U-D Jesuit returns solid core, will look to repeat next season
(PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Donoher)
East Lansing – U-D Jesuit coach Pat Donnelly can point to a time when his basketball program reached a turning point of sorts.
He walked into the locker room after his team lost at the buzzer to Detroit Pershing in a regional final in 2013. He saw the disappointment and the pain his players were feeling.
Donnelly was reassured by an assistant coach that it was a sign that the tears were good. It mattered to his players and, in the long run, it would be a good thing.
On Saturday U-D won its first state title and Donnelly points to that loss to Pershing as a moment that helped pave the way for not only this year’s title, but for future years.
“I think that really changed the pace of how this program worked,” he said. “So it established a belief that we could win and expectations and also just a confidence. So I’m really looking forward to the future here, we’ve got some good, young kids coming back. We’ve got a great freshman class and a really strong sophomore class, and the eighth grade and seventh grade did extremely well. I think the program, from top to bottom, is in great shape.”
U-D point guard Cassius Winston, who was named Mr. Basketball last Monday, said that over the course of his four years with the Cubs, he’s seen the program progress to having loftier goals each year.
“The program definitely changed,” he said. “Now we’re going into the gym talking about state championships, not trying to win a game or win the Catholic League. We’re talking about winning it all and being the best team in the state.”’
U-D had to wait for over 100 years before winning its first state title but, despite losing Winston, the Cubs might not have to wait another century for their next title.
U-D graduates two senior starters, Winston and Matt Schearer. Winston, who signed with Michigan State, is the only player to play for four teams that won Catholic League titles and he helped the Cubs reached three consecutive state semifinals.
U-D will return the bulk of its players led by 6-9 junior forwards Ike Eke and Greg Eboigbodin. Sophomore Elijah Collins, a starter this past season, showed tremendous improvement this season, especially on offense. Junior Scott Nelson and freshman point guard Julian Dozier, two of Donnelly’s top reserves, could break into the starting lineup next season.
The Cubs will enter the 2016-2017 as one of the favorites to win the state title again.
Look for Eke and Eboigbodin to be more involved offensively.
Both moved to Michigan from Nigeria three years ago. They just completed their second season of playing organized basketball.
“Ike and Greg have developed tremendously in the couple of years that they’ve been with us and that’s a testament to them,” Donnelly said. “Their sponges, they want to learn, they want to get better. They work hard and have great attitudes. They’re both super kids who have great personalities and I’m on the phone almost every day talking to college coaches saying, ‘you’re missing the boat if you’re not throwing a scholarship offer at these kids.’ I can’t be more proud of how they’ve developed not only on the court, but in the class room.”
The biggest void that the Cubs will look to fill will be the one left by Winston, the best player in the program’s history.
While there is no replacing Winston, Eke said Dozier and Collins will be able to step in and play well in Winston’s place.
“We’re going to lose a few guys,” he said. “But we still have some guys, Ju (Dozier), Elijah (Collins) can handle the ball really well.”
For Winston, there’s no doubt in his mind that the Cubs will return next season as a title contender, even without the senior core that help establish a standard for the Cubs during the previous four years.
“They’re not going to miss a beat,” he said. “We’ve got some JV kids who can play. We’ve got some freshmen who you’ve seen and some freshmen who are going to get better. The team is only going to get better from here.”