DeJulius, a Michigan commit, averaging 27 points, six assists and five rebounds.

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Tillman also has a strong supporting cast with 6-7 James Beck (Oakland) and 6-3 junior point guard Duane Washington Jr., who has multiple Division 1 offers.

Jackson, a 5-10 point guard, has come back from a separated shoulder suffered early in the season and is playing at a high level for Dakota (10-3), which leads the Macomb Area Conference Red Division at 6-0. He also has a strong supporting cast in 6-8 junior Thomas Kithier, a Michigan State commit, and 6-9 center Jack Ballantyne.

Jackson is averaging 26 points, five assists, five rebounds and three assists, and trying to help lead Dakota back to the Final Four at the Breslin Center.

“Since his injury in December, when he missed two games, he has been tremendous,” Dakota coach Paul Tocco said. “He scored 39 points the other night against (Macomb) L’Anse Creuse North. He has become our vocal leader this year. He has taken the role of team captain to a high level. He comes in before school and works and he stays after practice and gets in more work.”

Jackson has offers from Iowa State, Colorado, Providence, Tulane, Toledo, Eastern Michigan and Detroit Mercy.

North Farmington (5-6) lost a trio of high-caliber players from last year's team that reached the Class A state final, but Hardy returned and is rising to the top of the charts. He is averaging 28.5 points, seven rebounds and four assists, including 35 points Thursday in a 76-70 win over Southfield A&T, and will play at Oklahoma State next year.

“He’s attacking the rim, hitting the pull-up jumper and making the 3-pointers,” North Farmington coach Todd Negoshian said. “He’s an unbelievable leader and teacher with our younger kids.”

Livers is a 6-6 guard/forward headed to Michigan. He is averaging 19.5 points, 16 rebounds and five assists, and has led Kalamazoo Central to a 10-1 record with its lone loss coming to East English.

“Isaiah’s played every position for us,” Kalamazoo Central coach Ramsey Nichols said. “He impacts the game at both ends of the floor. He passes the ball really well and initiates our offense. He’s really improved his ball-handling skills and shooting range, as well.”

Lake averaged 33 points last season, then left Holland to attend a prep school in Florida to get more exposure, only to return months later this past fall.

Lake has taken his game to another level to try and lead Holland to a winning season, which is a challenge since it lost the majority of its starters from a year ago.

Lake, a 5-10 combo guard, is averaging 35.5 points and 42 over the last five games. He had consecutive games of 52 and 49 points earlier this month, scoring 52 in an 80-76 loss to Zeeland East and 49 in a 70-54 victory over Hamilton.

Then, after being limited to 22 points by Hudsonville Unity Christian, Lake scored 46 in a 75-60 win over Zeeland West last week. He scored 39 and grabbed 15 rebounds in a 77-75 overtime win over Byron Center on Friday, coming back from a five-point deficit with 37 seconds left to force the extra session.

He also set a Dutch Dome record when he scored 54 against Cedar Springs in December.

“I don’t regret moving down to Florida because when I was there I stayed in the gym, worked on my craft three times a day,” Lake said. “Everything that I put in during the offseason is what I’m gaining now.”

Now Lake is finally getting noticed, and recently got a call from Minnesota coach Richard Pitino.

“He contacted me and said he likes my game, he’s seen my Hudl tapes and my numbers from this year and really wants me,” Lake said. “He wants to get out here and watch me play, and hopefully things open up in the spring for me to get a scholarship, but that is if it’s the right fit for me.”

Top seniors in Michigan

• Greg Elliott, 6-4, G-F, Detroit East English (11-2) – 32 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists (undecided)

• Amauri Hardy, 6-3, G, North Farmington (5-6) – 28.5 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists (Oklahoma State)

• Jermaine Jackson, 5-10, G, Macomb Dakota (10-3) – 26 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists (undecided)

• Demetrius Lake, 5-10, G, Holland (7-6) – 35.5 points (undecided)

• Isaiah Livers, 6-6, G-F, Kalamazoo Central (10-1) – 19.5 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists (Michigan)

• Xavier Tillman, 6-8, F-C, Grand Rapids Christian (10-0) – 13.7 points, 9.8 rebounds (Michigan State)


Twitter: @DavidGoricki