In Play with Tom Markowski

Rushed into coaching at Ann Arbor Huron, Waleed Samaha has the River Rats playing inspired ball

Basketball   | Tom Markowski

Rushed into coaching at Ann Arbor Huron, Waleed Samaha has the River Rats playing inspired ball

Ann Arbor – The athletic department at Ann Arbor Huron received quite a surprise on Nov. 6 when Lindsey Klemmer, for personal reasons, resigned as the varsity girls basketball coach. That day was the official start of practice for the season for a young and inexperienced Huron team.

Opportunities take many forms but the last thing Waleed Samaha thought of at this time was coaching a female basketball team at any level. Samaha, a longtime coach within the boys basketball program at Huron, spent the previous season at Michigan working as an administrative assistant within the men’s basketball program.

Circumstances forced Huron administrators to act quickly and Samaha got the call to step in immediately as Huron’s girls varsity coach. Some might have declined the offer but Samaha knew someone needed to take action and quickly. He took it and it’s likely those at Huron couldn’t have made a better decision.

Huron lost its first game of the season but has since reeled off eight consecutive victories and the last two were over two quality Class A teams (Grand Haven and Macomb Dakota). This run has prompted State Champs to move the River Rats into the Class A top 10 rankings at No. 8.

No one could see Huron having so much success so soon including Samaha. Huron has been one of the top programs in southeast Michigan for years first under Steve Vinson and then last season with Klemmer as coach. The River Rats reached lost to Southfield A&T in a quarterfinal last season but four key components of that team graduated including three who are playing in college. Returning were Shamim Wambere, one of three seniors on the team, and junior Eden Johnson, two 6-foot interior players. Wambere started and Johnson was the top reserve. Two freshmen, now sophomores, Alexa Lyon and Reeya Patel, played mop-up minutes and little more. No other player on this season’s team saw playing time last season.

Add to this the fact that this would be a completely new system one that would stress an up tempo pace with a defense that pressed full court for 32 minutes.

“We’re winning the turnover margin,” Samaha said. “But we really hurt ourselves when we turn it over.

“We have growing pains in the backcourt. Those last two wins were quality wins. We grind. We’re still a work in progress. We go 10 deep and we’re trying to keep the energy alive on defense.”

Huron is forcing an average of 26 turnovers per game and this aggressive defensive style of defense triggers its offense.

A case in point was last Friday’s 57-47 victory at Dakota (6-1), a team that was ranked No. 6 in Class A. Dakota features one of the state’s top sophomores in 6-1 Cameron Grant and Samaha did his best to have his team limit Grant’s effectiveness but making it a 94-foot game, not one won in the half court. Johnson had a marvelous game finishing with 23 points, 10 rebounds and five steals.

“I feel we’re not even close to where we could be,” Samaha said. “I see progress. We have a high ceiling.”

Next for Huron is another road game against Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (6-2), a Class B finalist last season that’s ranked No. 5 in Class C. That nonleague game is Tuesday and will be followed by a Southeastern Conference game on Friday at home against Monroe (7-2, 2-1).