Cass Tech Continuing Rise to Hoops Elite

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

January 4, 2018

DETROIT – When you think of Detroit Cass Tech, one would probably think of its football program.

Why not? The program coach Thomas Wilcher has built there has been arguably the best in the state the past dozen years.

That fact doesn’t bother Steve Hall, the head coach of the Technicians’ boys basketball team. On the contrary, Hall, a 1988 Cass Tech graduate and co-athletic director (along with Wilcher), takes pride in it.

It also serves as motivation.

Hall is in his third season at Cass Tech, and when the next rankings are released his Technicians will be ranked No. 1 in Class A by at least one news service, State Champs Network, and likely others.

Cass Tech is 7-0 overall and 2-0 in the Detroit Public School League. The Technicians are currently on winter break and scheduled to play next against Detroit Henry Ford on Jan. 12.

That a PSL team is ranked No. 1 is common. Teams like Detroit Cooley, Detroit Pershing, Detroit Renaissance, Detroit Southwestern and, most recently, Detroit Western, all have been ranked No. 1 over the past many years.

But for Cass Tech, it is unusual. In fact, it is believed that a top ranking for a Cass Tech boys basketball team would be the program’s first.

Hall is careful not to boast or gloat. After all, it’s early in the season and nobody awards MHSAA championship trophies in January.

“It’s hard to feel great about being No. 1,” Hall said. “The last thing you want to do is exhale.”

The program has achieved success in the past but, truthfully, it’s been awhile. Before Hall took over, Cass Tech most recently had won two PSL titles under coach Robert Shannon, the last coming in 1998. During the late 1980s, when Hall was one of the state’s top players, Cass Tech reached the 1988 Class A Quarterfinals before losing to the eventual champion, Cooley. Cass Tech had defeated Cooley that season in the PSL quarterfinals. The 1993 team that won the PSL title made it all the way to a Class A Semifinals.

During the 1950s Cass Tech was a powerhouse in the city winning three PSL titles over the decade. As one might surmise, Cass Tech has never won a state title. And just once has it reached an MHSAA Final, as the Technicians lost to Birmingham Brother Rice, 60-56 in overtime, in the 1974 Class A championship game.

Since 1998, Cass Tech had reached a PSL final just once (2013). That is, before Hall came aboard.

Last season Cass Tech defeated Detroit Martin Luther King, 59-47, to capture the school’s eighth PSL title. The Technicians won a District title for the first time since 2014 and finished 20-5, a vast improvement from the 11-10 record they posted in Hall’s first season.

As good as last season was for the program, it was just one step forward. Hall has set loftier goals.

His three-year plan included becoming regarded at the state level and nationally. That plan is on schedule.

“There were some dynamics that first year,” Hall said. “I was hired late and I didn’t have the kids during the summer. We beat (Detroit) Western, Benton Harbor and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s that season. It’s a tough league. The stable programs had upperclassmen leading them. It was a year of growth. I wouldn’t have the same appreciation (for the success) if we had won that first year. ”

Though Hall is in just his third season at Cass Tech, he’s built a strong resume as a coach, within the PSL and at the collegiate level. High school basketball fans will remember the great Detroit Rogers teams in the early 2000s that won three consecutive Class D titles (2003-05) with Hall as head coach. When that school closed in 2005, Hall went to Detroit Northwestern and guided the Colts to the PSL title in 2008, Northwestern’s first league championship in 30 years. That season Northwestern reached a Class A Regional Final before losing to Pershing.

Hall then left Michigan and became an assistant coach at Duquesne University in Pennsylvania. He stayed there four seasons before he was hired by Youngstown State in Ohio as an assistant. Hall remained there for four seasons before returning to Detroit.

This team has talent, but is void of any one superstar. None of the four seniors are Division I recruits. Hall returned six players who started at least one game last season and the top senior is Randy Gilbert, a 6-foot-6 forward who signed with Ferris State.    

There are Division I recruits coming up, however, including 6-3 sophomore Tyson Acuff and 6-5 juniors Kalil Whitehead and Tyland Tate.

Gilbert, who alternates between forward and center, is in his fourth season as a starter. He may not have made the varsity so early or with such an immediate impact playing at one of the city’s established basketball powers.

