EAST LANSING — New Haven is seeking its first boys basketball state title and Benton Harbor hasn’t won one since 1965, but for those two schools, it isn’t about the past as much as it is the present and the future.
That’s because New Haven has Michigan’s top-ranked sophomore, 6-foot-6 forward Romeo Weems, while Benton Harbor is led by the state’s best freshman, 6-6 center Carlos Johnson.
Weems’ team had the upper hand in tonight’s Class B semifinal, 78-49, boosted by 22 first-half points by Eric Williams. Weems had 14 points, 13 rebounds and five assists as New Haven (26-1) led from start to finish.
The 15-year-old Weems, who received a scholarship offer from Michigan State last month, was happy enthralled to play on the Breslin Center court.
“When we came out I just looked up and I smiled, because there were a lot of people,” he said. “But the first thing I said to myself was stay calm and play your game, don’t force anything, get your guys involved so that’s what I went out there and did. I just felt I had to do something because I’m that player. I forced some things, but I calmed down in the second half and I felt like I performed better.”
With Williams — committed to Davis and Elkins College (W.Va.) — setting the pace, the Rockets jumped out to a 43-19 lead and didn’t need a lot from Weems, who averaged 18.1 points and 12.6 rebounds this season. But after halftime, he had a dunk and made 3 of 4 free throws before going to the bench early, when the contest was well in hand.
In addition to the Spartans, Weems also has offers from Ohio State, Oakland, Detroit Mercy and Creighton. But before he gets to college, he wouldn’t be surprised if he squared off against Johnson a few more times.
“(Johnson) was kind of stagnant and not always into it. If he gets more aggressive and plays and performs like I know he can, they are going to be a good team,” Weems said of Benton Harbor.
Johnson, who averages 14 points and 14 rebounds per game, had nine points, 10 rebounds and three blocks. Elijah Baxter led the Tigers (22-4) with 14.
“We’re a running team, but when we was running the ball they were already up there, so we couldn’t get the rhythm going. It was just hard, really,” Johnson said. “And their offense, we didn’t think they were going to shoot that many threes (8-for-17) from out there. We thought they were just a driving team, but they just adjusted to our defense.”
Despite the outcome, Johnson, 15, said playing a game on MSU’s campus as a freshman was “a great experience.”
Johnson’s coach, Corey Sterling, compared his young center to Dennis Rodman, especially when rebounding.
“But once you’re going against guys doing the same thing, it’s kind of difficult,” Sterling said. “Now you need more of Carlos, you have to have to have two or three Carloses. We were outrebounded tonight for the first time, and we were surprised they shot that well from the three-point line. Once you get down to New Haven, then you’re in comeback mode the whole time.”