Boys Basketball Preseason Top 25 Teams: Clarkston is a solid choice for No. 1; Cass Tech is next then Belleville
By TJ Kelley
When New Haven and coach Tedaro France lifted their Class B championship trophy to officially end the 2016-17 season, anticipation for the beginning of this season, set to start on Monday, was well on its way.
And why not? Eleven of last season’s 16 semifinalists return the bulk of their team or have players ready to step up and fill the void left by the players who graduated strengthening their opportunity to return to the Breslin Center.
There are at least another 20 teams throughout the four classes that are serious finalist contenders but until March 24, 2018, the date of the state finals, here are the state’s top 25 teams with last year’s record, class, and team synopsis including statistics from last season.
- Clarkston (27-1), A: Last season’s Class A champions are a heavy favorite to repeat as the Wolves return a strong core, and they’re all solid, if not suburb, players. Michigan State bound point guard Foster Loyer (5-10) averaged 25 points, 6.3 assists, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.8 steals. He’s the state’s top player as his stats are only outdone by his efficiency, poise, and winning tendencies. His backcourt mate is senior point guard CJ Robinson (5-10). Robinson averaged nine points, 3.4 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals. He can hit the big shot, make plays and is a lock-down defender. Robinson has been offered a scholarship by Lake Superior State. Taylor Currie (7.3 ppg, 5.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks) is now a senior and is a productive interior player. At 6-8, Currie is an efficient player from the perimeter to the post as a scorer, passer, defender, and rebounder. He signed with Wisconsin. Look for 6-10 sophomore center Matt Nicholson to aid on either side of the ball in the paint.
- Detroit Cass Tech (20-5), A: The Technicians lost a lot from last season but don’t look for them to struggle on the offensive end as much of their success will come from many corners. Cass Tech’s strengths are depth, size, and experience from winning last season’s PSL title as well as a regional final run. Senior power forwards Randy Gilbert (11.2 points and 6 rebounds per game) and Jalen Tobias (10 points, 7.4 rebounds) can compete with any front court in the state. Gilbert signed with Division II National Contender and 3-time defending GLIAC champion, Ferris State. Add scoring from the 2-guard position with seniors, Matthew Richmond (10.2 points; 41 percent from 3-point range) and Chris Murry (11.1 points and 4.3 rebounds) along with pass first sophomore point guard Tyson Acuff (8.1 points and 4 assists per game) and the Technicians have a strong five. Coach Steve Hall won’t be limited to one starting lineup as 6-5 juniors Josh Powell, Tyland Tate, and Kalil Whitehead are top 25 players in Michigan’s 2019 class. Junior point guard Derrick Bryant, Jr., is a transfer from Detroit University Prep where he was a three-year starter. Sophomore Kyle Legreair will add to their point guard depth.
- Belleville (20-3), A: The Tigers are a must-see team this season as they can score and are as athletic as any team in Michigan. Senior small forward Gabe Brown (6-7) averaged 15.9 points, shot 41 percent from the 3-point line and averaged 5.2 rebounds. He went from junior varsity as a sophomore to signing with Michigan State less than two years later, and he’s an electric lefty who is a threat from the perimeter and dunking the ball on the break. Senior wing Davion Williams (12.7 points, 2.6 assists, and 5.7 rebounds) is also headed to Michigan State but he’ll play on Saturdays (football commit) and there’s a chance he’ll get to play for Tom Izzo after the football season is over. Senior point guard Kaevon Merriweather (6-1) transferred from Romulus where he led the Eagles to a Class A semifinal last season. Senior wing Devin Alverson (6-2), who averaged 9.7 points and 6.6 rebounds, is tough, defends, and is not afraid to show off his athleticism when it comes to rocking rims. Senior point guard Cameron Smiley (5.4 points and 2.3 assists) is a solid table setter and defender. Coach Adam Trumpour will need a lot of minutes from his starters and those starters are good enough to make the trip to the Breslin Center.
- Detroit East English Village Prep (17-5), A: The Bulldogs return two starters. Michigan signee Dave DeJulius (26 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists), will contend for the Mr. Basketball award and is also a McDonalds All-America nominee. The younger players have improved dramatically and will be looking to showcase their growth this season. Tariq Shepherd and Sudi McElroy are juniors who provide more offense in the backcourt. Wing Jayshawn Moore is one of the state’s best sophomores and point guard Simon Wheeler is one of the state’s top freshman.
