Brailen Neely has seen the bad and now the good at Detroit Western, as Cowboys earn a trip to the finals
East Lansing – the state will have all eyes on Detroit Western tomorrow as the Cowboys try to cap off an undefeated season in the Class A state title game.
But junior point guard, Brailen Neely, remembers just two years when no one cared.
Quite frankly, Western was young and the Cowboys weren’t good yet. That was then.
"Well, there was no tradition at Western," said Neely. "That was the plans for me and the other guys to go over there, and we were all young. We only had one senior, and it was an okay year for ninth-grade. We knew we were young, and that we had a couple of years to wait.
"We thought we were ready last year, and coach (Derrick) McDowell would always tell us that it wasn’t that easy. We didn’t listen, and we took our lumps, but now we are on the right track."
Western (25-0) had to take down U-D Jesuit, which it did, 55-46. This game didn’t start off pretty, much like Neely’s career as a Cowboy, with his team missing 17 free throws, but it ended the way he wanted it to. He led the way with 16 points, including a lay-up with 1:20 remaining that put the game out of reach for U-D Jesuit at 50-42.
"Earlier in the game we tried to go on a run, and tried to make them play catch up," said Neely. "We knew they were going to go on a run, but we didn’t want them to go far ahead. We prepared for them, and we stood through it."
U-D pressured Western late, pulling within three with under four minutes to go, but Neely and his teammates are no strangers to adversity, or having targets on their backs. They came into the season as favorites to win it all with the addition of transfers Josh McFolley and Gerald Blackshear. So far they have lived up to the hype. Some thought they wouldn’t be as good without the transfers, who didn’t play until January, but as their record states, they haven’t lost yet.
"When it comes to basketball, when you’re hot, everybody loves you," said Neely. "And when you aren’t, they don’t. We have been through the stage where people didn’t love us, but we handled it well."
But Neely isn’t satisfied yet. His team has one more game to go in order to make history, and it’s against a familiar foe, Saginaw Arthur Hill. The two played in the second game of the season, which Western won in overtime, 69-57. Neely put up 23 points in the game, against one of the best in the country, Lumberjacks shooting guard Eric Davis, who had 26 points. The two play for the same AAU organization in the summer, The Family, but it was no family affair that night.
"Eric likes to talk a lot," Neely laughed. "We heard we were supposed to play each other, so we were excited. So whenever I scored on him, it was like my birthday. He’s a great player, but I wanted to go back and forth with him, and get in his head.
"Tomorrow is going to be a war of course, and a different game. The first game doesn’t mean anything now, and we get to see them again. The same rules apply, and we are going to see how we do."
McDowell has coached two teams in a state final before, both at Detroit Redfrod, but has failed to win one. McDowell always reminds his backcourt duo of Neely and McFolley, and the rest of their other teammates on how good those teams were, and what great players he had. But also, that they have the chance to do something those teams never did – win a state title with him.
"I’ve had great backcourts before," he said. "They know about my former players, and they have heard all of the Redford stories. So if they win tomorrow, I won’t talk about Redford anymore. It’ll be all Western stories."