By: Daniel Stickradt
BOYS BASKETBALL: Depth-laden East Lansing hopes to make some noise in Class A
BY DAN STICKRADT
No lead is safe.
Just ask Steve Finamore, East Lansing’s boys basketball coach.
His Trojans had Lansing Everett on the ropes in a Class A regional final last March before Everett went on a 15-1 run at one point late in the contest and eventually pulled out a 54-48.
The silver lining is that seven returnees, including four starters, are back in uniform and frankly remember that crushing defeat with an Elite Eight appearance on the line.
“Of course they remember. But we can only control what we do now and that is get better every day in practice and every game,” said Finamore. “We have high expectations this season — no question. We have four goals and the fourth is to claim a state championship.”
With 1,120 students, East Lansing is on the lower end of Class A enrollment. But the Trojans are good — ranking in the top 10 by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press and StateChampsNetwork.
How good? Well, seven of the top eight players from last season’s 23-1 campaign are back on a 12-player roster. The Trojans — 5-0 entering the Christmas break — are considered one of the state’s top teams in Case A, along with Detroit U-D Jesuit, Macomb Dakota, Clarkston, Saginaw, Kalamazoo Central, Belleville, Muskegon, Detroit East English Village and Grand Rapids Christian, amongst others.
“I feel were right up there with that group,” offered Finamore. I think we’re just s good as anybody in the state if we play well.”
So far this season, the Trojans have posted five wins, including avenging Lansing Everett, 59-53. East Lansing also owns victories over DeWitt (56-44), Jackson (82-65), Haslett (71-31) and Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills (71-48).
The Trojans boast one of the state’s top three juniors in versatile 6-foot-8 Brandon Johns, also a top-100 recruit nationally in his class. The heavily-recruited Johns has been known to play all positions on the court in given situations and has become a level of concern by opposing coaches with his ability on both ends of the court.
Facing East Lansing is kind of like picking your poison, as the Trojans are far from a one-trick pony. Senior guard Caleb Hoekstra (6-2), senior forward Westin Miles (6-4), a fourth-year player, and senior guard/forward Deandre Robinson (6-4) are also returning starters. Hoekstra and Robinson are in their third season on varsity.
Junior guard/forward Justin McAbee (6-4) is the normal fifth starter.
Additionally, senior guard/forward Xavier Odom (6-3), another fourth-year veteran, and junior point guard Malik Jones (5-9) are also gaining ample minutes in the rotation. Junior jumping jack Noah Schon (6-4) is a rebounding machine and brings energy off the bench.
Senior guard Brady Carlson, sophomore guards Jack Belloli and Jack Morse, and junior forward Ben Zeka provide additional depth and are rapidly “getting better” practicing alongside the Trojans’ talented first eight players.
“We have a lot of size, a lot of depth with several guys that are 6-4 or taller in our rotation,” said Finamore. “We have a lot of quickness on the court, some good shooters, good rebounds and we play good defense. We have the (characteristics) to be successful.”
Last season, East Lansing captured the CAAC-Blue Division title with a perfect 14-0 ledger — the Trojans have won 19 straight conference games — and claimed the school’s first district title in a decade.
The Trojans reached the Class A state semifinals back in 2007, but have had a difficult time escaping some treacherous districts in recent years.
East Lansing’s best season came in 1958, the year the Trojans captured the Class B state title. The school was also Class B state runner-up way back in 1945.
“The coach of the 1958 team (Gus Ganakas) is still around and comes to games,” laughed Finamore. “We hope to be able to accomplish the same thing. I think we have the talent to do so. We have the experience, they are hungry, and they play for one another.”