U-D Jesuit enters the final week of the season in the same position it started it, holding the title as the team to beat in the Division 1 boys basketball playoffs.
The state quarterfinals get underway Tuesday, with Division 3 and 4 state semifinal games set for Thursday at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, and the Division 1 and 2 semifinals on Friday.
The championships in all four divisions are Saturday at Breslin Center.
While U-D Jesuit (23-2) — which lost in the Class A state semifinals in 2015 and won the state championship in 2016 — is familiar with playing at this time of the season, the same can’t be said for a number of teams, including Ypsilanti Lincoln and Roseville, which each won regional titles for the first time in program history last week.
Emoni Bates, a 6-foot-8 Lincoln freshman who is the top player in the country for the 2022 class, has made the state tournament his personal playground, making 7-of-14 3-pointers, including one in the final seconds for the difference in a 58-55 regional semifinal win over Ann Arbor Skyline, then scoring 36, including a tip as time expired for the difference in an 81-79 regional title game victory over Detroit Catholic Central.
Lincoln — 20-4 and ranked No. 17 by The Detroit News — will be playing Detroit King (20-4) in a quarterfinal at Calihan Hall at 5:30 p.m., with No. 19 Roseville (20-4) taking on No. 3 U-D Jesuit following in the second quarterfinal.
It will be Bates’ first appearance in Detroit, and Lincoln fans have to be thrilled Calihan holds 8,000 fans, especially since 1,000 were turned away for the regional final at Lincoln’s gym which holds 2,500.
King’s last quarterfinal appearance came in 2000 and head coach George Ward had Benny White, who was head coach in 2000 and is now dean of culture at the school, talk to his players on Friday.
Ward guided Detroit Southeastern teams to the state title game in 2011 (against Kalamazoo Central) and 2013 (Romulus), losing both times.
Ward’s teams long have been known for its strong defense and this year is no exception, allowing 43.9 points with no team scoring more than 56 points against them.
“This feels good because we haven’t done it with any high-profile kids coming out of middle school,” Ward said. “The kids have made themselves good basketball players through all the hard work, so right now we’re just reaping the benefit of all the hard work they put in."
Guards Jordan Whitford and Keith Tate Jr. have received help in the backcourt from freshman Chansey Willis Jr., with 6-4 sophomore Omar Zeigler Jr. and 6-5 John Massey Jr. up front.
People might think King should be the favorite. After all, King defeated No. 4 River Rouge 54-51 in the season opener, and River Rouge roughed up Lincoln 78-47 back on Dec. 29.
Ward is impressed with Lincoln, saying Bates has a strong supporting cast. Bates is averaging 29.2 points and 10.1 rebounds, senior guard Jalen Fisher, 13.1 points; 6-4 senior Amari Frye, 10.8 points and 5.6 rebounds; and 6-2 senior point guard Tahj Chatman, 10.1 points.
Frye scored 20 in the regional final win, and Chatman made a 3-pointer with 40 seconds left to pull Lincoln even at 79, setting up Bates’ heroics with his winning tip-in.
“They have some talented players; it’s not just about Bates,” Ward said. “As a matter of fact, those other guys do a lot of the intangible things that you want out of a basketball team. They’re very scrappy. They are very tough and right now they are at a point where they are very confident. They’ve won two basketball games at the buzzer, pretty much.
“What they’ve been able to do is outstanding and, honestly, Bates is the straw that stirs the drink for them, but I don’t know if they’ve seen what we can provide so it will be a great matchup and we’re looking forward to it."
Ward takes pride in his style of play.
“We call this the 'Validation Tour,' and when I say that, it just validates what we believe basketball really should be,” Ward said. “A lot of times when you look at basketball now, we’ve gotten out of moving the basketball, we’ve gotten out of setting screens, we’ve gotten out of playing good defense and taking charges. We’re all about highlights now, all about YouTube and all of those sort of things, but at the end of the day basketball is a very, very fundamental sport, as most sports are.
