It was a year ago when Julian Roper was in limbo, scoring 20 in a loss at Saginaw in mid-January, then no longer a member of Detroit Country Day’s basketball team or a student at the school for that matter.
Roper transferred to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, sat out for the remainder of the season and is now a force for the No. 1 team in The News Super 20 poll.
Roper averaged 17 points and eight rebounds his freshman year with Country Day and had already received an offer from Iowa as a sophomore.
Well, now the 6-foot-4 Roper has a handful of Big Ten offers, along with one from Alabama coach Nate Oats. He is averaging 17.5 points and getting things done at the defensive end on a team that showcases the best backcourt in the state in Wisconsin-bound Lorne Bowman, Roper, sophomore point guard Kareem Rozier and sophomore Jason Drake.
And, for good reason since Roper is a freak athlete, displaying outstanding quickness, great leaping ability (41-inch vertical) and elite skills to get to the basket off of steals or by making the perimeter shot.
“I like creating for my teammates, then finishing in transition and getting my own shot,” said Roper, who scored 20 in last Tuesday’s 94-55 rout of Catholic League rival Detroit Catholic Central..
“Lorne might be one of the smoothest guards in 2020 that I’ve seen. Just practicing against him, playing with him, you can see why it’s so hard to stop him, especially with the team we’ve got. Kareem’s unselfishness brings a way different impact to the team. We all have our egos, but we have to put them to the side, and he’s put his aside the most because he could definitely be doing more (offensively).”
While Bowman (24.1 points, seven rebounds) is receiving most of the limelight — and for good reason since he is a legit Mr. Basketball front-runner — it is Roper who can get the fans out of their seats in the way he did with an alley-oop dunk off a pass from Rozier in the first quarter, followed by a coast-to-coast slam in the second quarter, then by blocking a dunk at the other end, and finally capping his highlight-reel night with a pair of dunks off of his own steals in the third.
“That guy is a big-time player, energy off the charts all over the court," Bowman said, "and that’s what we need on our team, a guy like that to come in and score points and get others involved and rebound, do whatever the team needs to win."
As impressive as his ability to get a steal and score in transition, Roper is even more adept when it comes to getting the ball to a teammate in transition. He usually does it with a long bounce pass, which is rarely seen in the game today.
“I feel like it works way better,” Roper said of the bounce pass. “I try to watch a little bit of everybody, Westbrook, LeBron ... just all the top players with what they do and just try to mimic that.”
So, what was going through Roper’s mind a year ago after his transfer to St. Mary’s? His younger brother, 6-0 sophomore Josh Roper is also playing for St. Mary’s.
“From playing to not playing took a lot out of me, it was tough sitting out, knowing I had to sit out, but I kept my mindset for this year, knowing we had a chance of something special here,” said Roper, who played his AAU ball for the Indy Heat. “My decision (to transfer) was more personal issues with the school, nothing to do with basketball. I never thought about prep school, maybe would have thought about it if I couldn’t play here (at St. Mary’s) this year.”
St. Mary’s is having a special season, one that could find itself putting an end to U-D Jesuit’s run of seven straight Catholic League championships. Bowman scored 36 Friday to lead St. Mary’s to a 60-50 win over U-D Jesuit, which lost to Ypsilanti Lincoln in last year’s Division 1 state title game at the Breslin Center.
Roper has multiple Big Ten offers, but none coming from Michigan or Michigan State.
“Northwestern, Missouri, Alabama, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois have offered,” Roper said.
Roper is happy with his opportunity to attend and play at St. Mary’s, which is emerging as a front-runner to win the state title with wins over No. 4 Clarkston and No. 9 Grand Blanc.
St. Mary’s will play No. 5 Flint Beecher and the 1-2 punch of Jalen Terry and Earnest Sanders Monday night in the Horatio Williams Freedom Classic at Ferndale. The game was postponed Saturday due to the snowstorm.
