Detroit Renaissance junior – Basketball
The Phoenix’s guard scored a team-high 34 points with seven 3-pointers to lead Renaissance past Detroit Cass Tech 81-55 in Friday’s Detroit Public School League Tournament championship game, earning the MHSAA “Performance of the Week.” The PSL overall championship was Renaissance’s first since 2011, and Davis has set the pace as the team has since improved to 17-2 with one more game next week before the postseason begins.
Phoenix coach Shane Lawal called Davis the best junior in the state after the Cass Tech win, and he has plenty to back that up. The 5-foot-4 Davis was averaging a team-leading 16.8 points per game on 50-percent shooting from the floor heading into Wednesday night’s win over Flint Carman-Ainsworth. She had made 35 3-pointers and also was averaging 3.7 assists and 3.4 rebounds per game. Her numbers have come against a schedule loaded with MHSAA title contenders – Renaissance’s opponents have a combined .643 winning percentage – and she often defers to a talented group of teammates, which include four other starters already holding college basketball scholarship offers. The Phoenix’ only loss came to reigning Division 2 champion Detroit Edison, 54-52 on Feb. 1, and Davis scored a game-high 22 points against the Pioneers’ star-studded lineup. She should get a chance to show her skills on the playoff stage over the next month; Renaissance currently is ranked No. 3 in Division 1 in the MHSAA's Michigan Power Ratings.
Davis also played baseball growing up and is considering playing softball at Renaissance as a senior. She’s been on the basketball varsity since freshman year and continues to be all hoops right now, and has made a variety of campus visits and picked up eight Division I scholarship offers with interest from a number of other programs. She is interested in studying criminal justice after high school with aspirations of becoming a detective.
Coach Shane Lawal said: “Basketball is a game of height. So height is always measured into talent, unfortunately. (But) as far as shooting off the dribble, shooting off the catch, finishing with her left or right hand, finishing in traffic, ball-handling – not just bringing the ball up but under pressure, her shiftiness, her passing ability. ... There's a lot of great juniors in the state, but a lot of them have that height that's added to their attributes. I think if she was four inches taller, everybody would be saying the same things I'm saying. She can score on all three levels. That's something that a lot of high school kids can't do – rim, mid-range and 3-point. Defensively, she’s really underrated; she leads us in steals, covers lots of ground. Her IQ offensive and defensively is extremely high. She just sees the game, and she knows how to make reads and just make the right play. ... I have five great starters. I think if she's playing for a lot of teams she's averaging 25 points a game. She averages 17 because she only needs to average 17. She has so much talent around her that she doesn't have to be superwoman.”
Performance Point: “Coming into the game, I didn't really think I'd have to score a lot of points and take over in the game,” Davis said of the PSL final. “But the way the game was coming to me at the beginning, I just had a feeling that I was going to have a good game. Then my coach just told me to keep shooting, so in the third quarter and fourth quarter I was just shooting the rock when I was open, and just taking good shots. ... (Early) I was getting my points off of playing defense. My shots were just falling. I was going to the rim and to the free throw line, getting my teammates the ball. ... We just work hard every practice. We practice to get to the bigger picture, because our goal is to win a state championship. And we know we've got what it takes to beat any team that's in front of us, so we just came in wanting to play hard.”
Energized: “I feel like our energy is different, like energy from the coach and the coaching staff. And we just all want it more this year because we know we could've had it the last two years, and we know we were good. We just didn't have the drive. … A lot of (the energy) came from our coach. When he first came in, he came in telling us that our goal from the beginning of the season was to win a state championship. Every practice we just set our goal, and we just practice hard all the time and play hard all the time.”
Big game: “I feel like me being shorter, or smaller, gives me an advantage because I'm quicker than most people. I just try to show people that even though I'm small, I can still do all of the things that anybody bigger than me can do. (Bigger players) think they either can shoot over me or block all of my shots. So I like the challenge when I play against them.”
Finding her groove: “Right now the best part (of my game), I’m letting the game come to me. Playing hard, so I don't have to force my shots. I get my teammates involved first, and then I'll get my groove going. (And) each year my shooting has gotten better. I shoot a lot at practice, and the advantage is me shooting with more confidence.”
All shark: “We learned that we have to play hard every game. We can't just turn it on when we want to. We have to go out playing hard every game, no matter who we're playing against. (That idea) kicked in in the beginning of this year. On the back of our shooting shirts we have this slogan that says "#ClownsAndSharks" And it's like, which one are you? So we treat all of the teams the same way. We don't underestimate any team.”
– Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor
Feb. 13: Jamison Ward, Carson City-Crystal wrestling - Report
Feb. 6: Elena Vargo, Farmington United gymnastics - Report
Jan. 31: Michael Wolsek, Trenton swimming - Report
Jan. 24: Kensington Holland, Utica Ford bowling - Report
Jan. 17: Claycee West, White Pigeon basketball - Report
Jan. 10: Seth Lause, Livonia Stevenson hockey - Report
Dec. 5: Mareyohn Hrabowski, River Rouge football - Report
Nov. 28: Kathryn Ackerman, Grand Haven swimming - Report
Nov. 21: Emily Van Dyke, Southfield Christian volleyball - Report
Nov. 14: Taylor Wegener, Ida volleyball - Report
Nov. 7: Carter Solomon, Plymouth cross country - Report
Oct. 31: Jameson Goorman, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian soccer - Report
Oct. 24: Austin Plotkin, Brimley cross country - Report
Oct. 17: Jack Spamer, Brighton cross country - Report
Oct. 10: Kaylee Maat, Hudsonville volleyball - Report
Oct. 3: Emily Paupore, Negaunee cross country - Report
Sept. 26: Josh Mason, South Lyon soccer - Report
Sept. 19: Ariel Chang, Utica Eisenhower golf - Report
Sept. 12: Jordyn Shipps, DeWitt swimming - Report
PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Renaissance's Kailee Davis makes a move toward the basket against Detroit Cody this season. (Middle) Davis prepares to pull up for a jumper during last week's PSL final against Cass Tech. (Photos courtesy of State Champs Sports Network.)
HOWARDSVILLE - There is a sign that hangs inside Howardsville Christian School's tiny gymnasium that accurately depicts the mission for the Eagles during the 2023-24 boys basketball season.
It reads "In Jesus' name we play."
Ken Sparks and the eight players on his varsity basketball roster have challenged themselves to help one another understand what it means to give their season to God.
"My goal is to help these boys find gratitude in playing for a greater power than themselves," said Sparks, a varsity standout himself at Howardsville from 1996-2000, member of the 1,000-point club and an honorable mention all-stater his senior year.
Nestled on the border between St. Joseph and Cass counties along Bent Road, Howardsville Christian, a Division 4 school for its sports with fewer than 80 students, has enjoyed a rich tradition of spiritual learning both in the classroom and on the court and playing fields.
The contribution of many talented athletes from several families has been instrumental in Howardsville's athletic success for years, especially this school year.
Howardsville won District titles this fall in boys soccer and girls volleyball. Now the Eagles hope to carry that momentum over to the basketball court.
With four starters returning, Sparks is looking for Howardsville’s boys team to battle for supremacy in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph League and improve on a 13-10 record from last season. The Eagles finished 7-7 in the league last winter and endured a disappointing District Semifinal loss to Marcellus. Howardsville Christian had won its District the season in 2021.
"We competed well with all the teams on our schedule and lost to some teams we shouldn't have," Sparks said. "There are eight teams in our conference, and this season we need to beat Benton Harbor Countryside to be the top team. It's been a good league for us."
Senior twin brothers Colin and Dylan Muldoon return for Howardsville, along with junior cousin Kaden Sparks, son of the head coach, and junior John Paul Rose.
The Muldoon brothers both are beginning their third year as varsity starters.
"Working together as a team is something we really want to do well. A lot of teams set a goal of winning Districts. The last two years we've fallen short of that goal. It's definitely something we want to achieve this year," Colin Muldoon said.
Dylan Muldoon echoed that sentiment.
"Our success in soccer makes us want to attain the same goals in basketball. We know we are capable of reaching those, so I think it makes us want to pull things together," Dylan Muldoon said. "There's a lot of long-distance running in soccer, but there's also a lot of quickness and turning in basketball, especially when you're guarding or driving around someone. You just have to be quick."
Kaden Sparks, another three-year starter, will be Howardsville's best shooting guard.
"Winning Districts is achievable. We have to learn to work together. I played summer ball, and the biggest takeaway is that it taught me that I have to always give 100-percent effort out there. We had a great soccer season, and It’s taught us a lot about accountability," Kaden Sparks said.
Rose will be Howardsville Christian's starting point guard. He has been a starter since his freshman year, along with Kaden Sparks.
