After capturing three consecutive Catholic League titles and winning regionals for the first time in school history while advancing to the Class A semifinals the past two seasons, the goal for U-D Jesuit’s basketball team is simple: State championship or bust.
“Yeah, little bit; that’s our goal — one of our goals,” coach Pat Donnelly said. “We certainly have a goal to win the Catholic League again, and we certainly want to win district, win regional, want to get back to Breslin, and this time we want to win a state championship.”
Donnelly isn’t shying away from lofty expectations that include the overall No. 1 ranking in the state. The Cubs (8-0), who will play the remainder of their home games at Detroit Mercy’s Calihan Hall, should be thinking big — they are flat-out loaded.
“We think we have the pieces,” he said. “If we have the right mentality and focus, I definitely think it’s a possibility.”
Barring unforeseen circumstances, it is almost a certainty, given a roster that begins with point guard Cassius Winston, the state’s No. 1 player who has signed with Michigan State.
Add 6-foot-9 juniors Ike Eke and Greg Eboigbodin, and opposing teams are afraid to drive the lane and wonder how they will manage a rebound against the Cubs.
“Greg has been playing phenomenally well,” Donnelly said. “He’s been averaging a double-double for us and his improvement has been unbelievable. When you’ve got guys protecting the rim, you can be a little more aggressive on the perimeter and knowing that if you’re attacking the basket, you’ve got a lot to contend with on the way to the rim.”
The Cubs received a boost when Elijah Collins scored 16 points against Romulus on Tuesday, and now there is solid depth on the bench in the form of 6-5 sophomore Kamani Johnson, freshman point guard Julian Dozier and 6-8 freshman Jalen Thomas.
“Jalen had a great game down at St. John’s in Toledo and played very well rebounding and blocking shots against Romulus,” Donnelly said. “He isn’t doing a great deal of scoring right now, but he does a lot of different things for us.”
When you add starter Matt Schearer as the team’s glue guy, you have to look long and hard to find a weak spot on this team.
“I’m happy we’re 8-0, but we always have room for improvement,” Donnelly said. “We’re always looking to execute better. We’re always looking to give more consistent effort. As a coach you’re striving for perfection every day. We’re not a perfect team.”
Maybe not, but the Cubs are close.
■Heritage hustle: Vonnie DeLong never has considered herself a defensive genius, but her Saginaw Heritage girls basketball team is proving otherwise.
Through eight games, no team has scored more than 29 points against the unbeaten Hawks, and the only team that managed 29 was defending Class B state champ Birmingham Detroit Country Day.
Last week, the Hawks held Mt. Pleasant to 10 points and Flint Northwestern to 12. That’s 22 points in 64 minutes against Heritage’s zone.
“I was a straight man-to-man coach,” DeLong said. “I never played a minute of zone at Arthur Hill in 12 or 13 years.”
That changed when DeLong was the women’s coach at Saginaw Valley State, and when she decided to return to coaching, her zone came with her.
“I thought with the kids we’ve got, and now we’re big,” she said. “And with the offenses that everybody’s running now — the dribble-drive stuff, four-out, one-in, we can’t really match up very well if I want to put my bigs on the floor.”
And she does want her bigs on the floor. In 6-4 senior Jenna Falkenberg, 6-2 junior Courtney McInerney, 6-1 freshman Shine Strickland and 6-0 sophomore Jaela Richardson (daughter of former MSU and NBA standout Jason Richardson), DeLong has a front line that can take the Hawks back to the Class A semifinals — at least.
“In this 2-3 (zone), my wings are big kids with a lot of length and wingspan, and they can move and we can cover a little bit of ground,” she said. “I think people look at it like: ‘It’s a zone, how hard can it be?’ But most kids just don’t see zones a lot so they really don’t know what’s coming at them.”
Also coming at them is a fine trio of young guards: freshmen Moira Joiner and Mallory McCartney and sophomore Jessi Bicknell, who are playing like season veterans.
Some thought Heritage would disappear after advancing to last year’s semifinals, but the Hawks appear to be on their way back to the Breslin.
“I think people are surprised, because losing our guards, everybody figured we’d take a step back,” DeLong said. “But they didn’t know we had guards coming.”
And then there’s that pesky zone defense.
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.
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