season preview: A team-by-team glance at Washtenaw County's boys basketball teams in 2012-13
- Related: Chelsea boys basketball coach Robin Raymond steps down after 31 years and more preseason notes
Boys high school basketball competition throughout the state officially gets underway this week, and we’ve got all the information on Washtenaw County’s 20 teams, including top returning players, recaps of last season and coach’s analysis on the upcoming season.
Also be sure to check out our preseason notes package, including preseason storylines, coaching changes, college commitments and more.
SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE RED DIVISION
Three SEC Red teams stand out above the rest heading into the 2012-13 season: Huron, Pioneer and Temperance Bedford.
The River Rats lose plenty, but have been one of the area’s steadiest programs in recent years under Waleed Samaha. Pioneer will be looking to move on from two years of Jimmy Holman anchoring the point, but bring back several key pieces. And Bedford has the league’s best player in Jackson Lamb, a returning All-State first team selection who will play baseball at Michigan.
Skyline appears to be the best of the rest, with the the largest returning group of anyone in the league, and could challenge to move into the league’s top three when all is said and done.ANN ARBOR HURON RIVER RATS
The River Rats will have a bevy of new players this year as they look to replace seven seniors. And those new players know they enter the season with the expectation of continuing Huron’s streak of four straight district titles.
“We talk about the names and faces changing, but the expectations don’t change,” Samaha said. “We expect to win championships every year, so that’s a lot of pressure.”
Among the graduated players is Mike Lewis, an All-State honorable mention and Class A All-Area selection.
Among those new faces, eight are between 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-6, giving the River Rats above average size.
But Huron is a young team, and the rest of the SEC Red could see this year as an opening to knock off the defending champions.
“We’re still relatively young, but we have five seniors that we feel are going to do a great job for us,” Samaha said. “It’s all about making sure that they leave the program that they have a legacy they can be proud of.”
ANN ARBOR PIONEER PIONEERS
The Pioneer return two starters in Jibreel Hussein and Ethan Spencer, and two other players who saw key minutes in Aedan York and Tevis Robinson.
Hussein was the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder, and Spencer was the team’s leading rebounder from the center position.
With the loss of Holman, coach Rex Stanczak sees Hussein carrying a larger scoring role, with the points still being spread out.
“He’s gotten a lot better and I expect him to be one of better players in the area,” Stanczak said.’
The litany of injuries that struck Pioneer’s football team at the end of the season carry over to basketball, as Spencer and York have both been recovering in the preseason.
At point guard, expected starter Cole Taylor is taking basketball season off to focus on track. Dwane Simpson-Redmond, who sat out last year with injuries, should see the bulk of the minutes there, along with Jackson High School transfer Tre Wallace.
ANN ARBOR SKYLINE EAGLES
Skyline will field a team that includes seven seniors and six juniors in a deep lineup that should provide plenty of versatility.
“We pretty much just have a lot of very solid players,” coach Mike Lovelace said. “We can go with some different looks. We can have different lineups, we can have quick lineups, we can go offense-oriented, we can go defense-oriented.”
Lovelace said he can use as many as 10 players in the rotation, and goes two or three players deep at every position.
And what he’s really been happy with in the offseason is his team’s senior leadership, particularly from Peter Bakker and Sharath Anand.
“I think the culture and the overall attitude of the program has taken a big step forward,” Lovelace said. “I would assume that that’s also going to lead to much more consistent play on the court.”
Eric Williams moves up from junior varsity to coach this year’s varsity team, and he finds mixed news on the Hornets' top team.
Hornets forward Michael Smutny, who averaged 14.2 points per game and nearly nine rebounds in 2011-12 as the team's focal point, has graduated.
But the team returns guard Reece Dils, who was an All-Area honorable mention as a sophomore in 2010-11, but missed his entire junior season last year with a hip injury suffered during football season.
“He’s 100 percent,” Williams said. “He did really good with rehab and has been back the entire summer and into the fall.”
Dils will lead the way with a Saline team that lost plenty off last year’s team, but also will receive solid reinforcements from Williams’ JV squad.
With Smutny gone and Dils back to lead what Williams calls a guard-heavy squad, expect to see a different brand of hoops in Saline this season.
“Our offensive philosophy has kind of switched,” Williams said. “We still want to get it inside to our big guys, but we’re perimeter-oriented. We want to get it to our open guys on the perimeter.”
SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE WHITE DIVISION
Ypsilanti has won three straight boys basketball league titles since joining the SEC White in 2009. But the Phoenix graduated six players and more than 80 percent of its offensive production from its team that went 12-0 in league play last year. Consider the door to the SEC White open.
