The worst moment in Pontiac (Mich.) Northern's 2001-02 season may actually have come some eight months before it began. As the final seconds of the 2001 Class A state championship ticked away and it became clear that the Huskies would claim the title, the team was also unwittingly planting the seeds for unrealistic expectations in '02.
Northern returned the star of last year's squad, 6-6 Michigan wing signee Lester Abram (right), and pundits immediately declared that the success of a year ago would return with him. In the process, though, they somehow forgot that the Huskies were somewhat of a surprise champ. They were never ranked No. 1 during the '00-01 regular season, yet were unanimously tabbed as the preseason favorite this winter.
Through their first nine games, the Huskies were 7-2 -- just one game off of their pace a year ago, when they started 8-1. Nonetheless, they were not ranked among the top 10 teams in the state by either the Detroit News or Michigan Preps, and were only ranked No. 10 in Class A by the News and No. 12 overall by Michigan Preps.
In their 10th game they faced Rochester High and the state's consensus No. 1 senior, Michigan State signee Paul Davis. Northern met Rochester three times in their championship season, and won by a solid margin each time. In their latest matchup, the result was no different, as the Huskies beat Rochester for the second time this season, 82-61.
As Northern's tallest player, Abram has always drawn the assignment of defending the 6-10 Davis, although his teammates are all aware of the need to swarm around the big man in the post. Their matchups have been characterized by impressive statistical showings by both players, and the most recent one was no different. Davis tallied 27 points and 12 boards for Rochester, but Abram came through with 29 and 15 -- both game-highs -- for the Huskies in the win.
Northern and Rochester do not have any more games scheduled during the regular season, and though they always could meet again in the state tournament, it is possible that the next time they face will be in the Big Ten.
"I'm looking forward to that," Abram told the Oakland Press. "I can't wait to get down to Ann Arbor and he gets up to Lansing to continue doing what we've been doing at a higher level."
The Huskies won by a similar margin in their next game, against Rochester Adams. Abram led all scorers with 22 points as Northern rolled, 82-63. The win lifted the Huskies to 9-2, still just one game behind their record at the same point last season.
Northern was scheduled to host a strong Southfield High team (No. 9 in the state, according to Michigan Preps) on Friday, but the game was postponed due to inclement weather.
If the Huskies go 4-1 in their next five games, they will match the 13-3 record they had at the same point last season, when they finished 23-4.
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Gary (Ind.) West Side has not had any trouble holding onto its No. 1 spot. The Munster (Ind.) Times has ranked the Cougars as the top team in Northern Indiana for several weeks in a row, and they have done nothing to hurt their standing recently.
Because intersectional meetings between upstate teams and those from the Indianapolis area are rare, it has been tough to gauge West Side's standing relative to the competition downstate. However, the team's 6-11 Michigan signee, Chris Hunter (right), told The Wolverine earlier this week, "We should be one of the best teams in the whole state." That interview can be found in the Premium section of this site and the next issue of The Wolverine magazine.
One factor in the Cougars' strong play of late has been their increased attention to getting the ball inside to Hunter. "That's our focus," coach John Boyd told the Times. "And there should never be a game where we get away from that. When Chris is the focal point of our offense, we don't lose ballgames. It's not been a hard sell this season."
West Side repeatedly pounded the ball down low to Hunter in a recent game against East Chicago Central. He got the ball often enough to hit 8-of-17 field goal attempts and 11-of-13 free throws en route to 27 points. He added 13 boards for good measure as West Side won, 66-44. The Cougars are now 13-3 on the year.
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None of Michigan's signees has enjoyed as much success this season as Daniel Horton (right), a 6-3 point guard from Cedar Hill (Tex.) High School. His Longhorns team took an 18-game win streak into their game against DeSoto last week, and No. 19 was assured early on. Cedar Hill throttled DeSoto, 81-47, behind 21 points from Horton.
Arlington Bowie gave the Longhorns more of a contest, and was still within shouting distance as the fourth quarter opened with Cedar Hill up by just eight, 53-45. Horton & Co. only extended their lead from there, though, and pulled away to a 74-60 win. The Longhorns were led by 22 points from Horton.
On Friday, Cedar Hill met Arlington Lamar. Horton had one of his lowest-scoring games of the year, finishing with 12 points, but it was more than enough. Lamar mustered just 4 points in the first quarter and just 11 in all of the first half, and fell 60-36.
