Performance: Benton Harbor's Carlos Johnson

March 28, 2018

Carlos Johnson
Benton Harbor sophomore – Basketball

Johnson, a 6-foot-6 wing and power forward, finished an all-state season with what he called the biggest shot of his life, drilling the game winner as Benton Harbor claimed its first MHSAA boys basketball championship since 1965 with a 65-64 overtime victory over Grand Rapids Catholic Central in Saturday’s Class B Final. His 3-pointer with 10 seconds to play gave him 24 points total in earning the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

Johnson showed a statewide audience why he’s considered arguably the top sophomore in Michigan, making 10 of 20 shots in the championship game, including three 30-pointers, and grabbing 11 rebounds. He had nine points, nine rebounds and six blocked shots in Friday’s 60-49 Semifinal win over River Rouge, and finished this season averaging 17.9 points, 12.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 3.2 blocks per game. Johnson also started as a freshman, averaging just over 14 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks per game in also leading the Tigers to the 2017 Class B Semifinals, where they lost to eventual champion New Haven.

Benton Harbor has one of the richest basketball traditions in the state – this championship was its fourth, coming in its 11th appearance in a title game. The Tigers finished 27-1 overall and are a combined 49-5 over Johnson’s first two seasons. The expectations surely will grow over his next two – he’ll eventually choose from a number of opportunities to play college basketball at the Division I level and also is a tremendous student, posting a 4.0 grade-point average last semester and carrying a 3.8 currently this spring.

Coach Corey Sterling said: “Carlos worked on his game. As a freshman at the Breslin last year, a 14-year-old, skinny kid, to now – he dedicated his offseason to work. He’s jumping better, he’s shooting well, he’s dribbling better, he’s getting tons of Division I offers and interest. He’s playing with a great AAU team. Carlos will be a pro. He’s our star. He’s our Division I player. And he’ll be better next year too. After this, we’re going to give it a week, and he’ll be right back in the gym.”

Performance Point: “Since (Friday) night I’ve been thinking about it,” Johnson said Saturday evening. “I came into the hotel room, took a shower and went to sleep. I woke up this morning around 7 o’clock. I was talking to one of my teammates, just talking about it all morning. It was a dream come true. It got my heart beating all day. Oh my gosh, we won. It just came true. … To bring one back to Benton Harbor, it’s been like 50-some years. When I was in sixth grade, all the way through eighth grade and as a freshman … we’ve had this goal since fourth grade. It’s a dream come true. It’s reality.”

If this was a year ago: “I probably wouldn’t have made (the winning shot). I worked on my jumpshot this summer. My IQ and my dribble moves (have improved), and more of my footwork came through in this game. Two years to go, (I’ll) just keep working hard and get college material and try to bring another one back.”

Win for all: “As we all know, Benton Harbor’s been going through deep depression-like, so for us to bring one back, it just brings light and enjoyment all the way back to the house.”

Ready for more: “Next year I’ll have to take a guard role. We have a lot of bigs coming in, but I’m going to get comfortable with that. I think I’m going to play a big role (in leading) the next season that’s coming up. The challenge is getting everybody on one page and everybody to work hard and stay focused the whole time.”

Everybody’s watching: “I’ve been handling it since last year. It’s been a lot of pressure. A lot of people are reaching out to me. But I’ve got good coaches and good family member and friends, and they just help me to stay calm.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Previous 2017-18 honorees:
March 22: Shine Strickland-Gills, Saginaw Heritage basketball - Read
March 15: Skyler Cook-Weeks, Holland Christian swimming - Read
March 8: Dakota Greer, Howard City Tri-County wrestling - Read
March 1: Camree' Clegg, Wayne Memorial basketball - Read
February 23: Aliah Robertson, Sault Ste. Marie swimming - Read
February 16: Austin O'Hearon, Eaton Rapids wrestling - Read
February 9: Sophia Wiard, Muskegon Oakridge basketball - Read
February 2: Brenden Tulpa, Hartland hockey - Read
January 25: Brandon Whitman, Dundee wrestling - Read
January 18: Derek Maas, Holland West Ottawa swimming - Read
January 11: Lexi Niepoth, Bellaire basketball - Read
November 30: La'Darius Jefferson, Muskegon football - Read
November 23: Ashley Turak, Farmington Hills Harrison swimming - Read
November 16: Bryce Veasley, West Bloomfield football - Read 
November 9: Jose Penaloza, Holland soccer - Read
November 2: Karenna Duffey, Macomb L'Anse Creuse North cross country - Read
October 26: Anika Dy, Traverse City Central golf - Read
October 19: Andrew Zhang, Bloomfield Hills tennis - Read
October 12: Nolan Fugate, Grand Rapids Catholic Central football - Read
October 5: Marissa Ackerman, Munising tennis - Read
September 28: Minh Le, Portage Central soccer - Read
September 21: Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic cross country - Read
September 14: Maddy Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Benton Harbor's Carlos Johnson launches the game-winning 3-pointer during overtime of Saturday's Class B Final. (Middle) Johnson (11) gets a hand up as a River Rouge player drives to the basket during Friday's Semifinal.

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.