EAST LANSING – Although North Farmington was making its first trip to the final four, one of its players had been here before.
Billy Thomas scored 22 points in a 2014 semifinal when he suited up for the team the Raiders will face in today’s championship — U-D Jesuit. But Thomas left the Cubs after his sophomore year, attended Genesis Academy in Virginia for a semester, and soon came home to North Farmington, where he lives, getting immediate eligibility.
Also, Thomas’ father Ron had guardianship of UD-J’s Ike Eke and Gregory Eboigbodin when they first came to this country from Nigeria as ninth graders. But in August 2014, Oakland County Family Court Judge Linda Hallmark stripped Thomas’ father of legal guardianship, issued a restraining order against him and fined him $15,000. Eke and Eboigbodin returned to U-D Jesuit soon after.
What are Billy Thomas’ thoughts on today’s impending championship matchup? “I expected it,” he said simply.
CHAIRMEN OF THE BOARDS: One big reason — make that two big reasons — that U-D Jesuit was a notch above Macomb Dakota was the play of Eboigbodin and Eke. The Cubs had a 39-24 edge in rebounds, paced by Eboigbodin’s 18 and Eke’s 8. And with the duo’s height (6-feet-9 each), great length and leaping ability, they altered many shots throughout the game.
“Obviously their length makes a difference, but we missed shots we normally make, so I credit their defense and their length,” Macomb Dakota coach Paul Tocco said.
Dakota’s 6-8 sophomore center, Thomas Kithier, found himself in over his head trying to match up against both.
“Playing against two big guys like that, if I get past one, I know there’s going to be another one waiting there,” he said. “Plus, their whole team is defensively sound.”
A GOOD FRIDAY FOR CUBS: For the third year in a row, U-D Jesuit played in the final four, but this is the first time the Cubs have been able to advance into the championship game, perhaps because the novelty has worn off.
“Two years ago, there was some awe when we walked on to the court,” Jesuit coach Pat Donnelly said. “Last year there was more disappointment after losing that semifinal game because we felt like we weren’t in awe anymore. Coming in the third time we shouldn’t be in awe. We thought our opponents would be a little in awe of the environment and we could play to that a little bit.”
Tocco felt otherwise.
“We treated it like a business-type trip; we weren’t just happy to be here,” he said. “We just got outplayed tonight and those things happen. I’m very proud of their efforts and how they treated this weekend. They’re great kids and they deserve this type of spotlight.”
LATIN LESSON: The jerseys of both U-D Jesuit and Class C semifinalist Detroit Loyola were adorned with a cross and “AMDG” on the back below the neckline. Those letters stand for “ad majorem Dei gloriam,” translated to “For the greater Glory of God.”
That’s the motto of the Jesuits, an order of the Catholic Church, founded by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th Century. Loyola’s uniforms, by the way, also sported a Detroit’s “Old English D” and the Bulldog logo — but nary a mention of the school name.
GLASS SLIPPERS: Lansing Everett has flown under the radar lately but reached the Class A semifinals the past two seasons. And that wasn’t a surprise to Desmond Ferguson, who noticed talent early in his two senior captains, LeAndre Wright and Jamyrin Jackson.
“Everett basketball was 10-72 in the previous four years before I got the job,” Ferguson said. “When I became head coach these guys were freshmen, and I knew ahead of time that they would be good when they became seniors. To get to the Breslin two years in a row, that don’t happen often, but these guys definitely left their mark on the program.”