Blogs > Burney's Bytes

Burney's Bytes will focus primarily on the local preps sports scene, but will also touch on some college and pro athletics, mostly in regards to athletes who hail and have played high school sports in Oakland County. My goal for the blog is to be conversational and anecdotal, a more relaxed and free formal take on high school athletics than you see in regular game day coverage.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Burney's Bytes - Blog Entry # 4

Blog Entry # 4

A final look at some of my favorite Oakland County b-ball squads in my time watching the local prep scene. Hoop heads and cager historians have no fear, I'll be back with some more memories of great area hoop teams of the past in a couple of months when the state tournament starts up at the end of February.

5. 1994 Orchard Lake St. Mary's (Boys)

This team was made up of pure athletes - guys who could play and excel at multiple sports. Just two seasons after football coach and athletic director George Porritt took the reigns of the school's basketball program, he had the Eaglets playing for a state title. Sending several of his players to play collegiate athletics, Porritt's '94 hoops squad could be one of the most diversely talented teams in the history of the county.

A trio of juniors, two of whom were transfers to OLSM the previous school year, made up a bulk of this team's firepower. Diallo Johnson, a 6-4 forward, played the "3" spot and was the team's captain and top scorer. 6-5 David Bowens and 6-2 Darryl Adams, each re-locating to St. Mary's from Pontiac Central at the beginning of their sophomore years, played power forward and shooting guard respectively. While Johnson was a jack of all trades on the hardwood, Adams was dead eye shooter and Bowens was a monster post presence and human-pogo stick on the fast break. With all three being best friends - having grown up together on the streets of Pontiac as youngsters - their individual skills complimented each other perfectly on the court. In addition to heading the team's offensive stat sheet, the thing that made this trio great was there dedication to defense and their willingness to go into lockdown mode early and often.

The Eaglets were also heavy on senior leadership in '94: Neil Parker, Tim Herrington, and Chad Abbul, all tough and gritty ball players in their own right, took turns in the starting line-up next to the team's all-star junior trifecta, more than willing to defer most of their squad's playmaking to its talented under-classmen. Also integral on this team was Kylo Jones, a freshman point guard, who played much older than his age and Aaron Miller, a do-everything swingman, who was a gem on defense and a master of drawing the offensive foul.

Unfortunately for the St. Mary's faithful, its Eaglets ended their season on the wrong end of one of the most dramatic moments in the annals of the MHSAA state championship game. With under five seconds to play in overtime against a determined Calvin Christian team, it appeared as if St. Mary's was on its way to taking home the school's first state basketball title since 1982. Johnson, a stellar 82 percent at the line on the year, was shooting a pair of free throws with the Eaglets in front by a point, 83-82. However, it wasn't to be and after Johnson missed both attempts, Calvin Christian pushed the ball up court and guard Ben Verbeek went in for a game winning lay-up at the buzzer to send St. Mary's home with a heartbreaking defeat.

Try not to fret though, the post script on this group is more than impressive: The following fall as seniors on the gridiron, with Johnson, playing quarterback, Adams, at split end, and Bowens, going both ways at tight end and defensive end, the Eaglets made amends for their crushing defeat on the hardwood by claiming a state football crown. Both Johnson and Bowens would go on to play football at Michigan - Johnson ended up a starter at wide receiver catching passes from Tom Brady, while Bowens concluded his college football career at Western Illinois and is now a starting defensive lineman with the NFL's New York Jets. Adams went on to play basketball at Wayne State and Kylo Jones at Western Michigan, where he became a starter.

6. 1995-1997 Birmingham Detroit Country Day (Boys)

Pulling off a 3-peat in any sport at any level is a monumental task to accomplish. Doing it twice in less than a decade, well, that's a gigantic, nearly impossible feat. Nonetheless, after DCD head coach Kurt Keener 3-peated in the late-80's and early-90's by winning state hoop titles in 1989, 1990, and 1991, he did it again in 1995, 1996, and 1997. Granted both times Keener won three straight state championships, his teams' were led by future NBA stars in Chris Webber and Shane Battier. Yet, this type of accomplishment is not the kind of thing you see everyday and deserves recognition.

