'Ultimate Competitor' Collins Catalyzing Blissfield's Championship Pursuit

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

March 7, 2023

BLISSFIELD – Avery Collins has played with a broken nose, ankle sprain and a sore back. 

Southeast & BorderEarlier this season, the Blissfield junior was in the emergency room one night and on the basketball floor the next day. 

“She texted me first thing in the morning and said, ‘I’m ready to play Coach,’” said Royals head coach Ryan Gilbert. “I said, ‘No, you’re not.’ She was cleared to play, so she played. It’s hard to tell her no.” 

Collins is the catalyst behind Blissfield’s 23-1 record heading into tonight’s Division 3 Regional Semifinal against Hanover-Horton at Concord. Already a three-year starter, Collins is a ballhawk on defense, expert dribbler on offense and a competitor all the way. 

“I’m constantly talking basketball with people, either my dad, my coach, or even family friends,” Collins said. “I want to make this season so memorable and with the team we have, I knew it was possible.” 

When it comes to intensity, Collins has an extra gear. Opposing coaches quickly recognize that. 

“Avery is hands down the best player on the court night-in and night-out,” said Onsted head coach Brandon Arnold. “She’s tough. She does so many things for them.” 

Blissfield started the season 7-0 before being tripped up by Grand Blanc in the Motor City Roundball Classic. The Royals haven’t lost since, running off 16 straight wins, including in the District championship game Saturday.  

Defense has been the key.  

Opponents are averaging just 26.5 points a game against the Royals. Seven opponents have scored 21 or fewer points. 

Offensively, Blissfield averages four 3-pointers a game, shoots 60 percent from the free throw line and has four players with at least 150 points on the season. 

Collins averages 11.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 4.0 steals a game. She’s sat out several fourth quarters this season as the Royals have had big leads. In the District Semifinal against Erie Mason, she didn’t see the court in the second half.  

Collins gets to the basket; she’s averaging 11 points per game.Gilbert said she sits out more fourth quarters than she would like, but she also knows it makes the team stronger the more experience others get. 

“What you wouldn't know if you don't come watch her play is how her energy transfers to the rest of the team and the crowd,” Gilbert said. “Her grit and determination rubs off on everyone around her. I can’t tell you how many times the opponent turns it over because of her defensive pressure. She has pieces around her. She doesn't have to score 20 a game for this team to be successful. She could, but she doesn't have to.” 

If the game is close, the ball is in her hands. She shoots 70 percent from the free throw line and has become quite adept at dribbling away from opponents so they can’t foul her with the clock winding down. 

“She has the ability to change a game without scoring,” Gilbert said. 

Collins missed her AAU season this past summer due to a collarbone injury sustained during soccer season. She missed the early part of soccer with a broken nose that happened in basketball, although she never missed time on the court for it. 

The downtime, she said, helped keep her motivated when she was able to get a ball in her hands again. 

“I was extra ready to get back,” she said. “We all knew what this team could have in store this season, and that made me want to get better even more.” 

Collins put in a lot of work to get ready for this season. Her shooting has improved. She’s made 22 triples, but the bulk of her points come on steals and layups. 

“Before the season, my dad and I were doing a strength and conditioning workout almost every night, then after the workout, I’d go shoot at least 500 shots in the gym,” she said. “My dad has pushed me to be the best me that I can be. I’m always looking to put the work in to be better, because not only does it make me better, but it also helps my team as well.”

The Royals have just two seniors, 6-footers Julia White (10.0 points and 10.0 rebounds a game) and Sarah Bettis, a Division 1 volleyball signee with the University of Akron. June Miller leads the team in 3-pointers with 32, and Abrie Louden has been steady all season at both ends of the floor. Freshman Leigh Wyman and sophomore Peyton Tennant have come off the bench all season, ready to provide a spark, especially on defense. The combination has the Royals tied for the lead in Division 3 with 23 wins and ranked No. 3 in the final Associated Press poll.  

“Coming into this season, we knew we’d have a real shot at getting the league title,” Collins said. “I believe we will carry this energy as far as we get because of what our possible outcomes are in the state tournament.” 

The Royals play well together. They average about 19 field goals made a game – and 14 assists. 

Gilbert, in his 15th season as Blissfield coach, calls Collins the ultimate competitor. 

“She has a fiery chip on her shoulder,” he said. “She plays her best during the biggest of games. There is an edge about her that few have. She's just wired differently.”

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Blissfield’s Avery Collins directs her team’s offense this season against Adrian Lenawee Christian. (Middle) Collins gets to the basket; she’s averaging 11 points per game. (Photos by Deloris Clark-Osborne.)

High School 'Hoop Squad' Close to Heart as Hughes Continues Coaching Climb

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)