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 [email protected] 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.

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.