Now, Keeners' second group of 3-peaters may not have been as flashy or highly-touted as his first, but they were just as effective and equally dominant. Anchored by Battier, the 1995-97 teams, in similar fashion to the 1989-91 teams, breezed to its trifecta of state crowns. Just like Webber a few years earlier, Battier, was playing at another level than those around him during his high school career. He failed to put up the robust numbers that Webber did, however, his game was considerably more well-rounded and fundamentally sound than his all-american Yellowjackets counterpart - both players were named the USA Today's high school player of the year in their respective senior seasons.

The '95 team in Battier's sophomore year was loaded with experienced seniors to surround its star player. Senior point guard, Jimmy Spadafore (American University), a three year starter, was the engine that made this Yellowjackets team go. He knew when and where to find his teammates, could nail the open jump shot, and was an expert at igniting the transition game. Senior shooting guard, Gerlad Conoway (Northwestern on a Football scholarship), had a killer-quick cross over dribble and could get to the basket on any defender he found himself matched-up against. His mid-range jumper was always on the money and he was the team's top perimeter defender. Seniors, Jason Carano at the small forward spot and Jason Webber (Chris' younger brother who went on to play his college ball at Michigan State and then Central Michigan), at the power forward position, played their roles to perfection, with Carano providing consistent shooting from the outside and Webber doing the dirty work in the lane.

It wasn't until Battier's junior and senior campaigns that he stepped forward and became the Yellowjackets team captain and primary scoring option. Battier was all over the floor, both on offense with outstanding moves with his back to the basket and on defense, swatting away anything that came near him. He didn't miss free throws and was the definition of a top grade floor leader - normally a role reserved for a point guard, but a slot he filled to perfection in '96 and '97 from his center position. Following Battier's lead on the court were three super-athletes, who could more than hold their own on the hardwood: David Webber (Chris' other younger brother and eventual MAC player of the year at Central Michigan), was a point guard, known to heat up in a hurry. Mike Manciel (Central Michigan) and Javin Hunter (Notre Dame on a football scholarship), were jumping-jacks who played on the wing and thrived to compete. Paired together with the soon-to-be Duke Blue Devil and future first round NBA draft pick, they were a formidable bunch to say the least.

The '97 team had the toughest road to the state title, forced to go through a rock-solid River Rouge team in the quarterfinals led by Brent Darby (Ohio State), Duez Henderson (Iowa), and Charles Cage (De Paul). Needless to say, the Yellowjackets came through with a nine-point victory and then coasted to their third crown in a row.

Honorable Mention:

These teams I saw play one time each, as opposed to the aforementioned squads who I saw each play multiple times. All of the honorable mention teams were just as good, if not better, than the teams I wrote about at more length. However, since I did not have the pleasure of seeing them on the court more than once, I can not go into as much depth about them.

1996 Southfield-Lathrup
- Led by forward Mike Chappell (Duke/Michigan State), point guard Greg Grays (Penn State/University of Detroit-Mercy), a center Reggie Butler (Dayton), this Chargers team took down a nationally-ranked Detroit Pershing squad - courtesy of a game-winning jumper by Chappell in the closing seconds of overtime - in the quarterfinals en route to a state championship game appearance where they lost to S.aginaw.

2000 Orchard Lake St. Mary's
- This Eaglets team was just as diverse athletically then their predecessors six years earlier who made it to the finals and lost. A boat load of talented and multi-sport athletes peppered this OLSM roster, with the likes of Jonte Jones, Jermaine Gonzales (Michigan for football), Maurice Seawright (Michigan for basketball), Grant Mason (Michigan/Stanford for football), and Charles Davis (Purdue for football) leading the Eaglets to state titles in both football and basketball.

