The Lost Basketball Meccas from the state of Michigan
Take your left hand, and turn it over to where your palm is facing away from your face. Now take your right index finger, and place it in between your wrist, and the closet knuckle on your thumb. You should now see the city of Detroit.
The Motor City. Home of the automobile, Motown records, Cartier glasses, The Bad Boys, and basketball legends, George Gervin and Curtis Jones.
Once a thriving city with the success of the automobile industry, a lot has changed over the years, and Detroit has become one of the poorest, and most dangerous cities in America. Even the high school basketball scene has suffered tremendously because of the failing city.
In the 1980s and early 90s, Southwestern was one of the premier high school basketball programs in the country. Under the watch of the legendary Perry Watson, the Prospectors made an appearance in the Class A state final nine times in ten years, winning two, in 1990 and 1991. You will never see that again. Players like Antoine Joubert (pictured above), Jalen Rose, Howard Eisley, and Leslie Rockymore once ruled basketball in Detroit back in the day. Now the school is shut down, and all that history long forgotten by many.
Arguably the greatest program the city has ever seen, is Pershing High. No one has had the success and longevity that the Doughboys have been able to have for almost 50 years. They have still have a solid basketball program today, but haven’t been the same since players like Spencer Haywood, Steve Smith, Winfred Walton, and a just few years ago with Derrick Nix and Keith Appling, dawned the blue and gold. Pershing has the most state titles in public school history, with five, to go along with four Mr.Basketball winners. Hopefully the school remains open long enough to see those numbers rise, and younger players get to add to the school’s rich history.
Detroit has had so many great high school programs, and players in its long history, that I’d be all day trying to name them all. The Cooley Cardinals won three consecutive Class A state titles from 1987-1989 under Ben Kelso. The city only has three catholic schools operating now, but DePorres and my mother’s alma mater, East Catholic, were as good as it gets at one point. Together, they have 16 state basketball title, which is tremendous for two schools of their size. Andrew Mitchell, Aloysius Anagonye, and Brandon Cotton were all great for their respective schools.
High school basketball was still going strong in the 2000s for the city of Detroit. Programs like Redford, with Dion Harris, Brandon Wolfe, and Manny Harris reigned king. Renaissance wasn’t too bad themselves, with Joe Crawford, Tajaun Porter, and Malik Hairston, winning two Class B state titles in 2004 and 2006. Pershing was great as usual, and a small school on the west, Rogers Academy, captured three straight Class D state titles, from 2003-2005. Redford, Rogers, East Catholic, and DePorres are all closed now.
As good as Detroit was, a city that is just on the outskirts of your thumb now, northwest of where you had your finger on Detroit, is Flint. Home of General Motors, the Flintstones of Michigan State basketball (Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, Charlie Bell), the movie Semi-Pro, and NBA great Glen Rice.
Want to know why Detroit Southwestern lost so many state title games in the 80s? One reason was because of the many great Flint teams that they were able to assemble at the time. Central, Northern, Northwestern, and Beecher were all really good, for a city of Flint’s size.
Central, which was closed down in 2009 to budget cuts, won three Class A state titles under legendary coach Stan Gooch from 1981-1983, defeating two teams from Detroit, including Southwestern twice. Eric Turner, Mark Gray, Keith Harris, Darryl Johnson, Ervin Leavy, Terence Green, and Ken Bowie are a few of the greats from those teams.
The Wildcats of Northwestern were just as good as Central was in the 80s. In a two year span, from 1984-1985, Northwestern went an unprecedented 55-1, on their way to two Class A state titles. Having guys like Glen Rice, Jeff Grayer, Andre Rison, and Anthony Pendleton wasn’t too bad either. Rice and Grayer went on to have long NBA careers, while Rison was a star wide receiver in the NFL. Trent Tucker, Barry Stevens, Morris Peterson, and Kelvin Tolbert are a few other Northwestern greats.
No program in Flint has one as much as Northern High has. The Vikings have nine Class A state titles, dating back to the the 1930s, with their last one coming in 1995. Former Michigan State, and Detroit Pistons guard Mateen Cleaves is the school’s most famous basketball alumni. Eddie Robinson, Terry Furlow, Waynan Britt, Antonio Smith, and JaQuan Hart can also be added to that list, as well as many others.
It’s impossible to talk Flint high school basketball without putting Beecher in there. The Buccaneers have five state titles, including two in a row in 2012 and 2013. Roy Marble, Marquise Gray, and Monte Morris are a few of their greats. Flint Southwestern, and Powers Catholic have also seen some success on the hardwood, only adding to how rich the city once was in basketball. Now when most people think of Flint, it’s the high crime-rate, and poverty; just like Detroit.
If you take your finger again, and place it just between the points where Detroit and Flint were, Pontiac should be there. The city has also been taken over by crime and poverty, but is home to Campy Russell, and Walker D. Russell of Pontiac Central. Pontiac Northern won the Class A state title two years straight, in 2001 and 2002, with Ricky Morgan, and Lester Abram. Both schools combined in 2009 to form Pontiac High, and the city just hasn’t been the same.
Did you know that River Rouge has 14 state basketball titles? Yes the small industrial town between the point where Detroit is on your hand, and your wrist. The word legendary would be an understatement for the job head coach Lofton Greene did their, winning 12 of those titles over three decades. Lamonta Stone won the last two in 1998 and 1999. Home to Zug Island, a heavy industrialized island, River Rouge has seen it’s population decrease as well, but it’s amount of basketball success remains large in size.
Saginaw, which is just below the opening of your thumb, and your other four fingers, has surprisingly be able to sustain its basketball success at the high school level. Despite the closing of its many factories, and increase in crime, Saginaw High, and Arthur Hill are as good as they’ve even been. The Trojans of "The High", as they like to call it, have won six Class A state titles, with players like Paul Dawkins, Draymond Green, Darvin Ham, Tony Smith, Lou Dawkins and Anthony Roberson, among others, playing for the black and gold. Crosstown rival Arthur Hill doesn’t have as many titles, but their basketball alumni list is just as elite, with players like Craig Dill, Jason Richardson, Dar Tucker, Maurice Jones, Adam Emmenecker, and now future stars, Eric Davis and Brian Bowen. Buena Vista and Nouvel have also been successful in Saginaw, having nine state titles between them. Mark Macon won the Mr.Basketball award for Buena Vista in 1987.
The state of Michigan is rich in high school basketball talent, and I was even able to touch the surface of the many other players and programs that are apart of this great state. Compared to how Detroit, Flint, Pontiac, River Rouge and Saginaw were back in their heyday, it’s frustrating to see how far high school basketball has fallen throughout the years in Michigan. Each area has its own reason as to why, and it would be great to see it get back to the way it was, if it ever can.