“Yes, we play defense and we’re going to make sure that we take away your first or second option. We played a heck of a schedule and ... the funny thing about that is we haven’t done any gimmicks, haven’t been a lot of things you have to figure out. We’ve kind of played man-to-man defense and said you better make a move and you’d better run good offense and if you don’t at some point in time our defense is going to hold you down.”
Young coach turns around Roseville
Fans know all about U-D Jesuit veteran coach Pat Donnelly, but few know about 24-year-old Roseville head coach Hassan Nizam, who took over a 9-12 team two years ago, guided Roseville to a 17-7 record and the MAC Red/White tournament championship and a regional semifinal appearance last year, followed by a regional championship this season.
Roseville showed it would be a factor in the opening week of the season when it defeated a pair of Final Four teams from a year ago, Warren De La Salle (Class A) in the season opener at Calihan Hall (59-42) and then Romeo Weems and No. 2 New Haven (Class B), 65-60 three days later.
“We lost to Macomb Dakota in the regional semifinals last year and that loss in the regional semis, especially because it was against Dakota, our inner-league rival, it kind of was the fuel to the fire for our offseason,” Nizam said. “It kind of set the tone that we were not only going to get back to that game, but we were going to set bigger goals for ourselves and reach for the mountain top. I would say last year it was a young team that, probably once it reached the regional wasn’t ready for the moment and this year it was the team who was in the moment.”
Roseville has beaten its five postseason opponents by an average of 20 points, including a 83-42 regional semifinal win over Troy and a 50-33 regional title game win over New Baltimore Anchor Bay.
“When we first took the job, when I interviewed for the job I remember vividly telling the committee, painting that picture the goal was to win districts regularly, compete for regionals and we called it PAC — Play At Calihan,” Nizam said. “To be honest, I didn’t think it would happen this quick, but anyone that has watched us play wouldn’t be surprised."
Roseville has a talented backcourt in 5-10 senior Darien Banks and 6-1 junior Martell Turner, with 6-7 senior John Ukomadu and 6-5 DeShaun Wright up front, along with perimeter shooters in Lazell Judge, Isiah Collier and Aaron Hunter.
Banks averages 20 points, and Ukomadu averages 11 points and 11 rebounds.
“Overall, the guys play so well together," Nizam said. "Every time someone has an off-day, somebody else picks up the slack.”
Still, Nizam knows Roseville will be considered the underdog against U-D Jesuit, which sends out possibly the top starting lineup in the state in 6-10 Jalen Thomas, 6-4, 220-pound forward Daniel Friday, 6-7 junior J.T. Morgan and guards Julian Dozier and Jordan Montgomery.
Benton Harbor upset victim
Hudsonville Unity Christian upset No. 1 and defending Class B state champion Benton Harbor, 63-54, in a Division 2 regional final last Thursday.
Unity Christian (23-2) led by 18 in the first half, then went on a 7-0 run after Carlos “Scooby” Johnson helped Benton Harbor pull even at 46.
Next up for Unity Christian is a quarterfinal matchup with Grand Rapids South Christian at Calvin College.
Lamonta Stone knows why he was brought in as head coach at River Rouge this season, to help the program take the next step and win the state title after losing in state semifinal games the past two seasons. He guided River Rouge to consecutive Class B state championships in 1998 and 1999.
No. 4 River Rouge will face Haslett in a quarterfinal at Chelsea, while Weems and New Haven play unbeaten Harper Woods Chandler Park at Ortonville Brandon.
Beecher-Edison has state title game feel
Defending Class C state champion Detroit Edison (18-7) will face No. 6 Flint Beecher (23-2) and its dynamic 1-2 punch of junior guards Jalen Terry and Earnest Sanders in a Division 3 quarterfinal at St. Clair County Community College in Port Huron.
Despite losing a trio of Division I players from last year’s state championship team, Edison coach Bo Neely has done an outstanding job of getting his team back to this point. And, Edison has played a strong schedule to get ready, earning wins over Benton Harbor and No. 9 Canton.
Edison’s strength is in its inside play while Beecher’s is in the backcourt with Terry averaging 21 points, seven rebounds and 5.7 assists and Sanders, 16.5 points and 10 rebounds.