The arrival of a new year also brings the heart of the boys basketball season. It is a long, tiring grind for every team hoping to hoist a state championship trophy at the Breslin Center on March 16.
Although 2019 has just arrived, the games on the 2018 calendar have shown that that things might be a bit wild in the Detroit area basketball landscape this winter. With surprise teams, Hal Schramm Mr. Basketball candidates and exciting matchups, here are the top storylines as the 2019 portion of the boys basketball season unfolds.
NEW HAVEN: Weems living up to Mr. Basketball hype Romeo Weems has been touted by many as the top player in the state's 2019 class for a long time. The New Haven star helped lead the Rockets to the Class B state title as a sophomore and then averaged 23.5, points 10.8 rebounds, 5.3 assist, 4.8 steals and 2 blocks per game as a junior. He is already a two-time MLive Detroit Dream Team selection and, this year, his is a Mr. Basketball favorite.
So far, Weems is delivering on the claims that he is the top player in the state with some impressive performances.
Weems had 34 points, 19 rebounds, 10 blocks, four assists and four steals in a win over St. Clair Shores Lake Shores. He also had another triple-double with 30 points, 11 rebounds, 10 steals, five assists and four blocks in a win against Grosse Pointe North. He also tallied up 27 points, 11 rebounds, seven steals and five assists in a victory over St. Clair Shores South Lake while adding 27 points and 14 rebounds in a win over Detroit U-D Jesuit. His efforts have helped New Haven get off to a 7-1 start.
Jesuit is good and is only going to get better Entering this season, Detroit U-D Jesuit was expected to be a team that could contend for a Division 1 state championship. So, the fact that Jesuit is 6-1 entering 2019 should come as no surprise.
However, Jesuit hit some unexpected bumps along the way, making the Cubs' current record seem more impressive.
In the first game of the season on Nov. 28, Jesuit lost 6-foot-10 center Jalen Thomas (Massachusetts) to a broken ankle during the game. Jesuit held on for a 54-47 win over Detroit Edison Public School Academy but Thomas, a potential Mr. Basketball candidate, has not played since.
Thomas' absence from the floor was evident in Jesuit's second game as the Cubs' smaller lineup had no answer for New Haven's 6-foot-7 forward Romeo Weems, who scored 27 points with 14 rebounds and five blocked shots as the Cubs fell, 70-58, after surrendering a second-half lead. Weems is Mr. Basketball favorite and committed to DePaul. Also, in that game, Jesuit guard Julian Dozier left with a minor injury in the third quarter and did not returing.
Since that 1-1 start, Jesuit has reeled off five-straight victories for a 6-1 record heading into 2019. Jesuit beat Grand Blanc to start the streak, playing without Dozier and Thomas. Dozier returned in the next game and Jesuit has since pulled off thrilling wins over Detroit Catholic Central, Warren De La Salle and Chicago Orr, all by a combined five points.
Along with the boost that Dozier brings, senior guard Daniel Friday (Brown) has been the steady heartbeat and top scorer as Jesuit ground out victories. Guard Jordan Montgomery and forward J.T. Morgan have also provided valuable minutes for the Cubs.
Jesuit coach Pat Donnelly hopes Thomas will be healthy and back in the lineup by the second week of January, meaning the Cubs will have to continue to find ways to win without their big center for at least another game. Jesuit travels to face Chicago Morgan Park on Saturday.
Also, the Cubs have another player waiting to take the floor as senior guard Caleb Hunter will be eligible to play after Martin Luther King Day after he transferred in from Southfield Christian. Hunter, the son of former Detroit Pistons veteran Lindsey Hunter, is a great shooter and should give the Cubs some of the best guard depth in the state. He was a starter at Southfield Christian and led the Eagles to a Class D title last year.
However, that was not all. Tim Wasilk also took over the head coach position after serving under former coach Dan Fife, who retired after 36 seasons as Clarkston's head skipper.
After an 0-2 start, it certainly looked like Clarkston was going to experience a rebuilding season that seemed inevitable. Instead, Clarkston quickly turned things around and holds a six-game win streak and a 6-2 record heading into Thursday's matchup at North Farmington.
Clarkston's win streak has been highlighted by handing Orchard Lake St. Mary's, White Lake Lakeland and Lake Orion their only losses of the season so far. Each of those wins were by at least 16 points. Clarkston also topped a talented Wayne Memorial team by 14 points.
