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BOYS BASKETBALL: Practice tips off for 2014 season, Romulus & DCD breaking in new coaching regimes

By: Scott Burnstein, November 21, 2013, 10:00 am

A pair of defending state boys basketball champions opened practice this week with new coaches at the helm of the program, giving both teams a different feel, though with similar expectations.

Defending Class A state title-holder Romulus enters the 2013-2014 campaign with Eagles alum Jerret Smith now wearing the whistle, replacing Nate Oats, off to coach in the college ranks at the University of Buffalo.

Birmingham Detroit Country Day has made the switch from legendary Kurt Keener (moved to Arizona) to the little-known Mark Bray, who came over to the glam-and-jam Yellowjackets, the defending champs in Class B and one of the marquee programs in the whole Midwest, after a decade in the shadows of Macomb County at Utica Ford.

Both Smith and Bray are keen young minds in the state’s sideline general landscape, ready and able to accept the mantle of great responsibility and tradition that comes with their respective jobs.

Country Day and Romulus have each held national rankings in the past several seasons, producing what feels like an ever-flowing stream of Division I college signees. When the teams clash in their annual late-season meeting its generally guaranteed that it’s going to be a thriller with an electric atmosphere.

Neither Smith nor Bray go into their inaugural campaign in their respective new positions with a bare cupboard – Oats and Keener have each left behind some high-grade talent to help ease the transition.

Romulus has Juwan Clark, Jaylin Walker, Kris Clyburn and Tyron Hamby, all high-energy playmakers that know their roles on the court and compete with intensity every second they’re on the hardwood. Mr. Basketball candidate Edmond Sumner, a fearless and ferocious floor general signed with Xavier, will headline Country Day’s attack this winter, along with fellow college recruits Deshawn Lewis (forward) and Maceo Baston, Jr. (forward).

Smith was an all-state point guard at Romulus in the early-to-mid 2000s, before playing in the Big 10 at the college level with the University of Michigan and then finishing up at Grand Valley State. Prior to accepting the Eagles’ head coaching vacancy this summer, he was the program’s junior varsity coach.

Bray grew up locally as well, prepping at Plymouth Canton (Class of 1996). The quintessential hard-nosed point guard himself, he was an all-league pick with the Chiefs and then a team captain in college at Hope. He got his start in the coaching game as the director of basketball operations at Central Michigan.

The shoes he has to fill may be a smidge bigger than those Smith is walking into over at Romulus, since Oats was on the bench leading the Eagles for roughly a decade and Keener was at Country Day for almost four decades, literally building the program to mythic status himself brick by brick. Between 1989 and 2013, he raised nine state championship banners in the Yellowjackets’ gymnasium and mentored future NBA draft picks such as Chris Webber, Shane Battier, Keith Benson, JaVale McGee and Ray McCallum, Jr.