Dan Fife was the King of Clarkston Friday night. With his wife Jan and dozens of his former players looking on – including sons Dugan, Jeremy and Dane – Fife learned the Clarkston gymnasium would be named in his honor: Dan Fife Fieldhouse.
Fife guided the Clarkston program for the past 36 years and he became the third coach in state history to top the 700-win mark (703-170), capping off his career with consecutive Class A state championships.
Fife had a night to remember Friday, just like he did on a couple of Saturday afternoons in East Lansing the previous two winters while hoisting state championship trophies.
During the pregame ceremony, Fife described the family atmosphere that has developed with Clarkston basketball over the years.
“We always used to say ‘Run it!’ when we broke the huddles from Jeremy’s class in ’95,” Fife said. “We were going to run the team we played to death, and once they got tired, that’s when we were going to turn the heat up.
“But Foster (Loyer) ended that, started breaking the huddles with ‘Family’ and it’s really stuck. I really believe Clarkston is a family. I appreciate all that you people do for our program and how you follow us because it’s worth a fortune to our kids.
Fife started dating Jan when they were Clarkston students.
“I’ve always told our players that they can always have girlfriends as long as they are good rebounders,” Fife said Friday. “My wife was outstanding so I had to marry her when I got out of college.”
Fife said how important it was that his former assistant, Tim Wasilk, replace him when he announced his retirement back in September.
Wasilk knowing all about what Clarkston means to Fife since he grew up down the street from him, actually playing youth baseball, and then basketball, under the legendary coach.
Passing the torch
Loyer, now with Michigan State, traveled from East Lansing to watch his former coach be honored while also getting the opportunity to watch his brother, freshman Fletcher Loyer, play a high school game for the first time.
Fletcher put on a show against an athletic Wayne team that was ranked No. 14 by The Detroit News in the preseason rankings, and Clarkston earned a 60-46 win in front of the home fans.
“This is the first time seeing him play in a high school game, so for him to come out here and play like he did was fun for me to watch,” said Foster Loyer of his younger brother. “He’s grown up in the gym with me, and not only learning from myself, but from the other guys that I’ve been playing with, so I think that’s helped him quite a bit. He knows the game real well and he’s a pretty good shooter, so I think he’ll continue to grow and it’s going to be fun to watch him.”
Loyer, a 6-foot-2 point guard, and 6-2 freshman guard Keegan Wasilk – Tim’s nephew – did a solid job of handling Wayne’s trap with the help of their teammates while scoring in transition off of outlet passes from 7-foot junior Matt Nicholson.
Loyer scored 21, making four 3-pointers, including two in the opening two minutes of the second half to open a 37-25 cushion. Nicholson had a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds), including a pair of dunks off passes from Loyer in the third quarter for a 46-32 advantage.
Nicholson has scored in double figures in every game, averaging a team-high 16 points with Loyer at 13.7 to give Clarkston a 3-2 record, three straight wins after an 0-2 start, including a 62-46 victory over No. 13 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.
“Being here every game (the previous four years), just watching it and taking it in, you just know what you’ve got to do,” said Fletcher of handling the pressure and his job of running the offense, despite being just a freshman. “I learned a lot from my brother, almost everything from him.”
Fletcher said he wasn’t nervous playing in front of Fife and his sons, along with multiple former Clarkston stars.
“I wasn’t nervous, just anxious to show them what you can do,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher enjoys playing with his teammates, knowing they can do some damage in the months ahead. He also thinks Nicholson can be a dominant force at both ends of the court.
“He’s played great so far; I feel like he can pick it up even more,” said Loyer. “It’s a lot of fun throwing it up to him and letting him dunk it. He’s so tall. It’s just great to watch the crowd go crazy.
“And, I’ve grown up with (Keegan Wasilk). We grew up playing together so we’ve learned from each other. He’s a great player.”
Reaching the Breslin Center might be a stretch for Clarkston this season. But don’t be surprised if the Wolves pull off another upset or two and make it a fun winter for their fans.
Top teams at Lawrence Tech
Some of the state’s top boys and girls basketball teams will play Saturday at Lawrence Tech.
Two-time defending Class C state champion Detroit Edison will face defending Class B state champion Detroit Country Day in a girls basketball showdown at 1 p.m. to tip things off. It could be a preview of a Division 2 postseason battle come March.
The other three games are boys action with Westland John Glenn facing Mount Clemens at 3, followed by Detroit Cass Tech-Ypsilanti at 5 and Canton-Grand Rapids Catholic Central at 7.
Admission is $10 for an all-day pass.