Future Set, Livers Aims for 'Giant' Finish

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

November 15, 2016

KALAMAZOO — Letters, text messages and phone calls every single day.

That might sound like a typical teenager, but Isaiah Livers was overwhelmed by all of the above during his junior year at Kalamazoo Central High School.

After committing to University of Michigan on Aug. 7, Livers has already noticed that this basketball preseason is much less stressful.

“Last year, I’d get out of practice and there would be like 10 messages (from coaches), at least, a day,” the 6-foot-8, 225-pound power forward said. “Then there’d be a phone call or two.

“Then I’d have to answer their messages, I’d have to call them back one by one. You have to find the time, manage your time, know when to call them back, not to be disrespectful.”

Livers received scholarship offers from more than 25 colleges, but was contacted by a ton more.

“If you don’t like the school, let them know you’re not interested,” he said of whittling down the list. “Sorry, but thanks for recruiting me.”

He’s not the only one whose cell phone was blowing up.

His father, Morris Livers, also was inundated with calls, especially after his son started playing in the Elite Youth Basketball League last May.

“That’s when it got crazy,” his dad said. “After that, my phone died all the time because it rang all the time. Colleges calling, leaving voice mails, dropping offers.”

Once Isaiah committed to Michigan, “I was so happy when it came to that,” his dad said. “I was in my (Gordon Water Systems) work truck and I was like, ‘I’m about tired of all these coaches calling my phone.’”

Navigating the process

Livers honed his court skills at a young age.

His dad, who played basketball at South Haven High School, was working out with his older son, Brandon, when 7-year-old Isaiah started soaking up the instruction.

But it wasn’t until Livers was a freshman that basketball became serious business.

“That’s when the height came,” Morris Livers said. “To me, that’s the X factor. In ninth grade he grew at least six inches, it seemed, overnight. He was at least 6-4, 6-6.”

Central Arkansas was the first college to contact the Livers — when Isaiah was a freshman.

“I remember because it’s the school Scottie Pippen went to,” said Morris Livers, a diehard Chicago Bulls fan.

Most college coaches contacted K-Central coach Ramsey Nichols, Livers’ father or AAU coach Damon Allison before contacting the then-junior.

“They’d tell me, ‘This school is looking at you; they think you’re a great player,’” Livers said. 

Having been through the college recruiting process himself when he played basketball at Benton Harbor High School, Nichols tries to help his players navigate it.

“I know it can be a hassle for them,” said Nichols, who also played at University of Detroit. “So I try to reassure them that it’s just a process, not to get too caught up in it; to make sure you keep things in perspective and to focus on what we need to do.

“It’s a relief to a certain extent when you sign early. You don’t have to worry about where you’re going. You can truly concentrate on winning a state championship with your team or whatever the goals you’ve set for yourself.”

Nichols said the college coaches already knew what Livers brought to the game but they were interested in more than just the athletics side.

“The first thing a lot ask is what kind of a kid he is,” Nichols said. “They ask about his character first. Of course, they are also going to ask how he is academically.

“They see that he can play basketball very well. But those are more important questions, how is he off the court and in the classroom.”

After committing, “It was probably the biggest relief,” Livers said. “I went out to eat and got congratulated. It felt really good.”

Not everyone was that happy about it.

“The (other players) got on me because they said ‘Dang, you committed. That means there’s no more schools flying in here to watch,’” he said, laughing.

“Last year, we had an open gym. (A college coach) walked in and one of my friends said, ‘I like that college; let me work hard.’”

Tasks at hand

Livers, who has played varsity all four years, averaged 14 points, 10 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game last season as Kalamazoo Central finished 18-4 and won the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East title.

“This year he’ll be a captain, being one of the elder statesmen now instead of being one of the younger guys,” Nichols said. “I think he’s stepping into that role now pretty well. 

“He’s more vocal now. A lot of the things we go through, he runs it, like some of the drills. He’ll lead guys through, pull the young guys through.”

Senior teammate Jeremiah Vincent said Livers helps his teammates shine as well.

“He can score, rebound, pass,” said Vincent, who hopes to play Division III college ball at Hope or Kalamazoo College. “He’s facilitates the ball real well.

“Once he gets going, he opens up for everybody else so it’s really nice to have him on the team. He’s definitely a really good team player.”

Last season, the Maroon Giants made it to the MHSAA Regional Semifinals before losing to Lansing Everett.

This season, “Everyone’s gonna have to dig deep,” Livers said. “We started off great last year. We were feeling like, ‘We’ve got this.’ I think what we did is we went to our mind and said we’ve got this game already.

“I know that’s what happened. I could see it in the faces when we went to the locker room. This year, we’re not taking anyone for granted. We’re gonna play to the best of our abilities.”

It’s impossible to not dream about the future. Nichols, who coached Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler at Benton Harbor, said Livers has NBA potential.

“It’s obvious he has the ability to play on the next biggest stage by signing to play at the University of Michigan,” he said. “He has worked hard here and improved every year.

“If he continues to put in the hours to develop and hone his skills at the college level, I feel he may get an opportunity to play at the highest level.

“I don't know if he realizes how good he can be. I believe his best years as a basketball player are ahead of him. More importantly, Isaiah is a character guy who is a great teammate and committed to winning. He has done things the right way, so good things are going to follow him.”

And first up is the potential for an excellent high school senior season. This winter before each tipoff, Livers said he will be able to concentrate more on the game that night.

“Last year, pregame you ask yourself, ‘Why are these schools recruiting me; what are they looking for?’” he said.

“But when it comes game time, I think about playing my game. Biggest thing for me is winning. I don’t like losing.”

Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Kalamazoo Central's Isaiah Livers dunks against Portage Central. (Middle) Livers follows through on a jumpshot. (Below) Clockwise, from top left: Isaiah Livers, Morris Livers, Jeremiah Vincent, Ramsey Nichols. (Action photos by Herbert Todd; head shots by Pam Shebest.) 

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

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

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.