LANSING – After a regular season defined as much by quarreling as winning, Lansing Everett High School’s 10-10 boys basketball team filed into a classroom to clear the air and reassess.
Their goals — written down months earlier on folded pieces of paper, kept in coach Desmond Ferguson’s backpack — were one loss away from becoming trash.
“These are your goals, these aren’t my goals,” Ferguson told them. “You’re telling me where you want to get to.”
They wanted badly to get back to Breslin Center, to the state finals weekend, to prove their run to the Class A semifinals a year ago wasn’t only because they had center Trevor Manuel — who had signed to play at Oregon.
“Everything was Trevor, Trevor Trevor,” Ferguson said.
“All we heard was we couldn’t do it without Trevor,” leading scorer and senior Jamyrin Jackson added.
And for three months, they heard right.
“We were pointing fingers in the regular season, pointing fingers at each other and not playing together,” senior LeAndre Wright said.
You’d never know it now. Everett is two wins from a state championship and six wins into a postseason run that continues at 2:50 p.m. Friday in the Class A state semifinals against North Farmington at Breslin.
Whatever happens, the Vikings have validated themselves — and last season. No longer can anyone say 2015 was a one-man show or the program was a one-hit wonder. In redirecting the narrative about this season, they’ve done same for last season.
“To be where we were last year, going back to Breslin, it just means everything,” Jackson said.
Everett’s story is a lesson in introspection and motivation. The Vikings took a hard, honest look at themselves. They no longer resemble the team they were most of the winter.
Hudsonville coach Eric Elliott knows this too well. His team lost to Everett, 63-54, in double overtime in the quarterfinals Tuesday night. The Vikings weren’t the same group he’d seen watching film of a couple of their regular season games.
“They just didn’t seem like they had the synergy, the chemistry. They didn’t have the focus that they have now,” Elliott said Thursday.
Everett beat Hudsonville by forcing turnovers to force overtime and then, in the second OT, forcing more to pull away.
“They just have that ability, when they need to, to crank things up and create something defensively that just puts a lot of pressure physically and mentally on their opponent,” Elliott said.
“Jackson, obviously he’s a shot maker. That was the other thing in watching games early on. He didn’t impose himself on the games — in some games at all, in other games at the very end. He’s playing incredibly well and making incredibly difficult shots. When you package that together with (junior Diego) Robinson inside being effective and Wright is a strong, powerful guard who can get to the rim, those three guys guys are a handful.”
Ferguson has always seen this potential. He thought before the season that this year’s team could be better collectively than a year ago, especially defensively, even if its ceiling wasn’t as high. That only made the regular season more miserable.
“As a coach, it was tough. I was trying different methods, because I felt we could be this good. Just for some reason we weren’t doing it,” Ferguson said.
Everett’s fourth-year coach didn’t just ask that his players look in the mirror. He did so, too.
“I had to switch my methods, be more positive,” said Ferguson, who starred at Everett in the 1990s. “I was tough on them, which I don’t regret, I should be as a coach. But these are a group of guys I had to be more positive with and change the way I approached them.
“I’m enjoying it more myself, because I’m putting more responsibility on the kids. Yeah, I’m the coach and I can motivate them and this and that, but ultimately they’re the ones who have to go out and play and defend and get buckets and win ball games.”
They’re doing so through the leadership of Wright, the aggressive offense from Jackson, the interior play of Robinson, and the defense from Nyreel Powell and Victor Edwards.
This has truly become a collective, even if Jackson and Wright are the front men.
When Jackson fouled out in the opening minute of the first overtime Tuesday, having scored 24 of the Vikings’ 51 points, Everett appeared to be toast.
“I was worried completely,” Jackson said. “My whole system shut down. I was so nervous the whole time.”
But Everett survived with ball-handling and frantic defense, eventually rattling Hudsonville into mistakes.
And in the middle of the second overtime, Edwards slapped the floor. “That’s how we know a game is over,” Jackson said. “That’s how I can tell a team is shaken.”
“We always believed in each other,” said Edwards, who was inserted into the starting lineup midseason and has changed the complexion of the Vikings defensivly. “We know we went through the ups and downs through the regular season. When the postseason came, our record was 0-0, and we knew we had to win six games to get back to the Bres, and that’s what we did.”
The question now is whether the hunger to win a state title is as strong as the drive to get back to the point where they were last season.
“I think we were happy just to be at the Breslin last year,” said Ferguson, whose team fell to Saginaw Arthur Hill in the Class A semis. “Now I think we have different goals. We have that experience, something we didn’t have, even from a coaching standpoint.
“When you talk about LeAndre Wright, Jamyrin Jackson, Diego Robinson, Nyreel Powell — four guys who got significant minutes with that team last year. They’ve been here, done that. We’re not scared of close games or not being used to it. We faced a lot of adversity. In a sense, we don’t have anything to lose. We’re coming from a 10-10 regular season. Lay it out on the floor and see what happens.”
Contact Graham Couch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Graham_Couch.