Winston Caps Legacy with 1st Jesuit Title

March 26, 2016

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING — By most measures, Cassius Winston had a highly successful high school basketball career.

He was a four-year starter on a Detroit U-D Jesuit team that reached the Breslin Center three times, earning a scholarship to Michigan State University and the Mr. Basketball Award. 

But Winston didn't become great by settling for less than perfection.

And now he has what is undeniably the perfect ending to a glorious career. 

Embracing the pressure of performing on the biggest stage in the sport, Winston scored 31 points and dished out nine assists in the Cubs' 69-49 victory over North Farmington in the MHSAA Class A championship game Saturday at the Breslin Center. 

It was the first MHSAA title for U-D Jesuit, which romped through the Class A tournament to complete a 28-0 season. The Cubs had never gone as far as the Quarterfinals until Winston led them to Semifinal appearances in 2014 and 2015 before taking them all the way this season.

Winston's legacy is now complete. 

"I believe in order for you to say you were one of the best high school players or whatever — and I may not be one of the best — but to say you had a completely successful high school career, you have to win championships," Winston said.

Winston lived up to his considerable hype, going 14 for 16 on the court he will call home as a college player. He drove to the basket at will, while also going 2 for 3 from 3-point range.

"It's definitely a good feeling, knowing that I'm capable of playing that way in this gym," Winston said. "The past couple times, it didn't look too good on this floor, but today I got it going. It's just the perfect moment. State championship. Great game. Then I'm headed right back here in a couple months, so it's the perfect way to end it."

Winston is the first to recognize that he would not have enjoyed a perfect ending to his career without a strong supporting cast. Scott Nelson scored 13 points off the bench, Ikechukwu Eke had 10 points and 13 rebounds, and Gregory Eboigbodin had eight points and eight rebounds for the Cubs.

"Everything you want in a basketball team, we have," Winston said. "We have Matt Schearer. I don't think he took a shot today, maybe one. He doesn't mind. He's gonna play defense, he's gonna get rebounds, he's gonna do what you need to do. We've got Ike and Greg, who average 10 points and 10 rebounds. We've got dudes who come off the bench. Everything you like in your basketball team, we have this year. That's why we became successful."

The Cubs became the first Detroit Catholic League school to win the Class A championship since Detroit Catholic Central in 1976. The Catholic League had won two titles over three seasons at that time, with Birmingham Brother Rice winning in 1974.

"Eight years ago, I sat in front of a search committee and I told them I thought U of D was a great place," said Pat Donnelly, who has a 142-42 record in eight seasons with the Cubs. "It had the academics. It had great tradition. I thought this was a place we could win a state championship.

"I have to give credit to the guys who have played in our program from the time I got there, how they accepted me, accepted a culture change in how I operate and how we operate as a program. Every year, we've gotten better."

Jesuit never trailed, scoring the first six points of the game on baskets by three players.

Perhaps the biggest indication it wasn't North Farmington's day came when it had a chance to take its only lead – and a dunk off a steal missed with 53 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Cubs, who were leading 16-15 at the time, responded by scoring eight straight points to begin a 14-2 run.

North Farmington got within 34-27 late in the first half, but Jesuit scored the final five points of the half to take a 39-27 lead into the break.

By halftime, Winston had 22 points on 10 for 11 shooting.

"We felt like if we could try to keep Cassius out of the paint, we'd give ourselves a chance," North Farmington coach Todd Negoshian said. "That's the best I've seen him play in four years. I don't know if it was the big stage or his final game, but that's the Cassius Winston that's going to Michigan State."

North Farmington couldn't get closer than 12 points in the second half, that coming when Jacob Joubert hit a 3-pointer with 6:43 left in the third quarter. A 9-3 run after that gave the Cubs a comfortable cushion the rest of the way.

Nelson scored eight of his 13 points in the fourth quarter to help Jesuit maintain a safe margin over the Raiders.

Billy Thomas, who had 21 points in the Semifinals as a sophomore at Jesuit two years ago, led North Farmington with 23 points.

"That's my brother," Winston said of Thomas. "I want the best for him. Of course, we're playing for a state championship, so we have to limit the best."

The Raiders were 0 for 9 from 3-point range in the first half and 5 for 24 for the game. Jesuit shot 29 for 46 (63 percent) from the floor, including 5 for 13 from beyond the arc.

The Raiders finished 24-3, reaching the championship game after never having been beyond the Regionals.

"I can't say enough about this group of kids, what they've meant to our program, what they've meant to our school and to our community," Negoshian said. "They've left an impression and a footprint, not just from a basketball standpoint, but from a life standpoint on how to behave, how to carry yourself, how to represent yourself and your family in the proper way. This goes way beyond the basketball court. There's not enough words to describe how proud I am of them."

Click for the full box score.

The Boys Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.

PHOTOS: (Top) Cassius Winston drives toward the basket during Detroit U-D Jesuit's Class A championship game win Saturday. (Middle) North Farmington's Alex Darden (31) tries to get a hand on a shot by Scott Nelson (10).

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.