The Longhorns are now 27-1 on the season, have won 21 straight and are ranked No. 4 nationally by School Sports and No. 5 by USA Today. For his part, Horton is averaging 23.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.8 steals per game. He is shooting 72 percent from the free-throw line and about 40 percent from three-point range.
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U-M signee Graham Brown continues to enjoy an impressive senior season. The 6-9, 240-pound power forward/center helped Mio (Mich.) High School improve to 11-0 in its last game, a 72-20 demolition of Au Gres. The Thunderbolts, who are ranked No. 4 in Class D by the Detroit News, had Friday's game against Hale postponed because of the weather.
The Wolverines' biggest senior signee, 6-10 center Amadou Ba (right) of Bridgton (Maine) Academy, had to miss a game recently due to health -- specifically, dental health -- problems. Ba's AAU coach with the Southeast Raptors, Mark Komara, told The Wolverine on Thursday that the Mauritanian big man had been suffering from an abscessed tooth that was causing him considerable pain. According to Michigan assistant coach Charles Ramsey, Ba has gotten treatment and is doing fine.
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Prep Spotlight recently gave an update on the recruitment of 6-6 junior wing Olu Famutimi of Flint (Mich.) Northwestern. Famutimi, ranked the No. 3 junior in the state by both Prep Spotlight and MichiganPreps.com/The Bank, gave a school list of Michigan, Michigan State, Duke, Cincinnati, Missouri and Louisville.
Asked for his thoughts on U-M, Famutimi told the web site, "They are still in the mix. I like them a lot, but I have added a few more schools since the fall." He also identified Duke and Mizzou as being high on his list, and said that MSU has "moved up a lot since the fall."
Famutimi's Northwestern team has also moved up a good bit in recent weeks. The Wildcats struggled mightily in the season's early going, and did not earn their first victory of the year until their sixth game. They followed their 0-5 start with a 4-1 stretch, and earned their fifth win in six attempts against Midland Dow on Jan. 25. Famutimi's 19 points led the way for Northwestern, 67-57.
From there, though, the Wildcats hit another tough stretch, dropping their next three despite strong play from Famutimi. He had game-highs with 26 points and 13 rebounds in an 83-69 loss to Flint Southwestern Academy, and again with 22 points and 10 boards in a 78-54 loss to Saginaw Heritage. Nonetheless, Northwestern continues to struggle at 5-9.
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The debate that flared up last summer over which Michigan junior is the state's best seems to have died down for the time being, as Detroit Redford's Dion Harris is currently the consensus choice for that distinction. Harris is enjoying a tremendous junior year personally, and has Redford ranked No. 18 in the nation by USA Today, No. 19 by SchoolSports.com.
The team improved to 13-1 (its one loss came against Akron (Ohio) St. Vincent-St. Mary High, a top-10 team nationally) with a 61-54 win against Detroit Henry Ford. Harris shared the scoring load, finishing with 17 points to keep his team undefeated against in-state competition.
On Friday, Redford took on Detroit Mackenzie and its star senior guard, Calvin Wooten. Harris ran the point for the first three quarters of the game, and also managed 16 points. Wooten finished with 18, but it was Harris' team that triumphed, 53-47. In the process, Redford clinched the Public School League West Division title and moved to 14-1 on the year.
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Junior guard Brandon Jenkins is a big part of the reason Detroit Southeastern is undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the state by MichiganPreps.com, No. 4 by the Detroit News. His 20 points against Detroit Northern led the way for Southeastern in a 73-66 win, its 12th of the year.
Jenkins did not put up big numbers against Detroit Osborn, but his teammate Walter Waters, a 6-9, 250-pound junior center, carried Southeastern with 30 points and 20 boards. Waters' performance led the way in his team's 78-63 victory.
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The state's other top junior big man, 6-10 Drew Naymick of North Muskegon, struggled some against Mason County Central, but he came through when it mattered most. Averaging 23 points per game on the year, Naymick had just 13 points when MCC took a 47-46 lead with nine seconds left. He finished with 15, though, and the final two, which came with two seconds remaining, were enough to give North Muskegon a 48-47 win.
Naymick managed to make contributions in other ways as well, recording totals of seven blocked shots and seven assists.
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