Will any of the three other Washtenaw County teams in the league be able to walk through it? Each finished below .500 overall last year, and have a big gap to close to catch the Phoenix.
Two of those, Lincoln and Chelsea, will have new coaches heading into this season in a year of change for the SEC White.YPSILANTI PHOENIX
The Phoenix graduated six players from last year’s team, five of which went on to play college basketball. With them, they took more than 85 percent of the team’s scoring, including Tristan Simmons, AnnArbor.com’s Washtenaw County Player of the Year last season.
The saving grace is that junior Janeau Joubert will move into the starting point guard position with two years of varsity basketball under his belt. And for coach Steve Brooks, if there’s one position to have an experienced player at, it’s point guard.
“That’s really what we’re counting on,” Brooks said. “He’s already been in the frying pan. He’s eager, he’s worked all year, he’s an excellent student.”
Add in Jaylen Johnson at 6-8, and Northwood commit Levontae Davis at 6-7 and the Phoenix should still be a solid rebounding team.
But past that, there’s plenty of inexperience in the Phoenix rotation, including the possibility of a freshman in the starting lineup.
YPSILANTI LINCOLN RAILSPLITTERS
Mike Foley made the switch to the Railsplitters’ girls team after eight years, and will be replaced by Rich Marion, who has spent the past four years at Pioneer -- three as a varsity assistant under Stanczak and the last as JV coach.
His knowledge of the Lincoln personnel was minimal when he took over. But what he’s found since taking the job in June is a deep, athletic team.
“It’s a battle right now in practice for playing time,” Marion said before the beginning of the season, noting that many spots in the rotation were still up for grabs.
Marion will have the benefit of several players who proved their ability on the football field, including Javin Kilgo, Will Russell and Tyler Mabry. Senior Tyler Hinton has been “a very pleasant surprise,” Marion said, and has provided senior leadership.
And Marions's top priority with them is to install a tough, man-to-man defense -- something his team is a “long way away” from.
“I think it’s something you can build a very competitive, successful program around,” Marion said.
Chelsea is undergoing a coaching change for the first time in more than three decades, going from Robin Raymond to former Chelsea player Rourke Skelton. But the change shouldn’t be all that drastic.
“For me, it’s just tweaking things the way I want them tweaked, as opposed to a major overhaul,” Skelton said.
The Bulldogs bring back several experienced players, and add Manchester transfer Nate Bossory and senior Jayden Sweeny, who didn’t play last year.
While Skelton doesn’t plan any wholesale changes, he hopes to emphasize an aggressive man-to-man defense as the team’s foundation, along with a good transition game.
“Hopefully we will make easy offense out of our defense,” Skelton said.
Overall, it's not an overly experienced squad. But to Skelton, that should make any changes easier to implement.
“We’re all kind of starting from ground zero," Skelton said. "Sometimes that experience when you’re trying to put in new things can hurt, because you’re trying to put in new things.”
It’s rare for a 19th-year head coach to say he’s doing something for the first time ever.
But Dexter coach Randy Swoverland can this year: he’ll have three sophomores on his team that are all expected to play significant roles.
Those three will join a roster of five juniors and four seniors.
“I think we’re pretty versatile and we’ve got pretty good shooters,” Swoverland said.
The team graduated six seniors from last year's team. While this year's squad has versatility, what it lacks is physicality and experience.
So the name of the game this year is improvement.
“We’re just trying to gradually improve as the year comes on so a month into the season we can look back and say we’re better than we are now,” Swoverland said.
OTHER WASHTENAW COUNTY TEAMSANN ARBOR CENTRAL ACADEMY FALCONS
This year’s Falcons team will feature 11 new players.
“We are just trying to get them ready for the speed of the game,” coach Rushdi Issa said. “The speed of the game is very important. It’s going to change from JV to varsity, we’re just hoping to get them ready for the speedy game.”
Among the new players include three sophomores who each stand 6-foot-2 or taller
Muhammed Issa and Hassan Attar both return to the Falcons backcourt and are expected to be key contributors.
ANN ARBOR GREENHILLS GRYPHONS
The Gryphons will have four players who started the majority of last season back this year, and two more who have started before. In all, they bring back 11 players who have played significant varsity minutes.
“We’ve got a full bench,” Andrew Wright said. “We’re excited, we’ve got a deep team.”
Wright calls this the first time in his nine years at Greenhills he’s been able to have this amount of player continuity through two years.
Led by guard Andrew Khouri, a senior who averaged more than 20 points per game last year, Greenhills hopes to continue its resurgence this year.
“We want to be able to go far in the tournament,” Wright said. “How far that is depends on who we play. We just keep talking about wanting to be prepared for good competition basically."
