Clarkston stood to be the overwhelming favorite to repeat as Class A state champion if Mr. Basketball finalist Foster Loyer was healthy and ready to play.
Loyer, a senior point guard headed for Michigan State next year, suffered a partial meniscus tear in his left knee in last Tuesday’s win at West Bloomfield and was expected to be re-evaluated to reveal his status Monday when the state tournament gets underway.
If Loyer is sidelined for the postseason, Clarkston still will be a slight favorite, but the competition rapidly closes in on the defending state champion.
Loyer didn’t play in Thursday’s Oakland Activities Association Red Division showdown with Hazel Park, but his teammates stepped up to earn a 48-38 win at Clarkston to earn the title outright.
When Clarkston played Jan. 30 at Hazel Park, Loyer scored 34 in a 70-39 victory, making 9-of-13 shots from the field.
It’s obvious to see the difference when Loyer is on the court as the floor general.
“This was the first game I’ve had to sit out in my career; have to say it was the first game I got nervous for,” Loyer said after the win Thursday. “I’m struggling a little bit now, but I get re-evaluated Monday, and we’re hoping for the best and I hope to be back next week. I have a partial tear in my meniscus, but you can play on that.”
Loyer playing at 70 percent is better than 90 percent of the players in the state playing at full health. Clarkston is 89-6 with Loyer on the court.
Still, 6-foot-9 Taylor Currie, a Wisconsin commit, feels Clarkston has enough in the tank to reach Breslin for the chance to repeat, even if Loyer can’t play.
“Absolutely,” Currie said. “Foster’s a very important, great piece of our team, but we’re family and we’ve got each other’s backs no matter what, and I feel like we have enough pieces on this team to go as far as we want.”
Senior C.J. Robinson did a solid job filling in for Loyer at the point guard spot in the win over an athletic, talented Hazel Park team which has just two losses, both coming to Clarkston. Nick Wells and Chase Wasilk also played well during Clarkston’s state title run last year, and again stepped up against Hazel Park.
“Obviously, having to step in on a day’s notice is a tough job, especially against these guys (Hazel Park), and C.J. did a great job controlling the pace of the game and really handled himself well, especially when we made a couple of mistakes he did a great job of calming us down,” Currie said of Robinson.
“I felt Tieler did a great job of staying under control, and he’s a great shooter,” Currie said. “We’ve seen it all year in practice, and he got in the game and saw one of them go in and he saw another one go in, and we were like, ‘Tieler, man just keep shooting.’ It does a great job for your confidence because every time you make a shot the basket looks bigger. We know what he’s capable of because he’s been showing great things in practice for three years, and now he’s finally getting the opportunity to seize the moment.”
Hazel Park head coach Brandon Barrett is just happy to be getting away from OAA officials after feeling his team wasn’t getting calls for attacking the basket. His veteran team now will be competing in the state’s toughest district at Detroit Renaissance with a possible semifinal showdown with Catholic League champion U-D Jesuit on Wednesday. Renaissance and Oak Park are also in the field.
Hazel Park owns several wins against state powers, including U-D Jesuit (74-63), Detroit East English (86-72) and Benton Harbor (77-70).
“Our whole idea behind the season was, let’s go out and play a tough schedule, let’s get ready to win, and in order to win and play at a high level you have to play teams who are at a high level, so that’s what we did,” Barrett said. “That was our whole goal, and I think we accomplished that.”
Barrett said you can toss that win over U-D Jesuit out the door since it was played so long ago (Dec. 15). And, U-D Jesuit was without 6-10 junior Jalen Thomas, who has an offer from Xavier, in that game. U-D Jesuit has won nine straight, including a 68-63 victory over PSL champion Detroit Edison on Thursday night at Calihan Hall.
Hazel Park is led by its trio of senior guards Devin Pettus (16.3 points), Carl Bow (13.2) and David Hearns (12.2).
Ann Arbor Skyline and its outstanding trio of guards Brandon Wade, Jack Ammerman and Ryan Wade also are capable of making a long run after not winning a district game in their careers.
