Standout Juniors Pace Portland's Historic Finish

By Perry A. Farrell
Special for

April 9, 2021

EAST LANSING – Through almost three quarters Friday, only three Portland players had scored in the Division 2 girls basketball championship game.

But the work of juniors Alivia Densmore, Ava Guilford and Ashley Bower was enough to carry the offense as the Raiders (20-2) racked up a 52-32 victory over Newaygo at the Breslin Center.

Bower led Portland with 20 points, while Guilford and Densmore chipped in 12 each. Earlier this season, Bower went over 1,000 points for her career and set the school scoring record.

“This whole season has been fun,’’ she said.

Friday’s Final matched a Raiders team making its first championship game appearance and a Newaygo team playing for its first title since 1985. It also was a rematch from Feb. 24, when Portland defeated Newaygo 38-33.

Portland coach Jason Haid recalled Friday how his team had a cancellation during the season and “we wanted to find a team that would test us. Newaygo came down during the middle of the week.

“Having played them helped. The number one thing we had on our minds going into this game was defense and defending ball screens. We know everything they were going to do would come off ball screens. The Longs (sisters Jaylee and Jaxi) are tough, and we knew we had to get out on them.’’

The Raiders trio combined for 40 points through three quarters as Portland built a 42-25 lead against the offensively-struggling Lions (21-2), who didn’t have a player reach double figures scoring.

Division 2 Girls Basketball FinalPortland increased its advantage to 21, 48-27, on two free throws from Ava Gruber with 5:54 to play.

“It wasn’t our night,’’ Newaygo coach Nate Thomasma said. “They took us out of a lot of things we wanted to do. It wasn’t for a lack of effort. That was the sum of the story.’’

After Bower scored the first four points of the game, the Lions went on an 8-0 run. But Densmore hit a floater in the lane as the first quarter ended to give the Raiders a 9-8 lead. Neither team shot better than 23 percent from the field over the first eight minutes.

Portland started hitting an offensive stride and outscored Newago 9-3 to open up an 18-11 lead during the second quarter. Densmore, along with Bower and Guilford, combined for all 18 points.

Densmore, just like she did in the first quarter, hit a buzzer beater to send the Raiders to the locker room with a 20-12 cushion.

Starting the second half, the Raiders got a triple from Guilford – the team’s sparkplug – a three-point play from Bower and another triple from Guilford to push the lead to 29-12.

Said Guilford: “My teammates were able to find me. Ashley is always unselfish, and it was important for us to stay confident and relaxed.’’

Newaygo got offensive life when senior guard Anna Brummel hit consecutive 3-pointers and Jaylee Long added a third to trim the deficit to 35-24 with 3:11 to play in the third quarter. But the Lions would get no closer.

Junior forward Emmerson Goodin led Newaygo with eight points and nine rebounds, and Jaylee Long and Brummel also both scored eight. Jaxi Long had seven rebounds and four assists.

Bower was 8 of 16 from the field and also had four assists. Densmore hit 6 of 11 shots and had three blocked shots. Portland finished the game making 42 percent of its shots from the field, while Newaygo connected on just 21 percent of its attempts.

Click for full box score

PHOTOS: (Top) Portland’s Alivia Densmore works for an opening during Friday’s Division 2 Final at Breslin Center. (Middle) The Raiders' Ashley Bower makes a move at the rim with Newaygo players walling her off. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)