Bates, Lincoln Land in 1st Hoops Final

March 15, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Emoni Bates was here to help, he told his teammates before beginning his freshman year at Ypsilanti Lincoln in the fall.

That’s one very understated way to put what the nationally-renowned freshman has meant to the Railsplitters during their most successful season.

Bates, and Lincoln, played in their first MHSAA Semifinal on Friday, and the 6-foot-10 phenom showed as expected – he flashed skill and poise and brought roars with a pair of dunks, including one from a pass off the backboard.

And Lincoln continued to perform as he expected when he joined an otherwise veteran lineup, making an incredible 57 percent of its shots from the floor in a 72-56 win over Howell to earn a berth in Saturday’s Division 1 championship game.

“My teammates … when I told them I was coming (to Lincoln), I told them I was just helping them, and I told them if we just keep working hard every day we’d be here,” Bates said. “I just knew I trusted them. I trust them, and they trust me, and that’s how we got here.”

Lincoln (22-4) will play for its first championship against Detroit U-D Jesuit at 12:15 p.m. Saturday.   

Playing on the Breslin Center floor for the first time, in front of a mostly full lower bowl, has derailed many an MHSAA championship hopeful.

But there might not be a player, and team, in recent memory that has been more prepared for a trip to East Lansing than Bates and Lincoln.

Buzz around the nationally-renowned freshman started high this winter and has only continued to grow as he’s keyed the Railsplitters’ run to its first Regional title, then Semifinals and now championship game.

He had 31 points – on 55 percent shooting – and 14 rebounds against Howell, and his teammates followed suit showing no effects from the big-arena atmosphere by sinking 59 percent of their shots.

“It was just fun. We battled all game, he’s taller than me and was shooting over my head, and I couldn’t really do anything about it,” said Howell senior Josh Palo, an all-state honorable mention last season and one of those charged with defending Bates on Friday. “I was definitely looking forward to guarding him. Our game plan was making him take tough shots. He was knocking them down. We couldn’t do anything about it.”

Bates’ first basket was a 3-pointer with 3:52 left in the first quarter that made the score 10-4. The Railsplitters never led by fewer than six points the rest of the way.

Senior forward Amari Frye added 12 points while making half his shots from the floor, and senior guard Tahj Chatman made all four of his shots from the floor for 10 points to go with four assists.   

“I’ve been on varsity four years, and the added pressure, I tell him all the time to put the pressure he gets and put it on me,” Chatman said. “I feel we’re here for him. We all embrace him. There’s no jealousy or none of that. We embrace him all the way.”

Lincoln starts four seniors with Bates, and after going 10-11 in coach Jesse Davis’ first season three seasons ago posted back-to-back winning records before breaking through this winter.

“I envisioned everything that we’re doing right now,” Davis said. “We just worked toward it. Of course I need these guys learning it, (buying in) to what I’m saying and what I’m doing and what I’m teaching them. But yes, I envisioned this for the program.”

Howell (20-7) took a similar step with its program this winter, with Friday’s Semifinal the team’s first since 1927. The Highlanders first won their third straight District title and finished with their highest win total of Howell coach Nick Simon’s seven seasons leading the program.

Palo, one of four seniors in the starting lineup, had 16 points in his final high school game. Junior guard Tony Honkala had 12 points off the bench, and senior forward Jake Sargeant had 11 points and six rebounds for the Highlanders.

“Our guys believed in this for a long time,” Simon said. “It’s not just something that’s happened at the end of the year.

“I knew we could do it, and they knew we could do it all year. We went through tough battles, went against tough opponents in the playoffs, and we were used to that tough competition. We respected them, but we were not fearful at all.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ypsilanti Lincoln’s Emoni Bates throws down one of his two dunks during Friday’s Division 1 Semifinal. (Middle) Howell players work to break up a pass.

Little Provides Major Stride as 1st Woman to Officiate Boys Hoops Final since 1995

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

April 13, 2023

Delonda Little was already a trailblazer to many before this year’s MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals.

Greater DetroitBut what happened last month at Breslin Center made her even more of one on a statewide level.

A referee and assigner for 20 years in the Detroit area, Little is a female boys and girls basketball official who mentors both male and female referees – no matter the gender or level, as she officiates high school and college games.

Officials often go to Little for guidance, direction and assignments, which has made her respected for years throughout Metro Detroit in the prep basketball community. Then, her status as a trailblazer grew even more.

Little was assigned as an official for the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis, and she became the first female referee to officiate an MHSAA Boys Basketball Final since Traverse City’s Barb Beckett 1995.

“It was a very good feeling to know I was the one selected,” said Little, who officiated the Final with Matt Olson and Zach Porritt.  

In fact, while attending a Semifinal game the Friday before the Final, Little received a phone call from an area code she didn’t recognize.

She answered, and it was Beckett.

“At first I didn’t know the name,” Little said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t know you, but that’s fine.’”

Beckett then explained she was the first female referee to be assigned a Boys Basketball Final, and just wanted to offer support to Little.

At that point, Little became excited and thankful she answered the call.

“It was very nice to hear from her because she wanted to reach out and if not pass the torch, to congratulate me,” Little said.

Little, 51, said she found out she was going to be refereeing the Division 3 boys championship game just before the start of the postseason when she received an email from the MHSAA.

“I’m looking at the email and I’m like, boys?” Little said. “I was shocked.”

But she was shocked in a good way, and obviously excited for the honor.

Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.Little didn’t find out until a couple of days before the St. Francis/Beecher contest that she would be officiating that specific championship game, but the Monday of boys championship week was when she really started to receive congratulations from friends and colleagues.

That’s when an article came out in the Detroit News detailing her selection, which led to countless calls, texts and congratulatory messages on social media.

“I couldn’t even (keep up with the comments),” she said. “That’s how overwhelming the actual tags were. It came from all across the state with officials, men and women, because I do women’s college (games). Some of the college ladies were reaching out. I was getting all the hoopla before the game.”

Little said she normally doesn’t get nervous for games, but not having some nerves became a bit harder once so many people knew of her achievement.

However, she settled into a normal routine quickly once the game started.

“I wanted to get it done, get it over with and do well,” she said.

Little did do well, which is no surprise to everyone who knew her before she officiated on the boys championship stage.

It was just another feather in the cap for Little, who in 2016 became the first woman to officiate a boys Detroit Public School League championship game.

“Delonda is one of the top officials in the Detroit area, and our staff doesn’t look at Delonda as a female working a boys game – we see one of the top officials in Detroit working a basketball game,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “There are females officiating in the NBA and female officials in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The aspect that made Delonda’s selection for this MHSAA championship game nearly unique will soon be the norm at all levels of athletics.”     

Little graduated from Detroit Osborn in 1989 and starred on the basketball court at Wayne State, earning induction into WSU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.

Her day job is as an officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections, but her passion is officiating. She’s been an MHSAA-registered official for basketball for two decades and also was registered for volleyball for four years. This past fall she registered for football for the first time.

“I get something from it because it keeps me in shape, I love the people I work with and I like the kids,” Little said. “You are always teaching, and I like training the newer officials. I just enjoy it. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t refereeing.”

Going forward, Little hopes her championship game assignment will now be an inspiration for other female referees.

“There aren’t very many women who would like to work boys basketball or feel comfortable,” Little said. “If that’s something they desire, I’m hoping more women are selected to work the games if they feel comfortable.”

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTOS (Top) Delonda Little takes her position on the court during the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final on March 25 at Breslin Center. (Middle) Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.