In Play with Tom Markowski


  • All

There’s a long list of contenders for the 2017 Miss Basketball race, tournament will serve as a preview

By: Tom Markowski, February 7, 2016, 3:00 pm


The primaries and caucuses are just about complete this season in the race for the Miss Basketball award. Kysre Gondrezick of Benton Harbor and Mardrekia Cook of Muskegon appear to have the inside track for the most prestigious individual award for girls.

Other than their fine individual accomplishments to this point, both players have been a part of successful programs. Benton Harbor reached the Class B semifinals last season and Muskegon is one of the top 15 teams in Class A this season.

The race for the 2017 Miss Basketball promises to be more wide open. For one, there’s more depth in this season’s junior class. And, two, the talent is not concentrated in one area of the state. Players from southeast Michigan, notably Oakland and Macomb counties, will be in the hunt as well as the Flint area. The west side also has fine representatives from Grand Rapids and, again, Muskegon.

The top two candidates, at this time, are Deja Church of Southfield-Lathrup and Destiny Pitts of Detroit Country Day. Both have received numerous major Division I scholarship offers and both play on teams that are ranked in State Champs Super 10.

Fans has an opportunity to see Church and Pitts go head-to-head this past Saturday at Southfield-Lathrup. Country Day won the game, 56-52, but Church outscored Pitts 29-23.

Both are strong and are able to play a physical style. Church, at 5-10, is more of a perimeter player offensively and the best part of her game is when she takes the ball to the basket. Pitts is 6-feet tall and is more versatile offensively. Pitts is a fine post player. Her strength and quickness often cause opposing coaches to double team her in the paint. Pitts is also accurate from the 3-point range.

No player from Southfield-Lathrup has won this award and none will. The school will close in June and merge with Southfield High for the 2016-17 school year.

Oddly enough, despite all of the talented players that attended Country Day just one, Peggy Evans in 1989, has been named Miss Basketball.

As good as Church and Pitts are it is not a slam dunk that either will win. The next tier of players is outstanding and it would not be a huge surprise if one of these players won it.

The other top contenders, in alphabetical order, include Kierra Fletcher of Warren Cousino, Claire Hendrickson of Wyoming, Sophia Karasinski of Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Breanna Perry, of Flushing, Krystal Rice of Flint Hamady, Ellie Taylor of Midland Dow and Jordan Walker of Muskegon Mona Shores.

I told you there was a lot depth.

First of all, the Miss and Mr. Basketball awards are voted upon by members of the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan. There are thousands of members across the state and, in the past, what voters look for in casting their votes is, first, a player’s individual abilities but, in many cases, just as important is the success this player’s team has had over his or her career.

What also comes into play at times is the school the player choses. One might not think this is true but it is. For example, let’s say Judy Jones signs with Michigan State and Sally Johnson signs with Virginia. Voters like it when players sign with instate schools.

I know, Tania Davis of Goodrich, the 2015 Miss Basketball winner, signed with Iowa. It’s not a blueprint. It’s a guideline.

Take Matt Costello of Bay City Western as another example. As a junior Costello led Western, by no means a perennial state power, to the Class A semifinals. He signed with Michigan State his senior year. The combination of signing with MSU and playing at the Breslin Center his junior year were significant in his winning the Mr. Basketball award.

For argument sake, let’s say Flushing or Dow or Cousino reach the Class A semifinals this season. Members of BCAM who watch those semifinals will gain the eye test when they think about players like Fletcher or Perry or Taylor.

The same goes for the other players listed.

Rice helped lead Hamady to the Class C finals as a sophomore. If Hamady wins the title this season it’s only logical that Rice’s chances of making that final list of candidates would be enhanced.

But one cannot deny star power and it’s obvious when you watch Country Day or Southfield-Lathrup play who stands out.

“(Church) is an all-around player,” Southfield-Lathrup coach Michele Marshall said. “She rebounds from the guard spot. She’s a competitor. She’s a dangerous player when she has the ball. I know there are many players who won’t step in front of her and take a charge.”

Church averages 17 points and six rebounds.

 Pitts averages 16 points and eight rebounds.

“What’s good about (Pitts) is she doesn’t have to have a good output scoring-wise to play well,” Country Day coach Frank Orlando said. “She understands the game. She understands the circumstances.”

The sleepers in this race could well be Walker of Mona Shores and Fletcher. Walker, a 5-7, is more of a distributer but when the Sailors need a basket Walker isn’t afraid of taking the big shot. Fletcher is averaging 25 points and 12 rebounds. She’s 5-9 and plays all five positions for the Patriots.