BURNSTEIN: Mt. Clemens-Jackson tift just latest storyline in bizarre winter for local prep sports
MOUNT CLEMENS – The dam that seemed ready to burst in the Mount Clemens boys basketball program for months finally did this past week with the Bathers and lightning-rod head coach Jermaine Jackson parting ways.
Jackson, the former Detroit Finney and University of Detroit-Mercy star that went on to be a veteran guard in the NBA during the 2000s, turned Mount Clemens into a Class C state-powerhouse the last two years, compiling a 45-4 overall record. Though his tenure on the sidelines at Mount Clemens was very successful (two league and district titles apiece, one regional crown), it was also filled with intense finger-pointing from detractors.
He insists he resigned the day following his Bathers fell to eventual state-champion Detroit Consortium in the quarterfinals more than 10 days ago.
The Mount Clemens school district claim Jackson was fired Thursday, capping a situation that it states has been “brewing for a while.” Rumors of Jackson taking heat at Mount Clemens and the possibility of him leaving at the conclusion of the just-ended season had been floating around since last year.
This fiasco is somewhat appropriate for the times, the most recent incident in what has been an absolutely crazy winter in the Metro Detroit prep sports world. Colorful and controversy-laden would be vast understatements.
From practically the day he accepted the job on the bench with Mount Clemens, Jackson was coming under heavy fire. There were those that heaved allegations of player-poaching and recruiting – several transfers landed with the Bathers the last two years – and accused him of padding his son, Jermaine, Jr’s statistics.
Jermaine Jackson, Jr. is only a freshman, but is considered one of the top players in the state. A speedy and instinctive point guard, he was named MVP of the Macomb Athletic Conference and has already garnered multiple Division I college-scholarships offers.
The elder Jackson outright refutes each of the allegations and reminds those that say he was trying to enhance his son’s reputation by inflating his on-court production, that it was all the coaches in the MAC, some of which have been the ones calling for his head and screaming stat-misappropriation, that voted Jermaine Jr. MVP.
There’s the belief that some of Jackson’s players from Mount Clemens will follow him to wherever his next job is. In an interview with the Macomb Daily, Jackson confirmed that a number of his former Bathers’ players had gone to the school’s office to request their academic transcripts (a move that can often precede a transfer).
Like he never left
The area’s rash of off-the-court incidents started literally the day Christmas Break ended in the first week of January when Bakari Evelyn, Southfield Christian’s all-state junior point guard, mysteriously left the Eagles’ boys basketball program for over a month. After allegedly attempting to transfer out of small-schoolpowerhouse Southfield Christian, Evelyn returned to the team with no explanation from anybody about what happened to precipitate the much-speculated upon departure or reinstatement.
While Evelyn was on hiatus during January and into February, his mother contacted the press and accused members of the Southfield Christian coaching staff, including head coach Josh Baker, of black-balling and slandering her son, maliciously trying to ruin his reputation for college recruiters.
After Eveyln led the Eagles to their third straight Class D state championship last weekend (he tallied 28 points in a last-minute win in the state finals), the dynamic 6-foot-2 floor general, dodged questions by the press regarding his coming back to Southfield Christian next year for his senior season on the hardwood, refusing to commit to returning.
Baker, as has been his stance the entire ordeal, wouldn’t comment either. He was on leave from the team for most of the year dealing with family medical issues, however is slated to be back at the helm of the Eagles’ program in 2015.
Down for the count?
A couple weeks following the Evelyn situation surfacing in Southfield, the state’s highest-profile prep football star, Detroit Cass Tech junior quarterback and Michigan State-commit Jayru Campbell was arrested for assaulting a school security guard. The alleged assault was caught on tape and Campbell was charged as an adult in 36th District Court with two counts of assault and battery, one a felony and the other a misdemeanor, both of which he’s pled not guilty to.
Even before the alleged assault took place in January, Campbell was already saddled with an opening-game suspension for the 2014 campaign, stemming from a punch thrown at an opposing Novi Detroit Catholic Central player in the hand-shake line after two-time defending D1 state champ Cass Tech got blanked 28-0 by the underdog Shamrocks in the 2013 playoffs back November.
Campbell’s scholarship status with the Spartans and playing and school status with Cass Tech remain up in the air with the criminal charges still hanging over the all-state field gneral’s head.
Once February hit, there was even more lunacy from the state’s high school gridiron ranks when Southfield’s Malik McDowell (defensive lineman), the No. 1 player in the Class of 2014, tried to commit and ink his National Letter of Intent with Michigan State, yet had his intentions thwarted by his mother’s refusal to co-sign the document.
McDowell’s mother has gone on a public media campaign railing against her son’s choice, (questioning the MSU social environment and its football program’s ability to get her son into the NFL) and pledging to change his mind. As of this weekend, neither side in this intra-family struggle has budged and McDowell is still committed to be a Spartan for the upcoming season, however still unsigned.
Backstories galore at Breslin
That brings us to the mini three-ring circus that was last weekend’s boys basketball final four at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
Besides the Evelyn backstory looming in the shadows of Southfield Christian’s quest for a three-peat, the Eagles opponents in the Class D state finals, Adrian Lenawee Christian, was being understandably shy to discuss its three cloak-and-dagger 6-foot-8 African transfers, each only known by a single name (senior Kingsley and sophomores Maxwell and Collins), Detroit Consortium’s Josh Jackson was being rightfully guarded like the rare gem he is in Class C and in Class A Bloomfield Hills was forced to go at without its three-time all-league senior small forward Khalil Gracey, lost in the hours before the quarterfinals, due to an arrest for burglarizing homes.
According to sources close to the program, the Lenawee Christian situation is “literally political” and the Cougars’ administration and team have been barred by the government to speak on it.
Jackson is the state’s most dominant player and considered a future NBA lottery pick at only 16. He was unavailable to the media the entire season, until Consortium won the crown and Jackson appeared well-spoken and even-headed in the postgame press conference, addressing reporters for the first time in over a year. Like with Evelyn at Southfield Christian, there have been questions raised all season long as to if Jackson will be returning to Consortium next year.
Gracey, a high-scoring wing that might have been on the cusp of signing a Division I college scholarship prior to his run-in with the law, has pled innocent to the burglary charges, denying police claims that him and two accomplices were breaking into local residences and stealing thousands of dollars worth of property during the tail-end of his Bloomfield Hills teams’ regular season.
Absent from the quarterfinals (a Bloomfield Hills 74-68 upending of Warren Mott), Gracey wore a Black Hawks’ warm-up suit and sat on the bench during both his club’s defeat of Detroit U-D Jesuit in the semifinals and its loss to Muskegon in the state championship game (accepting a state runner-up medal in the postgame award ceremony).
To quote music legend Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, “What a wild, strange trip it’s been."
Here’s to hoping next winter’s high school sports season is a little tamer around these parts.