Warren De La Salle Follows 'Big Mike' to 1st Final Since 1982
By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com
March 25, 2022
EAST LANSING – The guy his teammates know affectionately as “Big Mike,” came up huge for Warren De La Salle Collegiate in Friday’s first Division 1 Semifinal.
Michael Sulaka, a 6-foot-8 junior, scored a game-high 20 points, with eight rebounds and four blocked shots to power the Pilots past Grand Rapids Northview 59-45 and into their first boys basketball championship game in 40 years.
“I wasn’t getting boxed out, so I was able to grab the rebounds, read the dude in front of me and put it back up,” explained Sulaka, who managed to post big numbers despite playing just 21 minutes due to foul trouble.
The Pilots (19-7) were the more aggressive team and dominated the interior, holding a commanding 35-20 rebounding edge and even more impressive 20-1 edge in second-chance points. Tamario Adley, an athletic 6-3 senior, grabbed a game-high nine rebounds.
De La Salle, which won the Division 2 title in football this fall, will vie for its first boys basketball championship at 12:15 p.m. Saturday against Grand Blanc.
“We will enjoy this win for another half hour or 40 minutes and then get ready for one more,” said second-year De La Salle coach Gjon Djokaj, whose team reached the Finals after completing the regular season 13-7 and fourth place in the Detroit Catholic League Central. “I have the utmost confidence in these kids.
“I was telling people this summer that you can go 13-7 and finish fourth in our league and still have a chance to go to the Breslin. Well, guess what? We finished 13-7 and fourth in our league and now we’re in the state championship game.”
Djokaj is hoping his team starts Saturday like it did Friday, spotting Northview a 5-0 lead before ripping off a 16-2 run to take control.
The Pilots set the tone with defense, as their constant 2-2-1 full-court pressure and aggressive zone defense rattled the Wildcats. Northview started cold, making just 2-of-9 shots in the first quarter and finishing at 34 percent for the game, with Sulaka altering many shots from his middle spot of the Pilots’ 2-3 zone defense.
“I’m 6-8 and I put my hands up, and it’s hard for dudes to shoot over me,” Sulaka explained, matter-of-factly.
While Sulaka was dominating the action inside, the Pilots’ point guard duo of junior Nino Smith and senior Caleb Reese controlled the pace of the game. Smith scored 16 points, while Reese had just four, but contributed a game-high six assists.
“The strength of our team is our guard play,” said Djokaj, who returned four starters off last year’s team which lost in the Semifinals. “Our guards were making the right choices early and, in many cases, Big Mike was the beneficiary of that.”
Northview (25-2) fought back from its early 16-7 deficit in the second quarter behind the play of 6-6 senior Jalen Charity, a Grand Valley State commit. Charity scored seven points in the second quarter as the Wildcats trimmed the lead to just six points by halftime, 30-24.
However, Charity picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and was forced to the bench. He scored just two points in the second half, finishing with nine and a team-high six rebounds.
The lead was still six points entering the fourth quarter, 43-37, as 6-4 senior Kyler Vanderjagt tried to spark a rally. Vanderjagt, a Belmont (Tenn.) recruit and the runner-up in the state’s Mr. Basketball voting, finished with a team-high 19 points, but the Wildcats were unable to cut into De La Salle’s lead.
“We didn’t get some of those rebounds we really needed,” said third-year Northview coach David Chana. “That’s basketball. Some nights it just doesn’t work out for you. All in all, it’s been a great ride. We’ll be back.”
Tyran Thomas added nine points for the Wildcats, including three dunks.
Northview, the champion of the Ottawa-Kent Conference White, reached the Semifinals for the first time since 1990 and seemed to have its entire community packed into the Breslin.
De La Salle, meanwhile, gets the chance to win its first boys basketball title. The Pilots lost to Okemos in the Class B Final in 1982.
PHOTOS (Top) Warren De La Salle Collegiate’s Nino Smith (0) works to get up the baseline as Northview’s Cam Martin (24) defends. (Middle) The Pilots cheer on their teammates during the first Friday Semifinal. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
St. Clair County Celebrates 1st Mr. Basketball Winner, PHN's Jamison
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
March 29, 2023
The Jamison family has spent plenty of time over the years driving long distances as Tyler chased his basketball dreams.
After the Port Huron Northern senior achieved one of the biggest ones, they had to put some more mileage on the family vehicle.
As the newly-crowned Mr. Basketball, Jamison was invited to a special presentation during the Boys Basketball Finals this past Saturday afternoon at the Breslin Center. It was an invitation Tyler and his family didn’t hesitate to accept, and the drive from Port Huron to East Lansing was nothing.
But it did cause a pretty big change to some other travel plans.
