December 27th 2013
By CHUCK KLONKE
“It’s fun to play defense because defense creates offense,” said Mills, a first-year player in the Rockets’ program.
Mills scored several transition baskets on his way to a team-high 14 points in the New Haven’s 42-29 victory Friday against Detroit Denby in a semifinal game of the holiday tournament hosted by the Rockets. New Haven will play South Lake, a 64-62 overtime winner against Michigan Collegiate in the other semifinal, in the championship game at 6 p.m. Saturday.
“Every day we come in and do defensive drills,” Mills said. “We work on the ladder and we work on our footwork. We always practice help defense. You’ve got to help the helper all the time. That’s what our coach tells us and we just try to execute what he tells us.”
New Haven did a superb job of that against the Tars, who often seemed confused by the Rockets’ defensive pressure. Early in the second half, Denby had to burn a timeout because the player with the ball couldn’t find anyone open.
“We tried to keep the ball out of the point guard’s hands, number one,” Mills said. “Without him controlling the ball, they couldn’t do anything in their offense.”
New Haven led 14-12 at halftime, but the Rockets started the second half with a 16-1 run to open a 17-point lead. Mills and Josh Harris combined for nine of the 16 points.
Half of New Haven’s points during the spurt came off turnovers.
“We can’t score like we have in the past, but if we can hold teams down with our defense we should be fine,” said Rockets coach Tedaro France II. “This team has really bought into playing team defense. You could see it tonight. This group is one of the best defensive teams I’ve had in a long time.
“One thing about this group is they hustle. They don’t care about getting tired playing team defense. Sometimes kids want to keep something in reserve to score points but this group, from top to bottom, sells out on the defensive end. The offense will come. As a coach, it makes me smile to know that I have kids who buy into playing defense.”
France said that the first two weeks of practice are strictly defense.
“We don’t even touch a ball the first two weeks,” he said. “It’s all about learning our rotations and putting in our defensive packages. It’s not about scoring points. It’s about getting stops.”
Offenses can go into slumps, however, France expects his defense to be solid every night.
“It doesn’t take skill to play defense. It takes will and determination,” he said. “I tell my kids we should never have an off night on defense. The jump shot might be off some nights, the offensive skills might be sloppy, but we should always be sharp on defense and rebounding. Those are the two things that are the key ingredients to having a successful team.
“If you do those things great, the offense will come. You can score points off defense. You can score points off rebounding, but if you don’t take rebound and take pride in playing defense you won’t be successful.”
Denby ended the third quarter on a 7-0 run with all of the points coming off New Haven turnovers. The Rockets answered with eight straight points to start the fourth quarter, including Mills’ third 3-pointer of the game.
“My job is to knock down my open shots,” Mills said.
Harris led New Haven with nine rebounds, Jyaire Mack had six and Sychar Sterling grabbed five. Ryun Crayton tossed in seven points for the Rockets.
Nicholas Terry and Jakhal Thompson each scored seven points to lead Denby.
Denby 6 6 8 9 -- 29
New Haven 8 6 16 12 -- 42
DENBY (0-4): Nicholas Terry 7, Anthony King 2, Deangelo Walker 2, Cornelius Stevenson 1, Aaron Wheeler-White 3, Jaylen Lamar 2, Jakhal Thompson 7, Lorenzo Hodge 2, Hakeem Weatherspoon 2, Jamar Nolan 1. Totals: 10 (0) 9-17--29.
NEW HAVEN (3-0): Mike Kincaid 4, Ryun Crayton 7, Sychar Sterling 5, John Galloway 6, Jyaire Mack 2, Josh Mills 14, Josh Harris 4. Totals: 18 (4) 2-6--42.
SOUTH LAKE 64, MICHIGAN COLLEGIATE 62 (OT): South Lake jumped ahead early in the overtime and advanced to the championship game of the New Haven holiday tournament.
Anthony Morgan led the Cavaliers with 16 points and Damaris Heard added 14.