2001-2002 Pontiac Northern
- Putting together back-to-back state championships and making it look easy were this group of Huskies headed by Lester Abram (Michigan), Ricky Morgan (Iowa State), Derek Ponder, Romel Murray, Antonio Bonds, Bates Gray, James Smith, and Dominique Hardiman.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Burney's Bytes - Blog Entry # 3

Burney's Bytes
Blog Entry # 3

A little taste more of the best Oakland County prep hoops squads i've personally witnessed over the past two decades. The first two teams on my list - 1989-91 DCD and 1993 Walled Lake Central - were from big schools. Now, we're going to switch gears to some of the area's best small school teams i've seen play in the last 20 years.

3. 1992 Oakland Christian (Girls)

The '92 Lancers' Class D state championship squad is the only girls team to make my list, but believe me, these ladies represent all women of the hardwood to the fullest. Oakland Christian may be a very small school (high school enrollment is less than 200), however this group of girls who took home a state title team could play with any team in the history of the county, regardless of size. Despite not being very deep - head coach Ed Mehlberg only gave regular playing time to seven girls - these Lancers were a high octane bunch, that could play a variety of styles, and did it with style and flair.

Led into battle by 5-9 "point forward" Laurie Ales, one of the best female ball players ever to step foot on an Oakland County high school court, this team compiled a gaudy 26 -1 record and romped through the first six rounds of the state tournament winning games by an average of 23 points per game. In the their semi-final game against Baraga, the state's number one ranked team the entire year, Ales spearheaded an 11-point comeback in the final three minutes of regulation to force overtime. Scoring 18 of her 29 points in the contest's final eight minutes, Ales knocked down a pair of game-winning free throws in the closing seconds of the extra stanza to advance her team into the state final. Squaring off against Grand Rapids Covenent Christian in the title game the following afternoon, Ales poured in 25 points, dished off seven assists, and pulled down five rebounds in Oakland Christian's 53-36 victory.

As good as its star player was, this team was a lot more than just Laurie Ales. Playing besides her were two other all-
state performers in 5-10 power forward Heather Davis and 5-7 shooting guard Julie Lutfy, both big reasons why the Lancers' were as good as they were. Davis, who would go on to play her college ball at Oral Roberts, was an inside-outside threat that proved to be the team's emotional leader. Lutfy, an eventual college soccer star, was a superior outside shooter, who could also drive the lane and split time at the point guard spot with Ales. Rounding out the '92 Oakland Christian starting-line up was Nicole Hickson, a solid post player at the center position and Patty Goss, the squad's defensive stopper and small forward.

4. 1993 Waterford Our Lady of The Lakes

Not highly-ranked nor thought of as much of threat in state basketball circles at the beginning of the season, the '93 Lakers came out of nowhere to make a run all the way to the Class D final four. Coached by MHSAA sideline legend, Mike Boyd (multiple state championships in both football and softball), this Waterford Our Lady of The Lakes team was gritty, determined, and most of all well-rounded.

Paul Robak, the squad's high-scoring all-state point guard, had range from all over the floor and knew how to use the defensive attention he often attracted from opposing teams as a means of finding open teammates. Benefiting most from the fact that the opposition keyed on Robak were ace marksmen Jason Knake, Robak's sharpshooting backcourt mate and Glen Badour, a small forward who was a good slasher with a steady pull-up jumper. The team's post play was handled by the burly frontcourt of 6-5 center Michael Miller, the Lakers' second leading scorer, and 6-4 power forward Ryan McCallister, a standout lineman on the football team and the squad's resident brute. Miller had a velvety touch around the basket and when necessary could stretch defenses by coming outside and knocking down shots from the perimeter. Each member of the starting five knew and embraced their role, leading to outstanding team chemistry and a 17-3 record in the regular season.  Crafty swingman Saylor Frase headed a strong reserve unit that was crucial to the squad's overall success.

