Davison’s fast start has players, fans hoping for first district title in 36 years
Davison – It was one of those basketball mismatches that can happen in conference play when a championship contender faces a team at the bottom of the standings.
A dozen years ago, Davison was a power in the Big Nine Conference, while Clio’s program was at the opposite end of the spectrum.
There wasn’t much to see on the court when the two teams hooked up on Feb. 7, 2003 for what would be a ho-hum 69-48 victory for Davison.
The most memorable part about that evening, however, took place behind the Davison bench. It’s all that anybody who was there that night remembers from an otherwise forgettable game.
Dylan Alderson, the son of Davison assistant coach Shane Alderson, stole the show by dribbling two basketballs. The future star of the Davison program was already showcasing his ball-handling skills — at the age of 4.
"We had a pretty big lead," said current Davison coach Robert Hatten, then a senior for the Cardinals. "People started talking about what Dylan was doing behind our bench instead of what was going on the court. I’ve known Dylan since then. It’s cool to see what he’s become now."
Since then, Alderson has grown into one of the top sophomores in Michigan, playing a major role in the turnaround of a Davison program that had fallen on hard times since its glory days in the early 2000s.
The 6-foot-4 point guard averaged 23 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds and 3 steals in Davison’s first six games before leaving in the first half of Tuesday’s victory at Flint Kearsley with a wrist injury that isn’t expected to cost him any playing time.
With Alderson running the offense and 6-foot-9 senior Frank Vukaj dominating inside, the Cardinals are off to a 6-1 start, their best since the 2004-05 team started 7-1. The breakout victory for Davison was a 47-33 decision over Flint Carman-Ainsworth on Dec. 18. The Cardinals had lost 13 straight games against the Cavaliers and 21 of the last 22, the lone victory being a 63-58 win on Feb. 10, 2009.
"That was just getting the monkey off our back," Hatten said.
The Cardinals’ play this season has folks in Davison recalling the school’s great teams. Alderson grew up around Davison basketball, but is too young to remember when the Cardinals were one of the top teams in the competitive Flint area.
Beginning in 1999-2000, when the Cardinals went 20-0 before losing in the first round of the districts to Flint Northwestern and Kelvin Torbert, Davison won at least 15 games for six consecutive seasons. Hatten’s two teams as a high school player combined to go 35-9.
Since then Davison has had winning records (both 13-10) in two of the last nine seasons.
Even while watching the Cardinals struggle at times during his youth, Alderson dreamed of wearing the maroon and gold.
"My dad used to be the coach," Alderson said. "I used to practice with the team, do drills with them when I was a little kid. I grew up watching them. I definitely wanted to be a part of it."
Alderson began playing organized basketball in second grade. Very early on, his father knew that his son would not only eventually become part of Davison’s program, but a huge part.
"We knew right away that there was potentially something special going on there," said Shane Alderson, who was an assistant coach for 21 years and the head coach for four at Davison. "It didn’t matter if it was basketball, football, baseball, a soccer ball, whatever; he did it all and he just wanted to play. Then when he started coming to the gym every day at practice and being around it, he sort of gravitated toward it."
Like many coaches’ sons, Alderson is the consummate gym rat.
"He’s been around basketball forever," Hatten said. "You can’t keep him away from basketball. We try to tell him to take weekends off, and he gets mad. He has a genuine love for the game, which is why he works so hard at it."
Alderson already has scholarship offers from Central Michigan and Ferris State, but the list of college suitors is certain to include more marquee names as his career progresses. He has made unofficial visits to Michigan State.
His most dominant performance came on Dec. 27 when he scored 38 points in a 76-68 victory over Toledo Rogers. He scored at least 16 points in his first six games before leaving the Kearsley game early with an injury.
"I fell on my left wrist," he said. "It was a muscle strain; nothing broke. I was fine right when I did it. I continued playing. It started hurting. I threw a chest pass and it hurt; I knew I had to come out then."
With Alderson’s playing time limited in that game, Vukaj took over the game and scored a season-high 25 points.
The two make a powerful inside-outside combination that is difficult to defend. Each player is quick to point out, however, that they are not part of a Dynamic Duo, but a Tenacious Ten. Davison’s program is known for keeping only 10 players, but giving them all key minutes, often subbing players like hockey teams change lines.
"It’s 10 guys," said Vukaj, who averages 17 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocks. "It starts, honestly, at practice. We bring the intensity at practice. We treat practice like they’re championship games. It’s a fun feeling. I love this team. It’s such a home environment here. We’re all so close."
Off to its best start in 10 years, the Cardinals hope to end some longer droughts this season. They haven’t won a district championship since 1978 and haven’t won a league title since ‘03.
"You think about all the guys that borrowed the jersey between ’78 and now, all the great teams we’ve had," Hatten said. "You talk about running into teams like Kelvin Torbert that 2000 year. My senior year, we lost a thriller by three points to Carman-Ainsworth (in the district final) and they went on to the finals and lost to Rockford that year. It’s always a tough draw."