Burney's Bytes - 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.
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.