I remember doing the recap last spring and thinking I did not know when I would again be so happy to do it. At the time I believe we were 27-7 and feeling good about the majority of our performances. We had a title in our first tournament and a second place finish to boot. Much of that was expected based on the talent and chemistry we believed we had (although we lost a huge piece due to injury in the second tournament). This year’s team honestly gave me heartburn thinking about it after our tryouts. We had gone from only one person under 6’0″ last year to no one over 6’3″ this year. I remember thinking that I knew some of the kids could play, but that being a .500 team would be an accomplishment with the size disadvantages we faced. But what I didn’t know was that these guys were hungry…
Hard practices, a lot of teaching, and a good helping of discipline brought this group together as they seemed to gel as each tournament went by. Some didn’t make it to this point; an unfortunate bump in the road to success, but also creating opportunities for others to step up. Those who perservered saw the light at the end of the tunnel to continue to grow brighter and brighter. The reward of running toward that light was a 5-1 showing and susequent silver division championship run at the Camp Darryl/Bankhoops.com Classic in Kalamazoo.
We played the first game in that tournament with 6 guys. We were up by only 4 points at halftime, yet we won by a final margin of 29 with Amariontez Ivory-Thomas (Tez) scoring 36 points to lead us. There were games when some didn’t play well, but others quickly jumped in to fill the void for them. In every game we were clearly overmatched in terms of height (and it wasn’t close), but the team decided that it would not be the thing that stopped them. In our only loss, a 24-point deficit was chopped to 6 before losing by 9. The comeback showed the heart that would carry us the whole tournament. In the semifinal game against BBC Select, Tez had a first half for the ages. I believe he missed one shot the entire half, prompting the opposing coach to try a gimmick defense to stop him and then even question his eligibility (that he was a senior) because he was playing so well. When they singled him out, he found his teammates unselfishly. The team learned how to win in that type of pressure-filled game as Tez finished with 27 points and Marquavian Stephens (Marq) dropped 20 to notch an 8-point win.
The championship game versus the Macomb County Cougars was one to remember. It was as fast-paced as any game I can remember coaching in the 21 years I have been doing it. The action was unreal as again our two tallest guys were giving up 5-8″ each on the opposing team’s big men. They were attacking us down low, while we were attacking them with speed and outside shooting. Tez again carried us in the beginning, but it may have been a shoe change by another player that brought the title home. Last year’s MVP (and the only Laker to have his jersey retired), JD Tisdale, was there serving as my assistant coach when he noticed Marq looking uncomfortable. He said to me, “…he [Marq] can’t jump. It looks like his shoes are hurting him. I will give him mine to play in.” He did that and whether or not they felt any better I have no clue, but Marq played like a man possessed the rest of the game. Torandis Mack bounced back from an ankle injury in the semifinal to attack the basket with force en route to 14 big points. Jamil Demps added 13 points and his usual suffocating defense. Marq led the way with 25 points, while Tez threw in 23 and led us again in rebounding. It capped off a great all-tournament team performance from Tez (the only one to make the team from the silver division) where he averaged 25 points and rebounded well above his size. Marq also had a great tournament and should have been an all-tournament team selection in my book as well. He frustrated teams all weekend, some even suggesting that he play football because he was that tough. Kelvin Weston earned a starting role and showed why as he was part of a defensive perimeter that was outstanding while also chipping in scoring when needed. Jacob Littles, Fred Toins, and Mike Kimball knocked down a few three-point bombs and Jacob continued to lead us defensively as he has done all spring. He must have rubbed off on Fred because he displayed defense that none of us knew he had!
We have won titles before in Laker history, but this one was really special because no one could have expected it at that point. It capped off a spring that saw us finish April/May with a 14-8 record (.636) with a 7-2 burst in the final two tournaments of the spring. As we move through the school season of June, the guys left even hungrier for more success which I am sure their high school coaches will appreciate. I even had one player ask if we were practicing on the holiday (Memorial Day)! The answer was “no”, but I loved the fact that he wanted to. I am extremely proud of what this team has done so far, but the present is far from the end result. They all wrote June plans for July success (pictured below) as they realize the importance of not having a letdown in effort. The July ncaa-certified session will bring more challenges and more opportunity to show coaches and scouts what the Lakers are made of. The boys that I started with in April have grown into men and are better on and off the court for it. They rose above disappointment in Lansing to win their very next time out. Discipline and sacrifice in practice, workouts, games, social media, and sometimes friendships bring rewards in future endeavors. I am excited to see where this group goes in July and into their senior seasons. I believe there will be some surprised coaches out there…
Spring Record: 14-8
Best Finish: 1st place silver division of Camp Darryl/Bankhoops.com (Tez all-tournament team)
Spring MVP: Amariontez Ivory-Thomas
Spring All-Defense: Jacob Littles/Torandis Mack/Jamil Demps
Spring Most Improved: Kelvin Weston
Spring Heart Award: Marquavian Stephens