- Detroit Edison (14-12), C: While last year’s loss in a semifinal to eventual state champion Flint Beecher was a tough loss at the time, that experience should propel them to a Class C championship win. A trio of seniors led the way starting with point guard Pierre Mitchell, Jr., (16.9 points, 7.5 assists, and 4 rebounds) who is headed to Central Michigan next season. Mitchell is a four-year starter and his sophomore season he led Detroit Loyola to the Class C semifinal where it lost to Beecher. Senior wing Gary Solomon, Jr, (19 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists) led the Pioneers in scoring a season ago and his toughness and energy won’t be found in the stat book. He signed with LIU-Brooklyn in mid-November. The third Musketeer is 6-8 senior center/power forward Deante “Spider” Johnson (13.5 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks) signed with Cleveland State and his shot blocking prowess is in the mind of every opponent going to the basket. Junior small forward Brian Taylor (6-5) is a player to keep tabs on as he has worked on his shooting and finishing at the basket.
- East Lansing (24-1), A: The Trojans’ 47-2 record over the last two seasons is tops in Class A and in that span have tallied a 28-0 record in the CAAC Blue Division. Senior forward Brandon Johns (20 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks) is arguably the top player in the state and he signed with Michigan. Johns, like the other Big Ten signees, is a strong Mr. Basketball candidate. Senior point guard Malik Jones (4 points and 3 assists) is a defensive stopper and will have an expanded offensive role this season. Jones signed with Aquinas.
- Ann Arbor Skyline (15-6), A: The Eagles will look to repeat as champions of the SEC Red Division and again they’re as deep at the guard position as any team in the state. Brandon “BK” Wade (20.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.3 steals), a 6-1 senior point guard, is headed to Duquesne University and is one of the state’s top floor generals. Senior Jack Ammerman (17.6 points, 48.2 percent from the 3-point range) shoots it as well as anyone in the state and can extend defenses to 30 feet. Wade’s brother, Ryan (4.7 points), is a 6-2 junior shooting guard with multiple Division I scholarship offers and is set to go after an injury-plagued season. Christian Knox (6.6 points/42.6% 3fg), a 5-9 junior guard, will also see an uptick in his scoring where he is a threat from the perimeter and mid-range. DaSean Munson (3 points and 2.2 rebounds per game), a 6-5 junior forward, will be most needed to hit the boards as Skyline is not deep in the front-court. Look for 6-6 sophomore Kabir Bergin to assist Munson and he’s a name to know as one of Michigan’s top sophomores.
- River Rouge (24-2), B: The Panthers will seek their state-leading 15th state championship in March and, like Cass Tech, they will rely on depth as they look to replenish 44 points from graduated guards Darian Owens-White (Wayne State) and Dre Bell (Lewis University) in the form of 6-2 senior point guard Jayvien Torrance-Jackson, 6-5 junior forward Donavan Freeman, 6-5 junior shooting guard Micah Parrish and 6-6 junior power forward Dan Few. Legend Geeter, a 6-6 power forward, will have opportunities to become a productive freshman. Coach Mark White took his squad to last year’s semifinal and won titles in B with Detroit Renaissance in 2004 and 2006.
- Detroit King (16-5), A: The Detroit Public School’s Division-1 East (East English, Edison, King, Detroit Osborn, and Detroit Pershing) will beat up on each other throughout the season and the Crusaders, while picked 3rd in the league, would win most others throughout the state. The Crusaders have depth and 6-5 senior wing Antonio Marshall is a versatile leader with much improved guard skills and one of the state’s top unsigned seniors. Six-foot senior guard Marcus Gibb jumped on the map last season with Cass Tech as their leading scorer and wowed crowds with his production from the perimeter. Junior power forward John Massey has the eye of Horizon, MAC, and GLIAC coaches as he’s strong, athletic, an efficient bucket-getter, and welcomes boxing out for boards. Six-foot point guard Jordan Whitford is a strong defender who does a solid assist-to-turnover ratio.
- Flint Carman-Ainsworth (19-2), A: The Cavaliers won the Saginaw Valley Conference championship last season and they return their core players centered around one of the state’s top floor generals, 5-10 senior Ja’Kavien Lewis (11.7 points, 3.6 assists, 3.3. rebounds, and 3.1 steals), 6-3 senior wing Omari Duncan (15.1 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists), and one of the state’s top football players in 6-6 junior power forward/center Mike Fletcher (11.6 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks). Fletcher holds scholarship offers from schools in the MAC, Horizon League and Missouri Valley, along with numerous football scholarship offers that include Michigan State and Wisconsin.
