Why Romeo Weems stayed at New Haven instead of going to prep school
As Romeo Weems broke into the clear and headed to the basket to throw down yet another rim-rattling dunk to become New Haven’s all-time leading scorer, one question remained unanswered:
What is he still doing here... in New Haven... in Michigan?
In an era where some of the best basketball players in the state opt to leave home and finish their high school careers at prep schools, Weems remains at home, playing for New Haven and coach Tedaro France.
In the class of 2019 alone, Mark (Rocket) Watts of Old Redford Academy; Terry Armstrong of Flint Carman-Ainsworth and Davison; Harlond Beverly of Southfield Christian; Myron Gardner of Detroit Loyola; and Carrington McCaskill of Detroit Renaissance have left for high-profile prep schools that travel the country playing games.
Weems was certainly courted by prep schools, but it didn’t make sense to the 6-foot-7 star who signed with DePaul.
“I stayed because I think Coach France is a good coach, a great coach,” Weems said. “Me and my family talked about and decided to stay in the state.”
Ranked the No. 1 player in his class since his freshman year, Weems has done nothing to change that ranking this season. He is averaging 31.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 3.5 steals and 2.1 blocked shots and has scored 1,937 career points.
He turned down a bevy of schools including Michigan and Michigan State to sign with DePaul because he said is where he felt he fit in best.
While it wasn’t for him, Weems understands why others decide to go to a prep school.
“It’s for more exposure,” said Weems. “I’ve got exposure, but it’s just that more people will know you around the country. I really had that. I was already committed to college and I didn’t really need anything. I just figured I’d stay, stay loyal to my coach.”
You can’t get much more exposure than playing for USA Basketball, which Weems has been doing for some time.
Last summer, he helped the country’s U17 team win the World Championship in Argentina.
But there is the prep school promise of more time devoted to improving a player’s game and the opportunity to play against better competition.
“I probably would have more time in the gym,” Weems said. “I’ve heard that some prep schools have three classes, then go work out. But I feel like the kids in Michigan play hard, play aggressive. I feel like Michigan players play harder than a lot of states.”
As for spending more time in the gym working on his game, the morning after scoring 47 points in a recent win, Weems did not sleep in.
“At 5 a.m.,” France said, “he was in the gym with me working on his game.”
The Weems family was contacted by prep school coaches who wanted their son to spend his senior season traveling the country, playing in some nationally televised games, which Michigan high school teams aren’t permitted to play.
But that talk went nowhere when the family considered the offers, which meant they would rarely be able to see the youngest of their five children play his senior season.
“We like to finish what we start,” said William Weems, his father. “He’s on a mission. He wants Mr. Basketball; he wasn’t McDonald’s All-America. We’re faithful to our word. We told them we’d be here and so we’re here.
“He’ll be gone in a few months so we’re taking this and enjoying it.”
While Weems may seem to fit the definition of a gym rat, basketball was just one of the sports he played growing up.
In fact, he was an outstanding quarterback/receiver and a linebacker/defensive end on the New Haven football team until he needed elbow surgery to remove bone chips last August.
“That’s my favorite sport,” Weems said of football. “I just loved the contact; I love the energy it brings. I just love it all. The position didn’t matter, I just liked playing. I really liked defense mostly.
“I just got more looks in basketball quicker. I just felt like it was probably a smarter and better way to go.”
Unlike some coaches of a premier player, France had no problem with Weems playing football. He couldn’t. A three-sport all-stater himself, France was a four-year starter in the secondary at Central Michigan in the late 1990s.
“I encourage my kids to play all sports,” France said. “I think it’s better for kids to participate in more than one sport. It builds character, they compete year ‘round. Being such a small school, we need kids to play multiple sports.”
Weems hesitated when asked which is his best position in basketball. He had to think about it for a while because he can play them all.
His size allows him to dominate in the paint and he has improved his perimeter shooting, especially since the bone chips in his elbow are gone.
He is an amazing shot blocker and he can also handle the ball. But all of those qualities were not present when he was a freshman.
“When he came in he was kind of raw,” France said. “He was athletic, could jump, but he struggled with his shot, struggled with his ball skills. He took that personally these last three years to really improve that.
“But I knew he was going to be great because he made me work harder as a coach.”
Weems’ best moment came two seasons ago, his sophomore year, when he scored 19 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, blocked four shots and had three steals in leading New Haven over Ludington to capture the Class B state championship.
“It was good; it was a great experience, great time,” he said. “The team had good chemistry. I remember all the fun we had. The whole season was like a story to tell.”
Now he is a senior and after losing in the Class B semifinals as a junior, Weems wants to tell another story.
This time he wants the story to end with the Division 2 title.
“Last year in the semis we just shot the ball bad; we didn’t shoot well,” he said. “This year we want to win states. That’s the goal for the season — to win that.”
Mick McCabe is a former longtime columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1