"The team chemistry and communication we had in soccer easily transfers over to basketball. As our point guard, it's important for me to try to get the ball to other guys who have open looks," Rose said. "I want to be more aggressive defensively, push the ball up the floor more and increase my scoring."
In addition, Ken Sparks believes the physicality a majority of his team learned from soccer will be a big benefit on the basketball floor.
"You build up your physicality from playing soccer with having to always body up. Watching them play sometimes hurts me, but that's what I want them to do in basketball. It helps them to want to draw contact and be physical on the floor," Ken Sparks said.
The lack of upperclassmen on Howardsville's varsity the last couple of years gave Rose and Kaden Sparks an immediate opportunity to play as freshmen.
"The fact John Paul and Kaden had that early chance at the varsity level is really paying off now,” Ken Sparks added. “Kaden is an excellent shooter. I want him to get the confidence that I had when I was in high school. He tends to be a little more passive on the floor than I like, but he's finally getting that aggressive nature that you need offensively.”
Kaden, Colin Muldoon and Rose all averaged double-digit scoring last season, while Dylan Muldoon is the Eagles' best defensive player. The Muldoon brothers will serve as Howardsville's team captains.
"Kaden is very self-motivated to become a better basketball player. His goal is to be the best player that he can be," Ken Sparks said. "John Paul is explosive and has really refined his jump shot to where he can be a scoring threat. He sees the floor very well and can really push the ball up the floor without turning it over. We're going to see big strides from him because of his determination and drive.
"Colin is a great overall player. He's a threat from the outside and can score inside with his height as well. If we're going to be successful, he and Dylan have to bring the same drive that John Paul and Kaden bring to the court.”
"I've coached all of the guys on our team for the last three seasons except one,” Sparks added. “We talk about being well-rounded. These guys are the best academically and spiritual leaders in our school."
Howardsville Christian’s most well-known alumni is Dylan Jergens, the third-leading scorer in state history with 2,782 career points.
During the fall soccer season, the Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose helped Howardsville win a second-straight District title. The Eagles then lost 5-0 in the Regional Semifinal to eventual Division 4 champion Muskegon Western Michigan Christian. Both Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose were named to the first-team all-BCS and District soccer squads.
The Muldoons were the two main catalysts in the Eagles' soccer run, along with Lukas Krueger. Dylan Muldoon had 28 goals and nine assists, while Colin Muldoon posted 14 goals and eight assists. Krueger added 19 goals to go with 16 assists. Kaden Sparks had five goals and four assists, and Rose added three goals and three assists.
Steve Muldoon, Colin and Dylan's father and Howardsville's head boys soccer coach, sees many correlations between soccer and basketball that will bring the Eagles success in hoops this winter.
"Communication is key. A team that doesn't talk on the field/court isn't going to win. They learn how to correct and encourage one another to deal with problems without getting too negative," Steve Muldoon said. "Individually, they learn how to anticipate. There isn't much difference between anticipating a pass and stepping in front of it in soccer or basketball or making a hard run down the court/field to get open for a layup/counterattack. They learn how to react and make the correct decision under pressure. The skills needed to do it in soccer and basketball are different, but most of it is mental and that carries over."
Determination was another big factor for Howardsville's soccer success this fall.
"We beat Lansing Christian this fall in a weekend soccer tournament and they are a much bigger and physical team than us, but we managed to beat them," Colin Muldoon said. "That win gave us a lot of confidence for the remainder of the season that we could beat anyone."
The family dynamic doesn't stop with Howardsville's boys basketball team.
Senior Kyla Sparks, Ken's daughter and Kaden's older sister, is one of three cousins on the roster for a Howardsville girls team that finished 12-11 last year. All five starters are back for that Eagles team as well.
"As a team, we want to improve on last year's record. With all our starters back, we feel we have a good shot to finish at the top of both our conference and District. Most of our basketball team also played volleyball this fall, and we view us all as family," Kyla Sparks said. "Being able to play with my two cousins makes good lifelong memories."
Kyla Sparks, who averaged 12 points per game her junior year, starts with sophomore cousins Kelsie Muldoon and Kate Evans. Those three also started on the varsity volleyball team that captured its first District title since 1997.
Coincidently, the mothers of Kyla, Kelsie and Kate were all on the 1997 District champion volleyball team.
Scott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Colin Muldoon drives to the basket against his twin brother Dylan Muldoon during recent Howardsville Christian boys basketball practice. (Middle) Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. (Below) The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (Top and middle photos by Scott Hassinger. District championship photos courtesy of Howardsville Christian School.)