'Rock-Solid' Huron Earns Championship Chance

By Jason Schmitt
Special for MHSAA.com

April 8, 2021

EAST LANSING — Ann Arbor Huron head coach Waleed Samaha knew he was going to have his hands full Thursday with Warren De La Salle Collegiate in a Division 1 Semifinal matchup at the Breslin Center.

De La Salle head coach Gjon Djokaj knew Samaha’s team almost as well as the River Rats coach himself.

“Gjon is a hell of a coach,” Samaha said. “He’s really like family with our guys. He coaches some of them in the offseason, in AAU.”

That’s true. Djokaj coaches Huron seniors Devin Womack and Julian Lewis and he often coaches against seniors Kingsley Perkins and Tyson Edmondson on the circuit. 

“I’m very familiar with this team,” Djokaj said. “They’re actually like family to me. I knew these guys inside and out.”

Despite knowing all of the questions before the test, Djokaj’s Pilots had troubles containing the River Rats, inside and out, as Huron played stellar defense in a 55-39 victory over De La Salle.

Edmondson scored 18 points, hitting four 3-pointers, and Kingsley dominated down low, scoring 13 points while pulling down eight rebounds.

“It’s pretty difficult,” said Edmondson, talking about how tough it is to cover the River Rats’ inside-outside game. “We have threats outside and inside. We’ve played together so much that we know where we’re going to be and what we’re going to do. We’re like a well-oiled machine.”

The two teams battled back and forth for much of the first half, with Huron leading 19-15 at the break. The River Rats extended their lead to six points after three quarters, and then used a 9-3 run to open the fourth quarter — all but putting an end to the game. Perkins had a pair of putbacks during the run, which was capped off by a 24-foot 3-pointer by Edmondson, making it a 42-30 ball game.

2021 D1 Boys Basketball Semifinal - Ann Arbor Huron

“I had the confidence from my team and when I was open, I was hitting my shots,” Edmondson said. “I take those (long) shots in practice and I tell ya, practice makes perfect. It really does convert to the game.”

De La Salle senior guard Linden Holder led all scorers with 19 points. His drive to the basket and long 3-pointer gave his team an early 9-4 lead. But it was short-lived. Huron used a 9-0 run at the end of the first and beginning of the second quarter to move ahead 13-9. The River Rats would not relinquish that lead.

“They are a physical presence at every spot,” Djokaj said of the River Rats. “They’re obviously no stranger to the weight room. They’re tough and physical and this was the type of game where (the officials) didn’t make a lot of calls and let us play both ways. Typically we like that style, but today it didn’t work out well for us.”

De La Salle entered the game averaging nearly 61 points per contest. Huron, known for its defense, was allowing just 36 per game. The River Rats dictated the tempo that has worked for them all season long. 

“We knew if we could stay patient and run the play, run the clock, we might get that open layup or that open 3,” Samaha said. “We had our key guys making key plays in key moments. They played hard, and tonight we made a few more shots and hung on defensively 

“I’m really proud of our guys. We’ve been preparing really hard for this moment. The kids really stepped up to the opportunity that they had.”

Senior Brandon Rawls had 10 points and six rebounds for Huron (20-0), which will advance to Saturday’s Division 1 championship game. 

Sophomore Nino Smith had 10 points and sophomore Michael Sulaka added six for De La Salle (14-4), which will lose just three players to graduation. 

“Ann Arbor Huron, in my opinion, is the best team in the state,” Djokaj said. “They’re just so versatile and dynamic in a lot of ways, positionally, so sound at point guard, shooting guard, small forward, power forward, center. They bring physicality, they bring togetherness and toughness. They’re a great example of what a rock-solid team looks like.”

Click for full box score

PHOTOS: (Top) Ann Arbor Huron's Devin Womack (3) defends against De La Salle's Nino Smith during Thursday's Semifinal at Breslin Center. (Middle) Huron's Brandon Rawls gets up a shot in the paint. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Ferndale Stays Course, Finds Way to Season's Final Day After 57-Year Wait

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

March 24, 2023

EAST LANSING – The third time was the charm for the Ferndale boys basketball team.

After back-to-back losses in Division 2 Semifinals, the Eagles got over the hump with a 65-60 win over Saginaw on Friday at Breslin Center.

Ferndale used a late 10-0 run to reach the Finals for the first time in 57 years. The top-ranked Eagles will have the opportunity to play for a long-awaited title Saturday against the winner of South Christian and Romulus Summit Academy.

Ferndale last won a boys basketball championship in 1966. 

Trojans coach Juan Rickman said there was a different mindset this year compared to the prior two that ended in setbacks against Grand Rapids Catholic Central. 

“This year they were way more locked in,” he said. “When we got here the first time during COVID, we were playing GRCC right around the corner from their school (at Van Andel Arena) and last year was our first year at the Breslin.

The Eagles’ Christopher Williams dunks during his team’s Semifinal win.

“I  thought we had a lot of emotion last year and we weren't at our best, but this year they knew what to expect and they executed and it was business as usual. It was just another game for us on a bigger floor.”

Ferndale (20-8) started the season 1-5, but always knew its potential to make a tournament run.

“We never panicked throughout the season, and we always said as soon as we get somewhat healthy and as soon as we get our guard play together to play a lot smarter, then we are going to start winning,” Rickman said. “We were losing close games, but our ceiling was so high that I knew we could do that.”

Ferndale nearly squandered its chance for another game after leading by 10 early in the third quarter as Saginaw mounted a second-half rally.

The Trojans led 55-51 in the fourth quarter, but the Eagles scored 10 consecutive points to go up 61-55.

Senior Christopher Williams, who recorded a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, had back-to-back buckets during the run.

“We just stayed the course, just like our season,” Rickman said. “We were up, and then they came back, but we stayed the course.”

Senior Caleb Renfroe led Ferndale with 16 points, while senior Cameron Reed finished with 12 and Jaden Hardiman had 10.

“Chris definitely got going, and when he has a motor he’s hard to stop,” Reed said. “They went on that run, but we knew we had to stay the course. Basketball is a game of runs, so we just had to stay the course and ride the roller coaster.” 

The Eagles led 12-8 after a foul-filled first quarter and extended their advantage to 32-24 at the half. Ferndale took advantage of its opportunities from the free throw line and knocked down 12 of 16 in the first half.

The Trojans (21-7) forged a furious third-quarter surge and outscored Ferndale 22-12 to snare the momentum and the lead, 46-42.

Senior Javarie Holliday scored 15 of his game-high 20 points in the third quarter and was 4 of 8 from beyond the 3-point line.

It was Saginaw’s first trip to the Semifinals since 2013. 

“It was a hard-fought game, and Ferndale came out ready to play,” Trojans coach Julian Taylor said. “I thought we took their best punch in the first half, and we came out ready in the second half. Basketball is a game of spurts and I thought we made our run, but we just made a few mistakes down the line in the fourth quarter that really cost us the game.”

Junior Brandon McCune added 17 points for Saginaw. He knocked down five 3-pointers.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Ferndale’s Cameron Reed (0) pushes the pace as Saginaw’s DaRon Sherman (2) trails Friday. (Middle) The Eagles’ Christopher Williams dunks during his team’s Semifinal win.