Best of Divine Child's Blairs May Be Last as Kennedy Paces Hopeful Falcons

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

January 12, 2023

DEARBORN – The Blair family’s presence within Dearborn Divine Child athletics – and most significantly in basketball – has stretched more than a decade as youngest-of-five-siblings Kennedy Blair takes the court for the last of her four seasons on the Falcons’ varsity.

Greater DetroitThere was Morgan, who was on Divine Child’s 2011 Class B championship team and went on to a college career at Northern Kentucky and Hillsdale.

Next was Riley, Kennedy’s other older sister who played at Divine Child and Ferris State.

Kennedy’s two older brothers, Quinn and Gannon, also played basketball at Divine Child, with Quinn going on to play in college at William & Mary.

“Being able to watch them play, it helped me grow my IQ,” Kennedy said. “They definitely are huge role models to me.”

Given how all five Blairs loved basketball, one can only imagine the battles that took place on the family’s backyard court.

“We always fought because we are so competitive,” Kennedy said with a laugh. “We play occasionally, and it never turns out well.”

Now a senior at Divine Child, Kennedy, a 5-foot-9 point guard, is not only the last of the siblings to star at Divine Child, but she also might be the best.

Blair is one of the most talented basketball players in the state, coming off a 2021-22 season during which she was named first-team all-state in Division 1 after averaging more than 20 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four steals per game.

There’s been no letup or seniorities this year, as going into Tuesday’s game against Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard, Blair was averaging 20 points, nine rebounds, six assists and four steals a contest for a Divine Child team that will take a 9-2 record into a Friday game at traditional state and Catholic League powerhouse Bloomfield Hills Marian.

Blair celebrates with her teammates. “You know you have a pretty special player because it’s so impressive to lead in essentially every statistical category for all four years,” said Divine Child head coach Mary Laney, who is in her 19th season at the helm of the program.

Laney said Blair has been even better this year thanks in large part to an increased emphasis in two areas.

One was strength and conditioning over the offseason.

“She’s really gotten even stronger,” Laney said. “She put forth a great deal of effort — more so than in previous offseasons — in regards to strength and conditioning. She came into this season in better condition and stronger than during any other season. That’s helped her game.”

The other was continuing to evolve into just as big of a force on defense as she is on offense.

“She’s really long and always could get a lot of deflections,” Laney said. “Those are now turning into steals. She rebounds the ball really well.”

As was the case with Morgan, Riley and Quinn, Kennedy won’t be done with basketball after high school, as she has signed to play for Bowling Green.

“It was the best fit for me,” Kennedy said. “They know where I’m going to fit in the offense and recruited me really strictly. They knew everything about me and made sure to take their time following everything I do, which I appreciate as a player.”

Before worrying about college basketball though, Kennedy wants to become the second player in the family to have a state championship ring.

Kennedy admits to hearing some good-natured trash talking from Morgan about how she has a championship, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility Kennedy can be a part of a title-winning team as well.

Divine Child was in Division 1 last year, but is competing in Division 2 this season. The Falcons were tied for No. 9 in the first Associated Press poll, released earlier this week.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the path to the Finals will be easier, especially with traditional state power Detroit Edison possibly looming in Regionals.

But with one of the state’s best players regardless of division, the sky is the limit for Divine Child.

“We can get it this year,” Kennedy said. “I can feel it.”

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) Divine Child’s Kennedy Blair considers her options while directing the team’s offense. (Middle) Blair celebrates with her teammates. (Photos by Rick Jakacki, Dearborn Divine Child athletics.) 

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.)