By: Butch Harmon
boys basketball notebook
By DAVID COOK
*After making an improbable run to the Class A state title game last March, what could the Rockford boys basketball team do for an encore?
If the first month of the new season is any indication, it can do plenty.
The Rams have had an eventful first month of the season. They faced an old friend and Rockford coaching legend; went 2-3 in their first five games, with the two wins coming against their toughest foes; and played against the top two junior football players in the state, something you’d expect from coach Munger’s Rams in the fall.
Rockford always faces a competitive schedule, and this year is no different. The Rams played their best against the best, as they defeated a loaded Muskegon team and then defeated Detroit Loyola 55-40 in the East vs. West I-96 Holiday basketball tournament. The Loyola win was impressive, as the Rams moved the basketball well and applied pressure defense.
In the Loyola game, the Rams faced one of the top two junior football players in the state in 6 feet, 7 inch, 280-pound Malik McDowell, who showed some impressive skills on the hardwood.
Two weeks prior, the Rams had met Grand Rapids Christian and its all-everything wide receiver Drake Harris, who has committed to Michigan State.
The Christian game also matched the Rams against former Rockford head coach Steve Majerle. Christian took the early lead in the game. Rockford battled back but eventually fell 48-39.
“I really didn’t want to play this game,” said Majerle, who coached the Rams for 15 seasons. “Win or lose, I was going to have mixed emotions. I’m happy we won, but at the same time I was not happy they [Rockford] lost. Nick [Allen, Ram head coach] and Ryan [DeKuiper, assistant coach] teach basketball the right way. What they did last year was great.”
Majerle thinks the Rams are on the right path against this year.
“They have a new core, and it will take some time to mesh together,” Majerle said. “It will be a very good group, a lot like last year. It takes time and each team has its own magic.”
*Lansing Eastern is another team forging its own identity after suffering some heavy graduation losses and the transfer of star guard Cha Cha Tucker.
Led by senior guard Brian Morton, the Quakers have not missed a beat this season.
“Brian is our leading scorer and is a great defender, passer, and an assist leader,” Eastern coach Rod Watts said. “We’ve had some great senior leaders and now it’s Brian’s turn.”
The Quakers have other key players this season. Senior PJ Washington has stepped into the point guard role. Along with being a strong distributor on offense, Washington is an outstanding defensive stopper who was the CAAC Blue’s Defensive Player of the Year last season.
Up front, the Quakers have a quality presence in the post. Senior Dar’Relle Welch (6'6"), an offensive tackle and defensive tackle on the football team, has provided the Quakers with double-digit rebounding game in and game out and also provides a defensive stopper in the paint.
*The Corunna boys basketball team is off to its best start in 10 years. The Cavaliers opened the season by winning four of their first five games, with the lone loss coming against Lansing Catholic.
“We have good team chemistry, and our athleticism allows us to play great pressure defense and run quite often on offense,” Corunna coach Kyle Clough said. “Our league is one of the best class B leagues in the state. Lansing Catholic Central is a perennial powerhouse in class B every year, and both Portland and Williamston return many players and future college athletes. We will have to be at our best to win the league this year, but I believe for the first time in many years we have a great chance to fight for that title.”
*Defending Class A state champion Saginaw High is off to a strong start. The Trojans opened the season with four straight wins, including a 57-56 thriller against Detroit Southeastern. The Trojans and rival Arthur Hill are on a collision course for January 4 when the two teams meet for the first time this season.
*Swan Valley has been playing solid basketball. It won three of its first four games, including a 77-69 win against Bullock Creek. Mike Mrozinski led the way for Swan Valley in that game with a 35-point night.
*After opening up running lanes for running backs during the football season, Hemlock’s Aaron Matthias is now doing some heavy lifting for the Hemlock basketball team. Matthias is one of the leading rebounders in the area this season and provides the team with a major defensive roadblock in the paint.
*New coach Tory Jackson has Buena Vista on the right track. A former standout at Buena Vista who went on to star at Notre Dame, Jackson guided Buena Vista to wins in three of its first four games this season.
*While Beecher has been dominating in the early going, another Flint team is also making a big impression. Flint Southwestern Academy has a roster full of talented young players and a new coach, Keith Gray, who was a member of Flint Central’s state championship team in 1981. Southwestern defeated Powers Catholic 70-39 early this season. Another familiar Flint basketball name, Grayer, has been playing a key role in the success. Sophomore Jaire Grayer, son of former Northwestern star Jeff Grayer, pumped in 22 points in the win against Powers. Sophomore Neshaur Wise and 6'4" freshman Miles Bridges have also been stepping up.
*Lansing Sexton lost 10 seniors from last year’s state title team, but that does not mean that the Big Reds are down. Sexton won three of its first four games this season. The lone loss was a 67-52 defeat against Class A powerhouse Romulus. Jalen Hayes led the Big Reds with 15 points in the Romulus game.