"We've definitely had a turnover in players but the system has been intact," Wasilk said. "Getting players up here, we've got young kids that are eager to play and excited to play. They are ready to step into these roles. We told the kids that we can't wait. It's your turn now."
Wasilk is putting a lot of faith in two freshman guards to help lead Clarkston to victory this winter. One is Fletcher Loyer, Foster's younger brother. The other is Wasilk's nephew, Keegan Wasilk, who is running the point this season. Clarkston's 7-foot junior center Matt Nicholson barely saw the floor last year and is expected to control the paint and the boards moving forward.
LaMonta Stone has River Rouge rollingLaMonta Stone is in his first season coaching River Rouge -- for the third time. In his first stint as River Rouge's coach, he led the Panthers to a Class B state championship in 1999. After spending time as an assistant in the college ranks, Stone came back to River Rouge for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons and led them to the state quarterfinals.
After an offseason that saw the Panthers lose coach Mark White in the midst of a coaching controversy at Detroit Renaissance, Stone has helped right the ship so far. At 5-1, River Rouge's only loss is a 54-51 result against Division 1 contender Detroit Martin Luther King.
River Rouge is a favorite in Division 2 this year thanks to a great starting lineup that includes talented seniors like Donavan Freeman, Dan Few, Jason Norton, Bralin Toney and Micah Parrish -- to name a few. Rising sophomore Legend Geeter provides plenty of excitement as well, scoring 18 points in a recent win over Ypsilanti Lincoln.
Some surprises to follow: There are a few teams from around Metro Detroit that are off to some surprising starts this season:
After going 5-15 last year and 3-16 the year before, Pontiac is the biggest surprise of the year so far with its 8-0 start. Already equaling its win combined win total of the last two years, Pontiac is a favorite in the Oakland Activities Association Blue and could make some noise in Division 2. Picking up key wins over Clarkston and Ferndale already, Pontiac's biggest competition in the OAA Blue might turn out to be Oxford. Speaking of surprises, Oxford is 6-0 after going 8-14 last year while in the OAA White.
Roseville announced that it is going to be a force to be reckoned with when it knocked off Division 2 favorite New Haven, 65-60, in its second game. Already out to a 7-1 start, Roseville was a respectable 16-7 last year and only 9-12 the year before that. Even more intriguing, Roseville has moved up to the Macomb Area Conference Red Division from the White Division this season. So far, Roseville's only loss is a 55-52 decision to MAC Red perennial power Macomb Dakota. As of now, it looks like Roseville belongs in the Red.
Speaking of the MAC Red, Sterling Heights Stevenson is off to a 6-1 start after a 14-6 season last year. Opening the season with a six-point win over Clarkston, Stevenson also as a key 10-point victory over Ann Arbor Skyline. After finishing second in the MAC Red last year, Stevenson hopes to move on up. Two huge matchups await for the Titans next week as they host Macomb Dakota on Tuesday and travel to Roseville on Friday.
Walled Lake Northern is 7-0 after a 12-9 campaign last year. Warren Mott is 7-1 after going 10-11 and 13-9 in the last two seasons.
Regular season games worth marking on your calendar
- Jan. 5: Kalamazoo Central vs. Detroit Martin Luther King, 5:30 p.m. @ Muskegon
- Jan. 8: Detroit U-D Jesuit at Orchard Lake St. Mary's, 7 p.m.
- Jan. 11: Detroit Catholic Central at Okemos, 7 p.m.
- Jan. 15: Macomb Dakota at Roseville, 7 p.m.
- Jan. 18: Detroit Cass Tech at Detroit Martin Luther King, 4 p.m.
- Jan. 19: Detroit King vs. Clarkston, 6:30 p.m. @ Warren Fitzgerald
- Jan. 19: River Rouge vs. Flint Beecher, 8:30 p.m. @ Warren Fitzgerald
- Jan. 26: Detroit U-D Jesuit at Flint Beecher, 3:30 p.m.
- Feb. 12: Clarkston at Flint Carman-Ainsworth, 7 p.m.
- Feb. 16: River Rouge at Benton Harbor, 6 p.m.
- Feb. 20: Detroit Edison Public School Academy at New Haven, 7 p.m.