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!!