When Robak drained a 45 footer at the buzzer to beat Birmingam Roeper, 63-62 on the road on opening night, WOLL fans and players had a feeling that the season was destined to be one to remember. Defeating Fowler 89-83 in an old fashioned shootout to take home the school's first ever regional title in boys basketball, the Lakers had a date in the quarterfinals with East Catholic, who was ranked number one in the state and led by 6-9 Winifred Walton (Syracuse/Fresno State). Containing Walton and getting a combined 45 points from Robak and Miller, the Lakers defeated the much-lauded East Catholic team and advanced to the semi-finals where they eventually lost.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Burney's Bytes - blog entry # 2

Burney's Bytes
Blog Entry 2
December 10, 2008
In honor of the boys basketball season getting started this week, I thought I'd take a few blog entries and recap the best high school hoops squads that I have personally seen play in my over 20 years of watching preps in Oakland County. Alright, here goes with the first two:
1. 1989-1991 Birmingham Detroit Country Day (Boys)

The three state championship teams - the first bunch of an eventual seven titles won by Kurt Keener, currently the county's most tenured head coach - led by soon-to-be Fab Five member and future NBA all-star Chris Webber could be the best basketball squad ever assembled in this area. This team had athleticism, court-savvy, depth, and most importantly the country's number one rated college recruit in C-Webb, at that time a true man playing amongst boys. The 6-10 Webber was a beast, a total freak of nature, who could score at will and run the court with the agility of a player half his size. He was probably the most dominant player this county has ever seen, averaging a devastating 25 points and ten rebounds a game over his final three seasons as a Yellowjacket.

However, these teams were not just the Chris Webber show.  Its dominance on the high school hardwood came from a good deal of additional playmaking talent that was there to augment its blue chip star thoroughbred. The 1989 state title team in Webber's sophomore year was spearheaded by senior point guard Andy Slovis, a genuine floor leader who led Oakland County in assists and steals in both his junior and senior campaigns. Following Slovis' graduation, lightning-quick Kevin Colson, who would go on to start at Florida A&M during his college playing career, took over the Yellowjackets point guard slot for the final two state championship runs. Colson was a Kenny Anderson-clone, who was just as good from beyond the arc as he was leading a fast break.Teaming with Webber in the low-post and making up the second half of an imposing twin towers for the Yellowjackets was 6-11 Christ Backos, a shot blocking presence in the lane and a big man with a soft touch. Finally, Ilyapo Montgomery, a 6-5 high-flying shooting guard/small forward, who played his college ball at the University of Detroit-Mercy, was all three teams' second leading scorer, pumping in an average of 16 points per game between his sophomore and senior seasons.
2. 1993 Walled Lake Central (Boys)
Although the '93 Vikings didn't claim stake to a state crown, they were probably the team I personally enjoyed watching play the most. Coached by Steve Emmert and led by a closely-knit group of six seniors who had been playing together since grade scholl, this was the first team to bring Rick Pitino-style basketball to Oakland County. With minimum natural physical talent, they utilized a run and gun tempo of play made popular by Pitino's Kentucky teams of the early-90's - where they pressed nearly the entire game and shot an astonishing average of 30 3-pointers each contest - to maximum output. Putting together an undefeated regular season and winning a regional championship by defeating a stacked Port Huron Northern team before a hostile crowd on its own home court, the Vikings advanced to the Class A quarterfinals before bowing to eventual state champ Detroit Pershing, a team that featured all-american talents Carlos Williams (UAB), Willie Mitchell (Michigan/UAB), and Todd Burgan (Syracuse).