- New Haven (27-1), B: The Rockets rolled to their first state basketball championship and they return a quality group who can make a return trip. Romeo Weems (18.3 points, 11.5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3.4 steals, and 2.2 blocks), a 6-6 junior forward, is a top 35 player, nationally, in the 2019 class. He holds numerous scholarship offers including one from Michigan State and Ohio State. He’s a do-it-all player who fills the stat sheet like few others in the state. Ashton Sherrell (12.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2 blocks), a 6-7 senior power forward-center, is a tough matchup as his agility, athleticism, energy, size, and a solid skill set are too much for most players to handle. France will need productive play from senior point guard Tavares Oliver (7.4 points per game) for the Rockets to raise another state championship banner.
- Southfield Christian (21-6), D: The Eagles’ depth at the guard position rivals Skyline’s with 6-4 senior shooting guard Bryce Washington, 6-4 junior combo guard Harlond Beverly, 5-9 junior combo guard Caleb Hunter, and 6-3 sophomore guard DaJion Humphrey. The fell short by one-point in double-overtime of a Class D semifinal to eventual state champion Powers North Central. Washington is one of Michigan’s top three unsigned seniors and holds multiple Division I scholarship offers. Beverly holds numerous offers including Michigan State, Ohio State, Baylor, Missouri, Arizona State and Xavier. Hunter saw his older brothers win state titles with Southfield Christian from 2012-14 and he holds a scholarship offer from Northern Illinois, while Humphrey is emerging as a top 10 player in Michigan’s 2020 class. Josh Baker will look for his fourth state championship as coach for Southfield Christian.
- Benton Harbor (22-4), B: Benton Harbor charged into last year’s Class B semifinal before losing to New Haven. Corey Sterling’s Benton Harbor squad will more than likely have a few more shots to play deep in the playoffs as the Tigers’ top player is 6-5 all-state sophomore small forward Carlos “Scooby” Johnson (16 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, and 2 assists) does all the important things that help win games while filling the stat sheet. Senior point guard Elijah Baxter (11 points, 7 assists, and 3 steals) will get help in the backcourt when transfer senior shooting guard Devan Nichols becomes eligible in January along with junior forward Justin Brown.
- Wyoming Godwin Heights (22-2), B: The Wolverines return their leading scorer, 6-2 senior shooting guard Lamar Norman, Jr., (21 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists), and rebounder, 6-6 senior power forward Markeese Hastings (16 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks). The high scoring Norman, Jr., is a UTEP commit and one of the fastest players in the country. He was also a key factor in their 2015 state championship run. Hastings had a phenomenal summer outplaying many of the Midwest’s best, which led to his commitment to Butler. Senior guard David Kellah (8 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists) provides depth and experience as the rest of the team adjusts to elevated roles.
- Novi (18-7), A: Novi returns a strong group that lost in a Class A regional to semifinalist West Bloomfield in double overtime. Traveon Maddox, Jr., (20.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3 assists), a 6-4 shooting guard, played well and with a lot of confidence over the spring and summer before signing with Oakland. Trendon Hankerson (12.5 points, 6.3 assists, and 4.3 rebounds), a 6-2 senior point guard, keeps improving and is an efficient playmaker who can shoot making him one of the state’s top unsigned seniors. Jiovanni Miles (9.7 points, 2 assists, and 6.3 rebounds), a 6-2 junior guard, makes for a strong three-guard lineup and Miles holds scholarship offers from Central Michigan, Detroit Mercy, and North Dakota. Every Class A winner since 2007 has had a player over 6-6 and the Wildcats received a gift when productive 6-8 senior center Tariq Woody (14 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 4 assists) moved into the district from Plymouth.
- Troy (21-5), A: Although the Colts made it to last season’s quarterfinal, coach Gary Fralick and his crew would have preferred a different outcome as they fell to a high scoring West Bloomfield squad. Fortunately for Troy the Colts return a strong trio of seniors whose abilities complement each other well. Jason Dietz (16.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists), a 6-4 senior forward, 6-3 senior guard Leon Ayers (12.8 points, 4 assists, and 4.5 rebounds), and 6-7 senior power forward/center Danny Sully (11.5 points and 10.5 rebounds) are a tough group to stop and all three are being recruited by or hold scholarship offers from Division II and NAIA schools. A helpful addition to the team is 5-10 freshman point guard Brody Parker who plays beyond his years.
- Holland West Ottawa (23-2), A: West Ottawa only lost to one team last season and Grand Rapids Christian was the 2017 Class A runner-up. They’ve also had their ups and downs against the strong Muskegon teams from a few years ago. Senior wing Tyler Bosma is one of the state’s top multi-sport athletes and senior shooting guard Drew Pederson is a lefty who can knock down jumpers with the best of them.
