The ring wasn’t the only thing at New Haven, but it did carry a certain shine.
New Haven players and coaches received state Class B basketball championship rings Friday night before Romeo Weems scored a career-high 40 points to lead the Rockets to a 92-55 MAC crossover boys victory over Dakota.
It was the 29th consecutive victory by New Haven, and it came against the last team to defeat the Rockets.
“What’s special about tonight is not so much the rings or the championship, but about how all of this has brought our town closer together,” New Haven coach Tedaro France II, a former Rocket player, said.
“People have been talking about this game since we won it last year. The excitement, the love and the camaraderie through a sport has brought our whole town together.”
The bleachers were nearly full during the JV game that Dakota won 53-51 in overtime, and by the time former New Haven athlete John Mack presided over the ring ceremony, seating was hard to find in the gymnasium that opened in 1969.
“We’re limited,” superintendent Todd Robinson said, referring to capacity. “But some of the bigger fieldhouse gyms don’t have the same atmosphere.”
Mack, who helped New Haven win three state Class C track and field championships in the 1990s, presented rings to players and coaches of the championship team, plus some members of the support staff.
“We’ve had a long, long history of athletic success at New Haven,” Mack said, “but what the basketball team accomplished last year was unlike anything the community has ever seen.
“The level of success and the way people rallied around the team was a point of pride. That’s what makes tonight special.”
Rockets coaches received their rings first, and then the players.
“They’re nice,” Weems said. “They look shiny.”
Ashton Sherrell said he probably won’t wear his much.
“I might just keep it in a safe place,” the senior forward said. “It’s a valuable thing to me.”
Robinson did not receive a ring.
“No, I’m not getting one,” he said with a smile. “I just get the questions about who paid for them. The district hasn’t paid for them.
“We had some folks step forward. We had some very generous doners who made this happen for our kids and coaches, some key people that have supported the program for a very long time.”
Weems had 17 rebounds and 10 assists and Sherrell added 23 points and 10 rebounds as defending MAC Blue-champion New Haven improved to 3-0 overall.
Ronald Jeffery II scored 15 points and Tavares Oliver had five assists for the Rockets, who led 65-39 at the end of the third quarter.
Weems showed off his improved shooting efficiency with a 3-pointer from the corner for his 32nd point a 63-37 lead, and moments later the 6-foot-7 wing blocked a Dakota shot.
Sherrell’s three-point play gave New Haven a 58-34 lead with 4:45 left in the third quarter as the Rockets continued to control the game.
Weems converted an alley-oop pass from Oliver into a two-handed slam and a 55-32 lead with 5:33 left in the third quarter.
New Haven led 24-14 at the end of one quarter, and Weems had 25 points in the first half, which ended with the Rockets leading 47-27.
“I’m working on getting my ball handling better,” Weems said. “I’m working on moves and just coming out and doing them.”
Sophomore guard Ryan Rollins led Dakota with 26 points.
Rollins’ night included a baseline drive for a dunk in traffic with three minutes to play.
“This game was a good learning experience,” Dakota coach Paul Tocco said. “It puts us in a situation where we know what we have to work on to get better.
“We didn’t handle the pressure as well as I anticipated we would.”
Dakota, the defending MAC Red champion, is 1-2. The Cougars lost to U-D Jesuit at Calihan Hall and defeated Warren-Mott at Dakota.
The Cougars defeated the Rockets in New Haven’s second game of 2016-17, and then New Haven won 26 in a row on the way to the championship.