This is Josh McFolley’s first year at Detroit Western, so it seemed likely the senior transfer from Mt. Clemens would not understand the significance of playing for the Public School League championship tonight at 7 in Calihan Hall.
Or not …
“It means a lot to me,” McFolley said, “to continue on in the tradition of my family — the Neelys and the Gees, because my granddaddy was a PSL champion — Sammy Gee.”
The late, great Sammy Gee?
People who have been around PSL basketball for a few decades will recall Gee as one of the league’s all-time greats, not to mention a hall of fame fastpitch softball player.
Gee led Miller High to the first of four consecutive PSL championships in 1947 for legendary coach Will Robinson, who later became the first African American to become a Division I head coach.
As for the Neely part of McFolley’s family tree, that would be Wayne State assistant coach Lorenzo Neely, who helped Northern win the 1986 PSL crown.
For months, people have wondered how McFolley and 6-foot-8 Gerald Blackshear, who have both signed with Detroit Mercy, wound up playing for Derrick McDowell at Western.
“We decided to come to Western because we heard about Coach McDowell, that he was a great coach,” McFolley said. “I heard it from dozens of people, but mainly from my cousin (Neely). And we heard it was a great school, also. They had 19 kids go to Michigan on academic scholarships.”
McFolley, 6-feet, is a lightning-quick point guard who is a dangerous perimeter shooter; Blackshear is a dominating post player. They have helped transform Western into the No. 1 team in the state.
There was the potential for disaster when the pair became eligible a few weeks ago, because the Cowboys were 12-0 without them and then they took two spots in the starting lineup.
“It wasn’t hard fitting in, we decided we were going to be ourselves and we’d fit in,” McFolley said. “They welcomed us in like we were always one of them.”
A year ago, McFolley and Blackshear were prominent members of No. 1 Mt. Clemens that was beaten in the quarterfinals by Detroit Consortium and Josh Jackson, despite a brilliant 26-point effort by McFolley.
Then Mt. Clemens coach Jermaine Jackson was fired, and the underclassmen scattered.
One of the biggest aspects of Western that impressed McFolley was the number of graduates attending U-M.
“There’s a lady at our school named Miss (Brenda) Henry,” he said. “She helps a lot of kids get in big schools on academics with financial aid.”
Thanks to basketball, McFolley, who has a 3.3 grade-point average, won’t need financial aid to pay for college.
Later in our conversation, McFolley mentioned another one of his cousins is Eastern Michigan assistant coach Benny White, who played at Northern and coached King to the 1999 PSL title.
It turns out that McFolley has the best bloodlines this side of Secretariat.
So he does understand what it will mean to Western if it can win its first PSL title since 1922.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “I understand tradition.”
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.