At the point, this Walled Lake Central squad featured Christian Emmert, the coach's son and a cagey team leader. The two-guard spot was manned by Ronnie Thompson, who like Emmert could drain it from downtown as well as drive the lane and kick the ball out to the wings for shots from the perimeter. The aforementioned wings that Emmert and Thompson were passing to were sharpshooting forwards Eric Leaf and Adam McCarthy (that season's top 3-point marksman in Oakland County), and sixth man Justin Cherfoli, who would either spell the starting backcourt or play in a often-used 3-guard line-up the team liked employing. Chris McFarland, the Vikings biggest player at 6-4, was the team's lone post presence at the center position, holding down the lane adequately on both offense and defense. To me the best part of this team's story, is just like the guys I played with in high school, even over 15 years later, this group of seniors still remain the closest of friends.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Burney's Bytes

Burney's Bytes
Blog Entry 1
December 3, 2008
Welcome to the first installment of Burney's Bytes, a blog written by me, Oakland Press sports writer, Scott M. Burnstein. This blog will be a fun and informal look at our county's sports landscape, focusing primarily on the high school sports scene, but still touching on some professional and college athletics too. Growing up and playing prep basketball and baseball in Oakland County, I know first hand what a great sports area we are so fortunate to be a part of. Our pro sports franchises are all first class - okay maybe not the Lions, but you get the point - and our high school programs and the athletes they produce - see Chris Webber, Shane Battier, B.J. Armstrong, L.J. Shelton, Jim Miller, and Kirk Gibson to just name a few - are among some of the best in the country. Residents live and breathe their sports here and I hope this blog will reflect that. So with all that said, lets get started.

With the high school basketball season set to get started this week with the girls tipping off first Tuesday night and the boys getting ready to follow suit exactly one week later, I thought it would be only natural to explore some of the top story lines heading into the 2008/2009 campaign.

To tips things off, I want to give props to Ernie Righetti and Jeff Rubin, two of the only 11 coaches in the state to pull double duty as coach of both girls and boys basketball teams this winter. Righetti, who won his 600th career game last season, heads both teams at Birmingham Roeper and has done so for the better part of the last three decades. Rubin, who is only 27 and one of the best young sideline generals in Michigan, coaches the girls team at Bloomfield Hills Lahser and the boys team at Bloomfield Andover. Both Righetti and Rubin have daunting tasks in front of them this season as each try to adjust to life without their all-state super studs from last year - point guard Bianca Barton (playing her college ball at Division II Shawnee in Ohio) from Roeper's girls regional title team and combo-guard Cameron Bell (playing his college ball at Lake Superior State) from Andover's boys back-to-back conference championship squads. Returning a majority of his line-up from 2007/2008, Righetti will be in better shape than Rubin, who lost the bulk of his. Whatever happens with the teams' led by Righetti and Rubin this year, there are a few things that go without saying when it comes to these two: they are both true gentlemen of the game, who teach life lessons as well as basketball and the parents of their respective players are lucky to have their kids coached by such class acts.

From the department of the rich only seem to get richer, Birmingham Detroit Country Day's basketball program is once again the envy of athletic department's across the state. First, their is the boys team, who despite losing leading scorer Darnell Brown (Bowling Green) to graduation, has added one of the most highly-touted juniors in the country in transfer guard Ray McCallum, Jr, in the Yellowjackets quest to get back to their state championship status from 2007. Playing his freshman and sophomore seasons for Tom McKinney at Indiana high school powerhouse Bloomington North High School (Sean May, Jarred Jeffries) in Bloomington, Indiana, where his dad, Ray McCallum, Sr. was an assistant coach at Indiana University the last two seasons, McCallum, Jr. now joins a Kurt Keener coached-team that features three seniors - post players, Donovan Kirk and Da Shonte Riley and small forward Jordan Dumars - who are headed to play college ball at division I schools. With his dad taking the reigns as the new head coach at the University of Detroit-Mercy this past spring, McCallum, Jr knew he wanted to play for Keener, who has coached the likes of future NBA players Chris Webber and Shane Battier to state championships when they were under his tutelage. The younger McCallum is said to be wowing coaches at a number of pre-season scrimmages that DCD has participated in the past few weeks and his exciting brand of play is sure to be a sensational addition to the Oakland County hoops scene over the next two seasons.