ANN ARBOR RUDOLF STEINER STORM
Rudolf Steiner was young last year and will be young again this year.
But coach Nick Sherwood plans to play nearly his whole bench and utilize team speed.
“We’re looking to get out and run on people and just play tough defense,” Sherwood said. “We’re going to be going seven, eight-man rotations and just looking to get out and run.
The Storm will have three returning seniors and no juniors. But when he polled his team in the preseason he found their goals are still high: a district championship.EASTERN WASHTENAW MULTICULTURAL ACADEMY
Reza Hafeza coached Eastern Washtenaw Multicultural Academy in its first year of existence, and has coached at Washtenaw Community College and for several years at the recreation level around Ann Arbor.
He returns to the bench at EWMA this year because he saw a team losing too many winnable games.
He will inherit a roster of mostly new players, but one that has two strong returning guards in Momin Malik and Mufid Farha.
“Both of them are great outside shooters,” Hafeza said.
FATHER GABRIEL RICHARD FIGHTING IRISH
The Fighting Irish took a trip to up north this offseason to visit Traverse City St. Francis coach Keith Haske, who FGR coach Pete Schoch calls a “pressing guru.”
They came back with a new strategy for a guard-oriented team.
“Our strategy is going to be getting up and down the floor,” Schoch said. “We’re going to play a faster tempo than we have in years past.”
This year’s FGR team has six seniors, after graduating just three from last year’s team. Many of them got a late start to preseason practice, after FGR’s football team advanced to the state semifinals.
That includes guard Ashton Hundley, who along with Kamari Davis should form a formidable backcourt.
“We’re guard heavy, obviously,” Schoch said. “But that’s OK.”
MANCHESTER FLYING DUTCHMEN
According to coach Dave Arnold, this Manchester team could go anywhere from 6-16 to 16-6.
“I like our pieces, but the whole is very much under construction,” Arnold wrote in an email.
The team loses Josh Finley and his 20 points per game (including 87 3-pointers), but returns two starting guards in Matt Kemner and Jacob Korican.
The biggest improvement has been in chemistry, but Arnold said he has concerns about his team’s defense and aggressiveness rebounding, key to the Grinnell College system the team runs in which the team runs the floor, shoots a high volume of 3-point shots, presses on defense and subs the entire lineup every 90 seconds or so.
MILAN BIG REDS
While plenty of area teams can say they’re losing a lot, Milan may have it the worst, with 11 players gone from a team that won 18 games last year, and only three players with varsity experience returning.
“We’re definitely in rebuilding mode,” coach Josh Tropea said.
The Big Reds plan on going with a nine-man regular rotation that includes five sophomores. Tropea said the biggest challenge is getting those younger players to buy into the importance of defensive play.
Yet the Big Reds also return C.J. Turnage, a fourth-year varsity player who recently committed to Saginaw Valley State, Stephen Evans, the team’s “glue guy,” and point guard Latin Davis, who averaged eight points and five assists last year as a freshman on varsity.
“He’s going to be one of the best point guards in the area for the next three years,” Tropea said.
WILLOW RUN FLYERS
New coach Tim Cain, a former varsity assistant at Skyline, Dexter and Saline, may have his work cut out for him with a Willow Run squad hit hard by graduation and transfers.
“We are a work in progress,” Cain said. “We’ll be a completely different team by the end of the year.
This year’s squad has only three juniors and has multiple new players to the program. Cain said he likes the team’s quickness, but emphasized that “we’ve got a long way to go.”
Cain’s hiring marks the second coaching change for the team in less than a year, after former coach George Woods was fired midseason last year, and Anthony Davis took over for the rest of the season.
“We’re taking one day at a time,” Cain said. “Their heads are kind of spinning right now because we’re just loading them up with information.”
YPSILANTI ARBOR PREP
Last year may have been the first season for Ypsilanti Arbor Preparatory. But after playing a disjointed schedule in year one and getting the program established, coach Don Spencer said this year could be considered the true first year of the program.
“Now we can really get after it at this point,” Spencer said.
Leading the way will be sophomore Michael Donatelli, who averaged just under 27 points as a freshman. He’ll be joined by forward Charles Pakala, along with a cast of returners and new faces.
“I would say with Mike and Charles coming back we’re looking to ride those guys, and then we’ve got a lot of really talented young guys coming in,” Spencer said.
An MHSAA rule prevented Arbor Prep from participating in the postseason tournament in its first year, but the school is eligible in year two, though with a school with just three classes (9-11) the team is still a year away from having a full arsenal.
-- Information not available for Whitmore Lake, Saline Washtenaw Christian and Ypsilanti Calvary Christian.