By Chuck Klonke
@MIPrepZoneMD on Twitter
MADISON HEIGHTS >> If someone had told New Haven coach Tedaro France II last summer that his basketball team was going to have an undefeated regular season, France might have questioned their sanity.
“We had a rough summer. We got beat bad by some teams this summer,” France said Thursday after the Rockets defeated Madison 61-52 to complete a 20-0 regular season. “I didn’t think we’d be this good, but I knew if the kids would continue to work hard and develop we’d win some games. I didn’t expect us to be No. 2 in the state and go undefeated.
“There were some nights when I’d come home and say, ‘we’re going to have a long year.’ That just shows how hard these kids have worked and how much they want to learn.”
Point guard Marquis Perkins, who has been on New Haven’s team for three years, wasn’t planning on a perfect season either.
“No, you never see that,” he said. “But it’s pretty exciting to get it.”
New Haven is the seventh Macomb County team to have a 20-0 regular season. The last to do it was Romeo in 2002-03, but the Bulldogs lost to Eisenhower in their first district game to finish 20-1. Ford and Memphis were the first to do it in 1991-92. Lake Shore went 20-0 in 1992-93 and 1993-94 and the Shorians became the county’s only boys basketball state champion in 1994. New Haven was undefeated in 1996-97 and France was a player on that team.
He remembers it well.
“It was a long time ago,” he said. “We had a special team. We lost in the regional final and that still hurts. I tell my kids that they will have the memories from this season for the rest of their lives. Don’t make this the most special moment of your lives because you’re going to become dads and husbands but the time you share with your friends will stay with you forever.
“I tell them, ‘when you play, don’t have any regrets. If we get beat, let’s say that we gave our complete all. Don’t feel that you could have made that play or dove on the floor or took a charge. Let’s make those plays now so you know you gave 100 percent effort.’”
Although New Haven is 20-0, there’s still business to be taken care of. The Rockets open Class B state tournament play Monday at home against a good Lutheran North team.
“We have to use this season as a stepping stone to get to the spot where we want to be,” France said.
That spot is the Breslin Center, the site of the high school final four.
One of France’s favorite sayings is “win the day.” That means not only win on game day, but improve each day in practice.
“We’re trying to make a push to the Breslin Center. That’s our main goal right now,” Perkins said. “Every day is an individual step that we have to succeed in.”
France said that the Rockets have to keep doing the things they’ve done to achieve the 20-0 record — and get even better.
“We have to keep playing hard. We have to keep playing together. We have to keep growing,” France said. “We played through adversity tonight. We had guys in foul trouble in the first half. (Madison) was intense. Their crowd was intense. We overcame that. If we can win in this type of environment that’s going to prepare us for March.”
Dmonta Harris has been the go-to player for New Haven all season but he got whistled for two fouls in the first half, picked up his third early in the third quarter and got his fourth during the final minute of the third quarter. The Rockets were ahead when he left the game and they maintained the lead while he was on the bench.
“We’ve been playing nine kids all year so every kid on the team has played a key role in getting us to where we are now,” France said. “Dmonta is a great player, but they know that if they’re called upon they can come in with confidence that they’ll get the job done. It was great to see that when he was out, he was the biggest cheerleader. He was just as excited as if he was on the court.
“That shows we’re not just a team, we’re a family. That’s on the back of our shirts. During the season you develop into a family. You see each other every day. We watch film. We cry, we laugh, we fuss but in the end it’s all love. I’m so proud of this group of kids. They won the MAC Gold, which hasn’t been done since we came into the MAC in 2004, and we went undefeated for the first time since 1997.”