Switching topics to DCD's girls team, Frank Orlando's Lady Yellowjackets have a chance to be one of the most dominating high school basketball teams this area has ever witnessed. And just like Keener's boys, this year's squad has some new flavor in Dartmouth-bound senior guard Faziah Steen. Well, Steen's presence in the DCD line-up is not all together new, but she missed last season's run to the state title due to an ACL tear, and she is now recovered and itching to get back on the floor. One of the quicker guards and best defensive players in the county as a sophomore, Steen re-joins a team that is loaded with division I talent and with her re-inserted in the starting line-up a definitive favorite to repeat as state champions. Even though it will be without last year's team captain and Ms. Basketball winner, Erica Solomon - playing college ball at Notre Dame -, DCD has so much depth it will not miss a beat. In addition to Steen, the Yellowjackets have a power-packed rotation that includes small forward, Amber Moore, a leading canditate for this year's Ms. Basketball award and who is going to Illinois, point guard Sharena Taylor, who accepted a scholarship to play at Georgia Tech, shooting guard Spencer Lane, who is heading to Cornell, and sharpshooting forward, Emma Golen, who has signed with Harvard. This is not to mention underclassmen, Madison Williams, Imari Redfield, and Troy Hambirc, who are likely to get division I scholarships next year. Having all these thoroughbreds in the program, this season could harken back to the 1989/90 and 1995/96 campaigns when Keener and Orlando both led their team's to state title crowns in the same school year. Only time will tell.

All high school hoop heads please take notice: the most underrated player in the area is without a doubt Lakeland's 6-0 point guard, Mike Fugate. Although Fugate will be playing his college ball at Saginaw Valley State next season, this kid is a division I talent. Because of his size, a big time college program is probably out of the question, but after watching him play few could argue that he couldn't play at a mid-major and do some serious damage. Not coming from a traditional basketball power, its easy to overlook him. However, Fugate's game has minimal flaws and tremendous moxy. He's got outstanding court vision and like all great floor generals has the ability to make all the players around him better. His jump shot is text book and his range is long. Not to mention, he's as clutch as they come - in last season's district opener, he turned a broken play into a game winning buzzer beating lay-up against Milford. The kid has a strong head on his shoulder's too. Fugate doesn't do a lot of trash talking, he simply lets his play speak for itself. If you're looking for a diamond in the rough, look no further.

Finally, a word about perennial county superpower, Clarkston: Dan Fife, this is your year. This year your team goes from county superpower to state superpower.  2008/2009 will be the season that your boys basketball team finally breaks through the glass ceiling and puts you in your first ever final four at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. I know its tough. Your squads normally dominate regular season competition and early tournament play, only to be matched-up against a team from Detroit, Saginaw, or Flint in the Quarterfinals. The boys play tough, but ultimately your opponents pure athleticism and size wins out and you guys go home with only another regional championship to show for it- not that taking home regional title after regional title is something to scoff at. Fear no more, Mr. Fife, your day is soon dawning. It almost happened last year - we all know about the two possession lead your squad gave up in the final 30 seconds against eventual-state champ Saginaw High School - but it didn't. Now its a new day and a new season. The boys returning from last year's team are going to learn from the Saginaw loss and use it as something to build upon. With the kind of kids you coach, how could they not. That all said, I believe that this Wolves team is the one that's going to do it. Brandon Pokely is a gamer. Matt Kaminecki is a rising star. and Tom Staton, last year at a forward spot and this year running the point, will surprise a lot of people with his playmaking ability as a floor leader. Sprinkle in quality role players like Luke Prudhomme, Taylor Scarlett, and Brandon Verlinden, and all the ingredients are there. Dan, good luck this year and I'll see you at the Breslin Center in March.

Well, that's it for now. I'll be back again soon to spread more love and knowledge to all you Oakland County sports freaks. Until then, Peace Out!!