Brandon Wade is averaging 23.2 points and 7.1 assists for unbeaten Skyline, which owns wins over Belleville, Wayne Memorial, Detroit Old Redford and PSL runner-up Detroit Pershing.
“We’re having a lot of fun right now,” Brandon Wade said. “We’re focused on playing strong defense and rebounding. We have to pay attention to the little details, which will make the difference between winning and losing. We’re focused on what we have to do to get better.”
Skyline has a potential regional final matchup with Canton (19-1).
■ Defending champion: Clarkston
■ Favorite: Clarkston
■ Contender: Hazel Park
■ Dark horse: Ann Arbor Skyline
■ Toughest district: At Detroit Renaissance with Hazel Park, U-D Jesuit and host Renaissance in the field.
■ Final four: Clarkston over Hazel Park; Ann Arbor Skyline over Holland West Ottawa
■ Championship game: Clarkston over Skyline
■ Player to watch: Loyer is definitely the player to watch to see if, No. 1, he’s on the floor, and, No. 2, how effective he’ll be if he is playing.
New Haven 10th-year head coach Tedaro France is thrilled with how his team is playing heading into the postseason.
After all, New Haven enters as the defending state champions with a Macomb County-record 46-game winning streak, led by one of the premier players in the nation in the 2019 class, 6-7 Romeo Weems, who has offers from Michigan State, Michigan, Oregon and several other schools.
Weems is averaging 25.7 points, 10.8 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 4.4 steals. He also has a strong supporting cast in Tavares Oliver (17.5 points, 3.2 assists), 6-7 Ashton Sherrell (15.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, three steals, three blocks) and Ronald Jeffery (11.4 points, 4.3 rebounds).
New Haven, which in reality is a Class C school with an enrollment of 360, is competing in Class B to face tougher competition. It owns victories against such Class A schools as Macomb Dakota, Grosse Pointe South and Catholic League runner-up Warren De La Salle.
“The experience a lot of the kids got from last year helps a lot,” France said. “The kids know what it takes, they have played in big games and that is something as coaches we can’t teach — experience, and it is so valuable.
“I have had our top 10 players on this team in our program for three and four years. Romeo Weems, Ronald Jeffery and Malen Lewis have been on varsity three years with me since they were freshmen. Tavares Oliver played on our JV his freshman year and has been up on the varsity the last three years, and Ashton Sherrell is in his third year on varsity as well.”
New Haven defeated Benton Harbor and 6-6 sophomore Carlos Johnson in the state semifinals last season, and the teams are on collision course to face each other in the title game this year.
Johnson, who already has an offer from Oklahoma, has Shawn Hopkins returning from last year’s team to help him, along with a perimeter threat in TJ Jones.
Grand Rapids Catholic Central (18-2), Wyoming Godwin Heights (19-1), River Rouge (19-1) and Detroit Henry Ford also are capable of making long runs.
T.J. Meerman has done an outstanding job at GRCC, guiding it to its first conference championship in eight years, led by the 1-2 inside punch of 6-10 Mr. Basketball finalist Marcus Bingham (Michigan State) and 6-8, 230-pound Jacob Polakovich.
Godwin Heights will be a threat with a pair of Division 1 players in 6-4 guard Lamar Norman and 6-8 Markeese Hastings (Butler) leading the way.
Norman, who de-committed from UTEP, scored 29 while Hastings loaded the stat sheet (14 points, nine rebounds, seven steals and six assists) in a 76-58 rout of GRCC back in December. The teams could meet in a rematch in the regional finals.
River Rouge (19-1), which also advanced to the state semifinals a year ago, has just one senior back, but has continued to play at a high level and is led by 6-0 junior guard Nigel Colvin.
Henry Ford (15-5) is led by the trio of Deontae Ulmer, Antonio Green and Anthony Roberts.
■ Defending champion: New Haven
■ Favorite: New Haven
■ Contender: Benton Harbor
■ Dark horse: Detroit Old Redford
■ Toughest district: At Detroit Mumford with Detroit Henry Ford, Detroit Old Redford and host Mumford in the field.
