Paw Paw Following New Coach, Sophomore Standouts to Renewed Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for

January 18, 2022

PAW PAW — New coach, new attitude and new results have sparked the Paw Paw girls basketball team to success it has not seen in years.

Southwest CorridorThe new-look Red Wolves (7-2) will battle Otsego (10-1) on Friday, with the winner landing atop the Wolverine Conference.

That's been unvisited territory the last few seasons for Paw Paw, which finished with a 5-12 record last season and 6-15 two years ago.

“I thought they’d be better than the five games (they won) last year,” coach Ernie Ramirez said. “They’re exceeding my expectations right now.”

Two sophomores are instrumental in the turnaround.

At 6-foot-1, Katelyn Baney – who was honorable mention all-state last year – has already received a scholarship offer from Western Michigan University. She averages 13 points, 11.2 rebounds, three steals, 2.6 assists and 1.5 blocks per game.

Paw Paw basketballBecause of a broken arm, Addison Roy played just four games during last year’s COVID-shortened season. But the 5-11 sophomore has been putting up numbers on the court this year as well, averaging 11.7 points per game, 12.2 rebounds and 2.5 steals per contest.

Both have tallied five double-doubles, three times posting them together in the same game.

Baney honed her skills practicing with older players, including her sister, Allison, who was a senior when Baney was in third grade.

Ramirez said Baney may be young, but she is long in experience.

“With all the basketball she’s played, travel basketball, multiple games, if you add all those games, it’s probably like a senior’s worth of games,” he said.

“That’s unique. Sometimes all the games outside the school add up to another season.”

The coach said Roy has been a surprise.

“She works hard at her game,” he said. “She’s the one who says, ‘Hey Coach, can I stay 20 or 25 minutes after?’

“She’s going to be that girl who always improves because she works at her game. She is that quiet leader.”

Roy said the way she improves is by listening and watching.

“I try to really focus and be open to what everyone else has to say, take a little piece of advice from everyone because everyone has a little piece of advice to offer to help you become a better player,” she said.

“I also watch my teammates to see if I can do (what they’re doing) too, if it works for them.”

Seniors tasting success

Ramirez is especially happy that the three seniors on the team are experiencing a winning season.

“The girl that’s probably played the most varsity is Taylor Rickli,” he said. “She’s been there through thick and thin, the first girl they had to pull up (to varsity) when she got to high school.

“Jackie Villanueva has always been the ‘rah rah girl’ on the team. Sophia Griffin is also probably tired of having those losing seasons.”

Paw Paw basketballThe five juniors on the team are Hannah Conway, Leah Wilder, Sammi Jurgensen, Avery Vogel and Molly McNitt. Freshmen Grace Mitchell and AJ Rickli join them as well.

Baney said the key to this year’s team is “our team is stronger and has a greater knowledge of our sport of basketball.

“I think we click a little better and we all have the ultimate goal of wanting to win.”

Roy added that team chemistry has a lot to do with the Red Wolves’ success

“We all really do get along on and off the court, which helps a lot with playing as a team,” she said.

“I think we’re all sick of losing in any sport. Coming off a losing season makes you want to work harder.”

Baney said after her freshman year, she knows other teams are aware of her on the court: “I feel I do get targeted a lot and double-teamed, but it makes it even better that I’m seen that way through other people’s eyes.”

Ramirez said the sophomore is one of the team captains for a reason.

“You need one of those young people who can work with the middle school kids,” he said. “They see her as an example, not only on the court but off the court, too.

“I see some of the younger kids gravitate to her. She’s a little bit of a stats-stuffer, too.”

Ramirez said the young players are the future of the team, and that future looks bright.

The junior varsity is currently undefeated.

“The JV team pushes the varsity girls to keep playing the way they are because they want to get on varsity,” he said.

“That’s one of those good things where the program as a whole is getting better.”

Paw Paw a good fit

Ramirez, who is a research and development specialist at Zoetis in Kalamazoo, said he was helping a friend do some offseason coaching that included a few girls from Paw Paw.

Paw Paw basketballThey mentioned the varsity job might be open.

“I juggled it in my head because I was at Comstock,” he said. “Something pulled me over here.

“I already knew they had a core group of girls who were dedicated to the gym. That’s always a must for me.”

He said by June, he knew it was a good fit because “there were already girls lined up to do summer stuff with me, wanting to do a lot of scrimmaging and whatnot.”

Ramirez said the program’s success is a team effort, and not only from the players.

“I have a great coaching staff; it’s not just me,” he said. “Katie Steers is a new JV coach; my assistant coach Montana Martin is new and came with me from Comstock.

“They all played basketball at Trine University, so they’re a good woman example of teaching how to be a good high school and college athlete. I’m only as good as my coaching staff.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Paw Paw sophomores Addison Roy, left, and Katelyn Baney are leading a resurgent varsity this winter. (2) From top: Baney, Roy and coach Ernie Ramirez. (3) Roy gets in position for a rebound against Vicksburg. (4) Baney follows through on a free throw. (Action photos by Brent McNitt/1001 Words Photography. Head shots by Pam Shebest.)

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.)