Small Schools, Big Northern Lights Finish

By John Vrancic
Special for

February 29, 2016

HANNAHVILLE — Not too many high school conferences in Michigan have their own basketball tournament.

The Northern Lights League in the Upper Peninsula, however, is one of the exceptions to the rule.

Each year the league’s eight schools meet at Hannahville for their annual tourney.

“This is such a great tournament for our conference,” said Maplewood Baptist boys coach Steve May. “What an opportunity for small schools. These are the types of things these kids will never forget. This is their chance to shine. They get to experience March Madness, although it comes a little early.”

The tournament, traditionally held in late February, showcases all the talent these schools have to offer.

This year’s girls tourney featured the league’s first all-U.P. player in senior Hannah May, a second-team selection a year ago.

“This is really a nice tournament,” Hannah said. “All the small schools come together and make some new friendships. This is the highlight of the year. This gives us something to shoot for.”

Hannah May showed why she’s all-U.P. in the championship game Feb. 20, sinking a buzzer-beating 20-foot jumpshot from the right wing to force overtime in Maplewood’s 79-70 triumph over Wilson Nah Tah Wahsh.

She scored 35 points, and classmate Harmony Bailey added 24.

“We enjoy this tournament,” said Maplewood girls assistant coach Caroline May. “We look forward to it every year.”

Senior Selena Williams, looking to play ball at Gogebic Community College in Ironwood next season, led Hannahville with 26 points. Sophomore Cecilia Beaver added 23.

“I love our team,” said Beaver. “We all get along. We’re also real good friends with Maplewood Baptist, and we get along with the other teams. We’ve developed a lot of friendships.”

The Maplewood Baptist boys also captured the league tourney crown in a 73-54 conquest of Hannahville.

Senior Patrick Gomes scored 19 points for the Kinross-based school, which placed four in double-digits. Senior Cody Meshigaud paced the defending champs with 24.

The tournament provides plenty of opportunity for team bonding and camaraderie among all the teams.

“I like it and the kids enjoy it,” said Ojibwe Charter girls coach Ashley Bishop. “You see the upsets and victories. It’s nice to see all the teams get together. All the schools are very small, and I think the kids make better friends this way. At the motel we stayed at in Escanaba, we had kids and coaches from 4-5 schools hanging out together.”

Ojibwe boys coach Brandon Kerfoot believes the tournament is part of the learning process for a team with no seniors.

“I think being able to end the season with schools about our size is a big stepping stone for the kids,” he said. “It’s a different game once you hit the tournaments. Anything can happen once you reach this point.”

The Ojibwe boys started two juniors and a sophomore, freshman and eighth-grader in a 69-46 semifinal loss to Maplewood Baptist.

Ojibwe’s girls started two juniors, two sophomores and an eighth-grader in a 56-34 loss to Hannahville in the semifinals.

PHOTOS: (Top) A pair of Kinross Maplewood Baptist defenders surround a Wilson Nah Tah Wahsh player bringing the ball upcourt during the Northern Lights League Tournament. (Middle) A Maplewood defender works to wall off a Bay Mills Ojibwe Charter guard. (Photos by Paul Gerard.)

High School 'Hoop Squad' Close to Heart as Hughes Continues Coaching Climb

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

July 11, 2024

Jareica Hughes had a Hall of Fame collegiate basketball career playing at University of Texas-El Paso and has played professionally overseas, but her most prized possession is something she earned playing high school basketball in Michigan. 

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosA standout at now-closed Southfield-Lathrup High School during the early-to-mid 2000s, Hughes proudly displays a signature symbol of Lathrup’s Class A championship team in 2005. 

“I have my state championship ring on me right now,” said Hughes, now an assistant head coach for the women’s basketball program at UTEP. “I wear this ring every single day. Not so much for the basketball aspect. Inside of the ring it says ‘Hoop Squad.’ It’s more the connection I’ve had with those particular young ladies. Friends that I’ve known since I was kid. Every once in a while when we talk, we go back in time.”