Point to prove
Detroit King coach George Ward said his 6-foot-4 standout junior Omar Zeigler played with a chip on his shoulder in Friday’s game against Detroit Douglass, feeling he didn’t get the same type of respect as some of the other elite juniors in the area, including Douglass four-star 6-5 guard Pierre Brooks II, Farmington 6-3 guard Jaden Akins or Roper.
Well, Zeigler made a statement with his play in a 55-46 win over No. 15 Douglass to help No. 13 King push its record to 9-2 and perfect in the PSL East (6-0).
Zeigler scored 12 of his 20 points in the first half, making 4 of 6 shots from the field while everyone else on the floor was struggling for a 20-15 halftime lead. He also played a key role during a pivotal 17-0 run to open up a 37-19 lead in the third while scoring the final four points of the spurt and taking a charge.
More important was Zeigler’s defensive performance on Brooks II, who has offers from Michigan and Michigan State and came in averaging 26.8 points.
Zeigler limited Brooks II to 11 points on 3 of 14 shooting (0 of 7 on 3-pointers).
So, what did Ward do to slow down Brooks II?
“Nothing, play man, you have one of the best athletes in the state of Michigan that can guard him,” said Ward of using Zeigler to slow Brooks II down. “I know my guy can check. If you took their (uniforms) off, they look like the same kid. My kid is athletic, he’s tough and I think he had an ax to grind tonight. He’s tired of everybody overlooking him.”
Ward feels his players are being overlooked by the so-called experts.
“At the end of the day AAU basketball and Nike and everybody else has really done a disservice to our kids,” Ward said. “You look at my point guard (Chansey Willis Jr.), he’s a 10th grader, fundamentally he’s probably the best point guard in the city of Detroit. He got crazy a little bit because of the atmosphere, because of the pressure he put on himself (scoring 22 Friday night against Douglass after a slow start).
“Omar Zeigler, one of the best players in the state of Michigan, he’s a junior, nobody talks about them I guess because of the AAU affiliation or lack thereof. But, I tell you what if anybody does evaluation instead of April through July and come here from December through March and really see what team basketball is and really see the team that wants to make winning plays I can guarantee our kids will be looked at a little bit more, so we’re really proud of them.
“I can tell you this, we’ve got to be one of the favorites to win the state championship and these guys are young and they are fighting. I have a bunch of 16-year-olds and if you look at our starting lineup everybody is coming back after this year. I knew this would be a bit much for them, but I just love the way they hung in there and stuck with the game plan and did what they were supposed to do.”
King faces Clarkston Monday at 4:30 in the Horatio Williams Freedom Classic at Ferndale.
Detroit Edison Public School Academy coach Bo Neely has put together a challenging schedule to prepare his team for what he hopes will be another long state tournament run.
Edison won the Class C state championship in 2018 with a 17-10 record and then advanced to the Division 3 state semifinals last season, finishing 19-8.
Losses don’t bother Neely. He’s making sure Edison plays the best teams to get ready for long runs.
But, then again No. 18 Edison (6-2) earns its share of big wins, defeating No. 12 Waterford Mott, No. 19 Ferndale and U-D Jesuit this season with losses coming against No. 11 Ann Arbor Huron and defending Division 4 state champion Southfield Christian.
Edison will play 6-9 sophomore Emoni Bates — the nation’s top high school player — and defending Division 1 state champion and No. 3 Ypsilanti Lincoln Monday at 8 at Eastern Michigan University.
“We like to play teams that offer us a variety of things and Lincoln is extremely talented, so we have to pay special attention to not only Emoni, but also his cast since it’s talented,” Neely said. “We think we have an advantage from experience since we’re used to these types of games, this is one of the hyped games for them and I think they’ll have to get over that little anxiety.”
Edison is led by 6-5 senior Raynard Williams, 6-7, 270-pound Bryce George and sophomore point guard Kyle Millender.
“Williams is playing out of his mind, having a great senior year, averaging 17 points and seven rebounds, shooting 57 percent from the arc,” Neely said. “George is always going to bring an impact in the paint, big body, knocking people around and getting us multiple possessions because he rebounds the ball so well, gives us an honest presence in the paint.”
George will play basketball and football at Ferris State.