- Hazel Park (15-8), A: For the most part, good guard play wins high school basketball games and Hazel Park’s four-year starters Carl Bow, Jr., (20 points, 3 assists, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals) and David Hearns, Jr., (16 points, 5 assists, and 4 steals) should help the Vikings make a solid adjustment to the OAA Red Division joining Clarkston as well as recent state finalists and semifinalists Bloomfield Hills, North Farmington, Southfield, and West Bloomfield. Hazel Park will also move up to Class A and to a district that includes the U-D Jesuit, Oak Park, and Renaissance. Senior Kyle Washington, Khari Adams and Ju Jones forge a strong front line that brings a lot of energy, athleticism, and their lunch pails when they step on the court.
- Wayne Memorial (18-4), A: Rashad Williams (25 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals), a 6-2 point guard who signed with Cleveland State, is one of the state’s top best scorers. Terrance Williams (10 points, 4 assists, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals), a 6-1 senior point guard, is a gritty defender who does a great job finishing at the basket, and looks to feed the Zebras’ scorers. Isaiah Lewis (12 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals) is a 5-11 junior guard. Wayne doesn’t have a dominant post player but coach Nkwane Young has a solid group of 6-4, or so, players who will be productive unit on the boards and in the paint.
- Warren De LaSalle (14-10), A: Look for De La Salle’s football championship to carry into the winter months for last year’s Catholic League runner-up. Justin Fischer, a 6-5 senior point guard, is arguably the state’s top assist man he signed with Lake Superior State. Fischer has hops and he’s vastly improved his game over the summer. Before Luke Pfromm was a big-time quarterback winning championships, he was coach Greg Esler’s do-all-it forward as a high post playmaker, workhorse on the block, and a dependable perimeter threat. Expect Pfromm to keep a pep in his step through mid-March.
- Detroit Old Redford (12-10), B; Mark “Rocket” Watts (25.5 ppg, 5.3 assists, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.6 steals), a 6-4 junior guard, is a top 50 2019 national player who has a plethora of scholarship offers. He will have more help than he did last season as junior center Andre Polk is consistently improving into a scholarship player. Joining the Ravens in late January will be the top sophomore in Michigan, 6-8 power forward Isaiah Jackson, who is a do-it-all defender and his offense is also improving.
- Williamston (21-5), B: The Hornets were a quarterfinalist last season and a semifinalist in 2016 with many key players from both teams returning this season. They have a strong guard group led by seniors Cole Kleiver (16 points and 4 assists) and Frankie Toomey (8 Points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists) as well as sophomore Mitchell Cook (7 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists). Sean Cobb (13 points and 8 rebounds), a 6-6 power forward, is among the state’s top juniors.
- Flint Beecher (23-5), C: Five of the last six Class C championships and the last three belong to the Buccaneers. Coach Mike Williams will need 6-0 sophomore point guard Jalen Terry to take charge like Monte Morris (Iowa State/Denver Nuggets) and Malik Ellison (Eastern Michigan) did for previous championships. Terry had a fantastic spring, summer, and fall becoming a top 25 player in the nation’s 2020 class. Sophomore Earnest Sanders (6-2) is one of the top football/basketball players in the state and his ability to go to the rim is extraordinary. Theatrice King, a 6-2 senior shooting guard, is a strong defender with athleticism and can be a perimeter threat.
- West Bloomfield (17-9), A: Coach Jeremy Denha speaks highly of this year’s group after graduating key players from last season’s semifinal run. Tre Harvey (15.2 points, 3 assists, and 2 steals), a 6-2 senior guard, is one of the state’s top shooters and he’s added more to his game as scoring at the basket is now a viable option. Junior combo guard Donavan Moore (6-3) will become eligible in January and the dynamic lefty holds nine Division I scholarship offers. Senior point guard Jalen Kelso (5-11) made the move from Walled Lake Northern and he is one of the state’s top defensive players as well as an efficient floor general. The Lakers’ front court will get it done by committee as they did last year with three 6-5 seniors (James Faulkner, Chris Oviasu, and Zach Isenberg).
- Grand Rapids Catholic Central (19-5), B: The Cougars won the O-K Conference Blue Division last season and they have one of the state’s top 1-2 punches in the front court with 6-10 senior forward Marcus Bingham, Jr., (16 points and 10 rebounds) and 6-8 senior center Jacob Polakovich (14 points and 10 rebounds). Bingham was just warming up last January for the spring where he went from a 6-10 player of mystery to college offers from around the country over the course of 10 days as his size and skill set wowed college coaches. Bingham signed with Michigan State. Polakovich is a workhorse who grinds his own path in the paint. Polakovich has numerous Division II scholarship offers and has received Division I interest. Coach TJ Meerman’s squad will look to surpass last year’s district championship and much of their success will rely on a trio of guards, 6-2 junior Darrell Belcher, 5-10 junior Austin Braun, and 6- sophomore Devon Boyd.