Tyler and his family were scheduled to fly to Florida on Friday for spring break. That flight had to be canceled, though, and instead, the family made the drive down later.
“There were some jokes about just leaving me and letting me find my own way down there,” Jamison said.
While they joke, there’s nowhere the Jamisons would have rather been Saturday than at the Breslin. As a true basketball family – Tyler’s dad Brian is also the coach at Northern, and his brother Alex was a standout freshman for the Huskies – they have a great appreciation for the Mr. Basketball Award and its significance.
“I had said a while ago, ‘Hey, if we’re still in the tournament, we’ll be playing Friday,” Brian Jamison said. “I even mentioned that it would be a miracle, but Tyler could win Mr. Basketball. Now we’re eating plane tickets and driving down to Florida. But it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we’re not missing this.”
Jamison was the overwhelming winner of the award, which is named after Hal Schram and given out by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan. He received 3,058 points in the vote to become its 43rd winner. Curtis Williams of Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (2,004 points), Kaden Brown of Grand Rapids Catholic Central (1,918), Sonny Wilson of Detroit U-D Jesuit (1,883) and Ryan Hurst of North Farmington (1,811) were the other finalists.
“It was just insane,” Tyler Jamison said. “I can’t even really put into words how I felt – it was just a dream come true, a culmination of all the hard work that’s been put in over the years. My mom was in the other room (when his dad called to tell him), and I just hugged her and we were kind of screaming. The dog was getting riled up. It was fun. There were a few tears shed.”
Jamison, who signed with Fairleigh Dickinson in December, finished the season averaging 26.7 points, 11.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.3 steals per game. He was named the Macomb Area Conference White division MVP after leading Northern to the league title and a 20-4 overall record.
Even with all that, winning the most prestigious individual basketball award in the state didn’t seem like a reality.
“We purposely try to play a tough schedule, and we purposely got into some showcases because we wanted people to see, not only him play, but us play,” Brian Jamison said. “We had beaten Skyline and Hamtramck, and went up to Croswell-Lexington and won up there, and I thought, ‘OK, now he’s done it against some of the better teams.’ Up to that point, when we played those tougher teams, he’s always showed out well, but it’s different when you’re not winning them. But at that point, I thought he had a chance. Really, I was just hoping he would get on the list. To win it was kind of above and beyond what I had hoped for.”
On the court, Tyler’s impact on the program was pretty obvious and immediate.
He’s the program’s all-time leading scorer – a record he set as a junior – with 1,763 career points. He also holds Northern records for career rebounds (825), points in a game (59), rebounds in a game (28), career field goals made (638) and career free throws made (439). As a junior, he was named MAC Blue MVP.
Northern did not lose a league game in either of the past two seasons.
But Northern is likely to see future success because of Tyler’s non-statistical impact.
Leading a young team, including a group of star freshmen – his brother Alex, Cam Harju and Amir Morelan – was a major part of Tyler’s job this season.
Northern’s home games were must-see events this winter, as the Huskies were one of Division 1’s top teams, and Tyler was providing nightly highlights and must-see performances. Even in his final game, a loss against Macomb Dakota in the District Final, Jamison treated the standing-room crowd with a 46-point performance and a halfcourt shot at the third-quarter buzzer in a valiant effort.
“That’s the big thing, you want the students and the school community to support you, and they did an amazing job,” Tyler Jamison said. “We also had people from the community that wanted to support us and watch us play. Port Huron High had a really good season, too, and I think both schools in the city had that public support. That’s huge. It makes you feel like you’re playing for more than yourself.”
Among those crowds were the next generation of Huskies, some of whom were coached by Tyler in youth basketball. As he’s the first Mr. Basketball winner from St. Clair County, those kids now have a hometown example of someone who has reached the highest heights.
“I think interest gets sparked when the little kids come to the gym, like, ‘Hey, I want to do that,’” Brian Jamison said. “They want to play for Northern or (Port Huron) High. And with him winning Mr. Basketball, I think it gives kids a little bit of ‘Hey, why not me?’ I do think it helps motivate younger people. We’ve had great crowds at our games. I think the area is excited about basketball. It really is a great basketball area.”
With all of that excitement surrounding him, Tyler had one more challenge after the season – keeping the secret that he had won. He found out six days before the award was announced.
“It was terrible – especially when it’s something of that magnitude,” he said. “You want to tell everyone. You want to tell your friends and family. It was hard to be like, ‘No, I don’t know.’”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Tyler Jamison, second from left, with his parents and brother, stands with his newly-received Mr. Basketball Award trophy during the ceremony at the Detroit Free Press. (Middle) Jamison throws down a dunk. (Photos courtesy of the Jamison family.)