Macomb Dakota was the best boys basketball team in Macomb County last season.
This year, well, the Cougars are better.
This season they would like to be the best team in the state, and that would mean winning the Class A state championship.
Although no Macomb County school has ever won a Class A boys basketball title, that doesn’t mean it is impossible. Dakota (15-0, No. 2) could make it happen this March, a season after junior point guard Jermaine Jackson Jr. transferred to Dakota and teamed with Chris Marshall to form Macomb County’s best backcourt.
This season Jackson is averaging 21 points, 6.5 assists, five rebounds and three steals.
“He’s not only scoring, he’s getting people involved,” Dakota coach Paul Tocco said. “He doesn’t turn the ball over. The chemistry with the guys he’s playing with now is better than last year. He’s made everybody a better player and overall he’s become a better player because of it, too.”
Marshall, who became a starter during his freshman season three years ago, and Jackson are able to play off one another.
“Chris has really matured into a great combination with Jermaine,” Tocco said. “He’s not only learned a lot from Jermaine, but his game has really improved since Jermaine’s been around. They’re both as fast as can be and when they play together and share the ball, we’re tough to handle.”
Then there’s 6-foot-8 sophomore Thomas Kithier, whose development from his freshman year has been amazing. He is averaging 12 points, 10 rebounds and a surprising six assists.
“Last year he was a 6-71/2 freshman that just really guarded the rim for us and played great defense and rebounded,” said Tocco. “He’s had post moves, now he’s really learned how to play off the dribble. He shares the ball so much.”
The reason Dakota can be considered a legitimate state championship contender is that Tocco has expanded the Cougars’ horizons beyond the Macomb Area Conference.
Dakota opened with West Bloomfield and then played Clarkston, the team which beat the Cougars in last season’s regional final.
“We’re going up and playing some Lansing teams and Saginaw teams and we’ve scrimmaged the Detroit schools,” Tocco said. “Just having that level of competition to see where we’re at every couple weeks and in the summertime the whole time, I think has definitely put us at another level as far as the way we compete.”
To that end, twice this season Dakota has played back-to-back nights. The first came with a Saturday game against Lansing Everett in Grand Rapids and the second time was a game against Saginaw Arthur Hill at Northwood University.
“I wanted them to get used to playing two tough teams in a row, which you never know could happen down the road here,” Tocco said. “We chartered a bus and headed up to play at Northwood University, got to play on a college campus. To me that’s just a great experience for kids. Some of these kids will never be able to play college basketball, but obviously some will.”
And all of them just might play back-to-back games in the Breslin Center in March.
■THE PAIN OF VICTORY: Playing Clarkston can be a painful experience, but North Farmington coach Todd Negoshian took it to a new level Friday when he entered the hospital at 11 a.m., eight hours before the game.
The problem was kidney stones, which did not require surgery before he left the hospital at 5 p.m. to coach against Clarkston, a team the Raiders hadn’t beaten since 2011.
“It was awful,” said Negoshian, who sat next to JV coach Pete Mantyla. “One time Pete looked at me and said: ‘Todd, at the timeout you’ve got to get up off the bench so the players can sit down.’ I looked at him and said: ‘They can sit around me. I found a comfortable way to sit right now, I ain’t moving.’ ”
North appeared headed for another loss when it trailed by eight points in the third quarter, but Josh Hogans hit consecutive three-point shots to get the Raiders going in a 58-53 victory.
“It’s a good win for our program, and more importantly our seniors that have been so close so many times over the years,” Negoshian said. “It’s just how well you have to play to beat them. They’re so good and they feed off your mistakes so well, to see us really limit our mistakes and get out of there with the win, I was as happy as I could be for the kids.”
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1
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