University Prep basketball coach Raheem Miller knew his team wouldn’t panic when Fillmore grabbed a 12-point lead in the second quarter of Saturday’s Section V D1 championship.
“They’re too young to know any better,” he said.
Too young. Too poised. Too talented.
One of the great stories in many basketball seasons continued Saturday night as the top-seeded Griffins outlasted No. 3 Fillmore 77-67 in overtime at Blue Cross Arena.
UPrep? You bet.
“I never would have dreamed this at the beginning of the season,” Miller said.
The Griffins (17-3) let Fillmore (16-5) back into it late in the game, as a foul allowed Fillmore’s Jordan Mullen to make two free throws and tie the game at 58 with 14.4 seconds left. Marique Simkin missed a buzzer-beating runner, but the tight-knit Griffins dominated overtime and rolled on.
“They’re all like my brothers and I love them all,” Simkin said. “We were a little nervous in the first half, but we knew we were going to come back. We got our heads right.”
UPrep — formally the University Preparatory Charter School for Young Men — is a third-year charter school for boys located at the old Nazareth Academy on Lake Avenue. The Griffins had a freshman team only last season and this year’s team is comprised of sophomores, freshmen and eighth-graders.
Eighth-graders like Simkin, a 15-year-old who poured in 23 points Saturday and was named tournament MVP. He is believed to be the first eighth-grader to win that honor.
“It’s history,” said Miller, the former East High and Michigan State football star. “It’s wonderful.”
Freshman Brandon Hunt added 20, and sophomore Cameron Myles — the old man on the team — chipped in 17. Jordan Mullen led Fillmore with 24.
Next up for the new kids on the block: A state qualifier against D2 champ Finney on Tuesday night at Webster Thomas. UPrep already has beaten Finney twice.
UPrep hosted no games in its own gym (it’s too small), and its only cheerleaders were the faithful parents, siblings and friends who turned out. This is a school where shirts and ties are the norm, and where homework must be completed before basketball practice begins.
Saturday night, the Griffins passed their “final” exam. Only Simkin says this fairy tale isn’t over yet.
“We plan on winning states,” he said.
UPrep starts one player over 6 feet. Two sophomores, two freshman and one eighth-grader trotted onto the court for the opening tip.
UPrep trailed 29-17 before it began chipping away at Fillmore’s lead. The Griffins took their first lead since the opening bucket when Simkin made a layup 50 seconds into the fourth quarter.
It was close the rest of the way, and Miller had reason to feel confident going into OT: His team was 3-1 in extra sessions, the lone loss a buzzer-beater against powerhouse Batavia Notre Dame.
Fillmore led early in OT, but UPrep took the lead for good on a layup from sophomore Jordan Marshall with 1:33 left. A steal and layup from freshman Qullian Leach-Alexander with 23 seconds remaining made it 73-67, and the Griffins took it from there.
Simkin was overwhelmed at being selected tournament MVP. “It’s awesome,” he said.