“Even going into my sophomore year people started to say things like I should transfer somewhere else,” Gilbert said. “I didn’t think about that at all. I thought we had potential.

“Coach Hall has been great to us players. He’s opened up a lot of doors. He takes us to a lot of team camps during the summer to different level of schools like Division I, Division II and NAIA so everybody gets a shot and to see where they can play (in college).

“I don’t look at Cass Tech being a football school now. We changed that.”

In the long run, that’s been one of Hall’s goals. Hall is a basketball coach, but he’s also a fan of all sports, in particular those at Cass Tech. He wants to see all of the athletic programs enjoy success, not just his team.

“When you’re a coach, it’s a way of life,” Hall said. “When I went to Cass our girls (basketball team) won the Class A title. I’ve been to Ford Field to watch the football team. I’ve been to their practices. I grew up around the school. My father (Ferd Hall) was an assistant principal here when I was growing up in the mid-70s. Cass Tech has always meant so much to me.”

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) The Cass Tech boys basketball team including head coach Steve Hall (far right) stands together at a game this season. (Middle) Randy Gilbert prepares to throw down a dunk. (Photos courtesy of the Cass Tech boys basketball program.

Ferndale Caps Winter Season with 1st Boys Hoops Title Since 1966

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

March 25, 2023

EAST LANSING – One team was going to end a long championship drought in Saturday’s boys basketball Division 2 Final.

Ferndale’s was especially lengthy, and spanned more than five decades.

And now it is no longer.

The Eagles won their first Finals championship in 57 years with a 44-38 victory over Grand Rapids South Christian at Breslin Center.

Ferndale had last won a state title in 1966.

“The drought is over,” Eagles coach Juan Rickman said. “That’s big time, and the biggest part about making it down here was seeing how charged up the community was and the school was so charged up. It’s the greatest feeling to see how vested our community was in our success.”

Christopher Williams (13) tries to power past South Christian’s Sam Weiss (23) to the rim.Ferndale senior Christopher Williams led the way with 16 points and four rebounds.

“It feels great,” Williams said. “Especially since the past four years we’ve been to the same place and lost twice in a row to the same team, and now it feels like weight is lifted off my shoulders.

“We started off the season 1-5, and going till now we knew if we stayed together through adversity then we could do it. And it made it more impactful that it was our coach’s first state title, and that’s what we wanted to do.”

Added senior point guard Cameron Reed, who had a game-high seven assists: “It’s incredibly special. I wasn't born back then, my teammates weren’t born and my coaches weren’t born. It definitely rejuvenated the whole city and community.”

Ferndale led 8-4 at the end of the first quarter, and both teams shot poorly in the first half. The Eagles connected on a paltry 24 percent from the field, and South Christian on 35 percent of its attempts. Nate Brinks drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Sailors a 16-14 halftime lead. 

Junior guard Jake Vermaas opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer to make it 19-14, but Ferndale made a charge.

The Eagles sliced the deficit to one (25-24) on a 3-pointer by Trenton Ruth, and Cameron Reed tied it at 28-28 with an acrobatic layup.

“Our team was mentally strong, and I’m so proud of them for their accomplishment,” Rickman said. “Just so committed to the process and just being resilient.”

Cameron Reed (0) leads a break for the Eagles.An 8-2 spurt by Ferndale over the first three minutes of the fourth quarter made it 36-30.

“That was extremely important, and we always want to win the first four minutes,” Rickman said. “And we tried to open up the fourth quarter with what we call a kill; we want to get five straight stops and score on two or three of those possessions so we can build a lead. We did that fairly well against a good team.”

South Christian was attempting to win football and basketball Finals championships during the same school year, and was looking for its first basketball title since 2005.

“It was a really hard-fought game and I thought we played at our speed, but it got away from us a little bit,” first-year Sailors coach Taylor Johnson said.

“But it doesn’t take away from what we accomplished this year. We’ve been through it all, including three season-ending injuries, and to still make it to the state finals is an incredible feat.”

Senior Jacob DeHaan and Vermaas led the Sailors with 14 points apiece, while senior Sam Medendorp added seven points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Ferndale raises the Division 2 championship trophy Saturday night at Breslin Center. (Middle) Christopher Williams (13) tries to power past South Christian’s Sam Weiss (23) to the rim. (Below) Cameron Reed (0) leads a break for the Eagles.