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Teams in the US-23 corridor have their grip on the boys basketball tournament

By: Scott Burnstein, March 23, 2015, 1:30 pm






Move over Detroit. Pay attention Saginaw. The major highway that heads north through Washtenaw County into Livingston County, US-23, could be coined the state’s new high school basketball corridor.

Schools and school districts located off this interstate have made waves in the boys basketball tournament in recent years, including this season.

Let’s go back to 2010. In March of that year Ann Arbor Huron made its first appearance in the Class A finals. Ypsilanti, led by Louisville’s Jaylin Johnson, appeared in the Class A quarterfinals in 2013. Then last season, Howell reached its first Class A quarterfinal and Milan finally broke through to win the Class B title on behalf of the US-23 hoop brigade.

Both Ypsilanti and Milan are still alive in the 2015 tournament.

One can go further south into Monroe County where US-23 skirts the western half and find Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, an up-and-coming program that’s also in the (Class C) quarterfinals.

The Milan Big Reds are seeking a repeat. Chris Pope, an assistant last season under John Tropea (now at Chelsea) and the school’s former girls’ coach, is in his first season at head coach and was tabbed the favorite to win the title by State Champs.

Milan is 23-2 and will play Ostego in the quarterfinals at Marshall on Tuesday.

Pope’s transition into the head-coaching chair has been made easier by the fact that he is surrounded by a talented club filled with veterans. At the forefront is the all-state inside-outside tandem of senior point guard Latin Davis (University of Detroit) and senior center Nick Perkins (Buffalo).

Flanking Davis and Perkins is senior power forward Lance Lewis, the team’s emotional leader, and senior shooting guard Thomas Lindeman (signed with Eastern Michigan for baseball), an accurate perimeter shooter who’s connected on half of his 3-point attempts.

Davis tallied 31 points in Milan’s 68-50 defeat of Onsted in last week’s regional championship.

Pope has tried to keep things consistent this year employing pretty much the same blueprint Tropea used to raise a banner with the 2014 team.

“We try not to do too much different than from when Josh was here,” he said. “We’ve added a few wrinkles here and there, but we’re sticking to what we do best, which is bringing pressure and getting up and down on both ends of the floor. That’s our calling card. It was last year and it’s our calling card again this year. It’s what we hang our hat on.”

Ypsilanti is 19-4. The small and speedy Grizzlies are set to tangle with a tall and athletic Detroit Western team in a Class A quarterfinals at Calihan Hall. Ypsilanti defeated Romulus 63-58 in the regional finals last week to avenge a ousting at the hands of the Eagles in the 2014 tournament.

Johnson (6-9) was a senior on that team and is now seeing playing time for Rick Pitino on a Louisville team in the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.

Ypsilanti coach Steve Brooks’ tallest player this season is the 6-foot-4 junior, Corey Allen, a Division I college recruit. But Allen plays on the wing, leaving big-man duties to 6-2 Kendrick Williams. Jameszell Davis is Ypsilanti’s point guard and he had 16 points in the win over Romulus.

“We’re undersized, we can’t help that, we are who we are right now, so we play with as much heart and hustle as humanly possible and compensate for our lack of a true big man by playing relentless defense,” Brooks said.

Don’t expect to see Ypsilanti unveil any gimmick defense in an attempt to combat the extreme size differential the Grizzlies will be facing against Western, a team loaded with size notably the 6-8 Gerald Blackshear, who signed with Detroit.

“We won’t being doing anything out of the ordinary for us, this time of year you’ve got to go with what got you here,” said Brooks gazing forward to Tuesday’s tilt with semifinal berth at stake. “Western’s big. We’re small. That’s the chess match. We believe in ourselves and how hard we play to be able to get the job done.”