Believe it or not, Hughes and her high school teammates next year will have to go back 20 years to commemorate a run to the title that started when they were freshmen. 

It was a gradual build-up to what was the first girls basketball state championship won by a public school in Oakland County. Lathrup, which has since merged with the former Southfield High School to form Southfield Arts & Technology, remained the only public school in Oakland County to win a state girls basketball title until West Bloomfield did so in 2022 and again this past March. 

Lathrup lost in the District round to Bloomfield Hills Marian during Hughes’ freshman year, and then after defeating Marian in a District Final a year later, lost to West Bloomfield in a Regional Final.

When Hughes was a junior, the team got to the state’s final four, but a bad third quarter resulted in a heartbreaking one-point Semifinal loss to eventual champion Lansing Waverly. 

A year later, when Hughes and other core players such as Brittane Russell, Timika Williams, Dhanmite’ Slappey and Briana Whitehead were seniors, they finished the job and won the Class A crown with a 48-36 win over Detroit Martin Luther King in the Final.

However, the signature moment of that title run actually came during the Semifinal round and was produced by Hughes, a playmaking wizard at point guard who made the team go. 

Trailing by three points during the waning seconds of regulation against Grandville and Miss Basketball winner Allyssa DeHaan – a dominant 6-foot-8 center – Hughes drained a tying 3-pointer from the wing that was well beyond the 3-point line. 

Lathrup went on to defeat Grandville in overtime and prevail against King.

Hughes said the year prior, she passed up on taking a potential winning or tying shot in the Semifinal loss against Waverly, and was reminded of that constantly by coaches and teammates. “I just remember in the huddle before that shot, that just kept ringing in my mind,” she said. “That was special. I cried for weeks not being able to get a shot off (the year before) and leaving the tournament like that.”

Growing up in Detroit, Hughes got into basketball mainly because she had five older brothers and an older sister who played the game. In particular, Hughes highlights older brother Gabriel for getting her into the game and taking her from playground to playground.

“I’m from Detroit,” she said. “We played ball all day long. Sunup to sundown. When the light comes on, you had to run your butt into the house.”

Hughes, second from left, begins the championship celebration with her Lathrup teammates at Breslin Center.Hughes played for the Police Athletic League and also at the famed St. Cecilia gym in the summer, developing her game primarily against boys.

“My first team was on a boys team,” she said. “I was a captain on a boys team.” 

The family moved into Lathrup’s district before she began high school. 

Once she helped lead Lathrup to the 2005 championship, she went on to a fine career at UTEP, where she was the Conference USA Player of the Year twice and helped lead the Miners to their first NCAA Tournament appearance.

Hughes still holds school records for career assists (599), steals (277) and minutes played (3,777). On Monday, she was named to Conference USA’s 2024 Hall of Fame class. 

After a brief professional career overseas was derailed by a shoulder injury, Hughes said getting into coaching was a natural fit. 

“I had to make the hard decision, and I knew as a kid I wanted to be around basketball,” she said. “Once I made that decision (to quit), I knew I was going to coach.”

Hughes started coaching in the Detroit area, first serving as an assistant at Southfield A&T from 2016-20 and then at Birmingham Groves for a season. She then served as interim head coach at Colby Community College in Kansas before being named an assistant at UTEP in May 2023, a month after her former coach Keitha Adams returned to lead the program after six seasons at Wichita State.  

While fully immersed in her job with UTEP, Hughes’ high school memories in Michigan certainly aren’t going away anytime soon – especially with the 20th anniversary of Lathrup’s championship coming up. 

“We are still close friends because we all essentially grew up together,” she said. “They are still my friends to this day.”

2024 Made In Michigan

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PHOTOS (Top) At left, Southfield-Lathrup’s Jareica Hughes drives to the basket against Detroit Martin Luther King during the 2005 Class A Final; at right, Hughes coaches this past season at UTEP. (Middle) Hughes, second from left, begins the championship celebration with her Lathrup teammates at Breslin Center. (UTEP photo courtesy of the UTEP sports information department.)