■ Final four: Benton Harbor over River Rouge; New Haven over Wyoming Godwin Heights
■ Championship game: New Haven over Benton Harbor
■ Player to watch: Weems can do it all on both ends of the floor.
Detroit Edison advanced to Breslin last year for the final four, losing to three-time champion Flint Beecher in a state semifinal, 76-68.
Edison won the PSL championship and plans on making a return trip to East Lansing with the majority of its starters back from last year’s team, including Division 1 players in point guard Pierre Mitchell (Central Michigan), shooting guard Gary Solomon (LIU Brooklyn) and 6-8 center Deante Johnson (Cleveland State).
Pierre Mitchell (1) and Detroit Edison reached the Class C state semifinals last season. (Photo: Jose Juarez / Special to Detroit News)
“We are looking good going into the tournament,” Edison coach Bo Neely said. “Last year’s run, along with our PSL run has provided us with the experience and composure needed to advance through the tournament.”
Edison loaded up its schedule, in addition to playing a tough slate of games against PSL opponents, defeating Class A Belleville, Saginaw Arthur Hill and Detroit Renaissance, and losing close games against Catholic League champion U-D Jesuit (79-75, overtime), Catholic League runner-up Warren De La Salle (47-46) and Detroit East English (84-79).
PSL runner-up Detroit Pershing also could make a run with a talented group, including senior guards Ron Hill and D’Juan Seal, and big men 6-8 Johnny Davis and 6-6 Jalyn Benning.
Pershing defeated Edison twice before Edison avenged the losses with a lopsided 82-45 win in the PSL title game.
■ Defending champion: Flint Beecher
■ Favorite: Detroit Edison
■ Contender: Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central
■ Dark horse: Detroit Pershing
■ Toughest district: At Blissfield with Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central and Ottawa Lake Whiteford in the field.
■ Final four: Detroit Edison over Kent City; Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central over Iron Mountain
■ Championship game: Edison over Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central
■ Player to watch: Mitchell can operate the offense and set up his teammates, take the ball to the basket or make the perimeter shot, and he’s a disruptive force on the defensive end.
This should be Southfield Christian’s year with Powers North Central and its talented Mr. Basketball finalist Jason Whitens out of the way.
Southfield Christian pushed North Central to the limit in last year’s state semifinal before falling 84-83 in double overtime, which enabled North Central to go on and win its third straight state championship, concluding with a title win over Buckley for a state record 83 consecutive wins.
Southfield Christian returned the bulk of its team, including 6-3 senior guard Bryce Washington, junior guard Harlond Beverly, who is one of the top 2019 players in the state — already owning offers from Michigan State, Ohio State and Xavier — and guard Caleb Hunter.
Washington, who scored 23 in the semifinal loss to North Central, has more than a dozen offers, including Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Oakland, Toledo and Central Michigan.
Southfield Christian (17-3), which won three straight Class D state titles (2012-14) before moving up to Class C, faced a challenging schedule which included wins over Detroit King, River Rouge and Ann Arbor Pioneer with losses coming against Detroit Pershing, Detroit Edison and West Bloomfield.
Meanwhile, North Central’s winning streak ended at 84 with a loss to Rapid River in the second game of the season. It enters the postseason with a 16-4 record.
Unbeaten Dollar Bay will be a threat led by seniors Devin Schmitz and Jaden Janke.
And, don’t count out Ewen-Trout Creek and its high-scoring 6-7, 240-pound senior Jake Witt, who is headed for Michigan Tech.
■ Defending champion: Powers North Central
■ Favorite: Southfield Christian
■ Contender: Dollar Bay
■ Dark horse: Ewen-Trout Creek
■ Toughest district: At Dollar Bay with Ontonagon and the host team in the field. Ontonagon is just 10-10, but played well against Dollar Bay in both losses (45-40, 63-62).
■ Final four: Southfield Christian over Dollar Bay, Bellevue over Hillman
■ Championship game: Southfield Christian over Bellevue
■ Player to watch: Southfield Christian’s Beverly is as good as anybody in the state when he’s playing at the top of his game, but has been inconsistent at times this season.