Beecher sophomore, Monte Morris, scores two of his a game-high 21 points in a overtime loss against McBain in the Class C semifinals at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. - (Ryan Garza | Flint Journal )

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

EAST LANSING, Michigan – Monte Morris had just finished a painful press conference.

Minutes earlier, the Beecher Buccaneers had fallen in overtime to McBain, 70-66, in the semifinals of a Class C showdown at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

Even after posting a game-high 21 points, 10 rebounds, and 7 assists, Morris and the Bucs collapsed just short of a state title. So as he stepped down from the podium and out of the media room, his dreams were shattered for the time being. The sophomore fought back the tears until he was approached by a familiar face while heading to the locker room: Mateen Cleaves.

Morris has been dubbed as Flint’s next breakout star on the hardwood, as he deserves to be, so it was only right that the city’s most notable hoops figure take him under his wing and attempt to keep his spirits high. The two exchanged cell phone numbers and Cleaves promised him he would get him ready for next season with intense off-season workouts. Anyone surrounding the two could feel the torch being passed but Morris doesn’t let pressure get him too overwhelmed.

“It feels real good, me coming in as a sophomore and getting all this but it’s just motivation to me to stay working harder in the gym,” Morris said after an exchange with Cleaves. “So I just take it and just put it in one ear and out the other because I know it’s just all hype but you still gotta work hard and do what you do.”

Averaging 18 points, 6.6 assists, and 5.9 rebounds, Morris has earned the praise. The 15-year-old put the Bucs on his scrawny shoulders and took them as far as he could carry them for the 2010-2011 juncture while becoming a unanimous pick on the Class C All-State basketball team in the process.

With another long post-season run under his belt, Morris feels as though his game has greatly benefited from this season’s playoffs. During this period, he recorded a triple-double in a contest against Muskegon Western Michigan Christian in the quarterfinals and exploded with a 26-point barrage against Hamady in the district opener.

“We grew a lot, me I grew too, but as a team I feel that we came out this whole season with a better focus than last season,” Morris said. “We knew what it takes but the ball of the bounce just didn’t fall in the right spots.”

It’s scary to think that Morris still has two years of eligibility remaining.

Even after a tough trial, Beecher seems poised enough to fix the errors and make another push towards a championship.

“I was really confident going into this game because last year the lights kind of got to me and my team and we wasn’t playing our regular style of ball so this year we was comfortable with the atmosphere and the lights,” Morris said.

“Me (Antuan) Burks, Cortez (Robinson) and all the guys returning are going to go hard in the weight room, gain a couple of pounds, and people should grow and we’re going to work even harder. You will see it though.”

The show may be over at this moment in time but everyone should be glued to the screen to watch his progression for next season. Monte Morris will be special talent.

 

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DeAndre Upchurch just finished his freshman year of college playing for Highland Community College's basketball team. Upchurch hopes to set an example for the younger generation who may be living his old lifestyle.

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT — DeAndre Upchurch began his final prep year at Flint Northwestern on a tear.

In the first three games of the 2008-2009 season, Upchurch poured in 25 points per game — including a 32-point explosion over eventual Class B state champion Flint Powers.Upchurch’s all-around game and silky smooth jump-shot had him on pace to possibly earn All-State honors and a Division I college scholarship

But a game of dice that same winter put all his hoop dreams at a complete standstill.

Upchurch says that he was conned of $30 in the game. As revenge, he and three associates then participated in a drive-by shooting that injured a young mother. Although he didn’t pull the trigger, the hoopster was initially charged with assault with intent to murder.

“I got cheated and after that my mind was just a whole different mindset,” Upchurch recalled. “I know that was wrong and I’ll never put myself in that situation again.”

Upchurch later pled guilty to a lesser charge and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service, five years of probation and 90 days of boot camp.

But now the 19-year-old has a different outlook on life. He’s also back on the hardwood pursuing his passion at Highland Community College in Highland, Kansas.

As a freshman this past season, Upchurch blossomed into a premier player. He averaged 21.7 points per game and was second on the team in scoring with a freshman-record, 696 points, by the end of the regular season.

Upchurch was named to the All-Jayhawk East Second Team as well as the All-Region VI D-II FIrst Team. With Upchurch in the backcourt alongside Jarmar Gulley — who averaged 23.1 points per game — they formed the highest scoring duo in Division II basketball and led Highland to one of their best seasons ever.

The Scotties (22-14) won both the NJCAA Region VI Championship and NJCAA District 2 Championship. Their stellar play earned them a right to advance to the NJCAA National Championship in Danville, Ill., for the first time in the school’s history last week, but they fell short of a national title.

Over the three-game stretch in Danville, Upchurch notched 17 points per contest, including a 24-point effort in which he nailed six of his eight 3-point attempts, against Delaware Technical and Community College.

The Scotties took a chance on Upchurch when all the other schools turned their backs on him. Upchurch was adamant about leaving the city of Flint to focus on strictly basketball and a small farming community like the one in Highland, Kansas served as the perfect plateau.

When Upchurch officially met with Highland head coach Jerre Cole on their first visit, the head coach was impressed with his manners and could sense how badly he wanted a second chance.

It’s been a win-win for both parties.

“I’m glad he’s here. He’s definitely making the most out of a place like Highland because there’s no distractions in Highland,” Cole said. “It’s just a little tiny town (and), it’s a place where you can play ball and that’s exactly what he’s done.”

Upchurch credits his family and mentors for helping him persevere through such a tough situation. His father, Kevin Brown, as well as well-respected figures in the community like Morris Peterson and Lamont Torbert stuck by his side.

For a kid surrounded with so much controversy at such an early age, all the positive energy was essential towards his development.

“It was a tough situation for him because he wasn’t that type of kid,” said Torbert, who now coaches Northwestern’s girls’ varsity team. “I just tried to tell him that things were going to get better and to just ‘Keep your head up’ and just make sure you learn from the experience.”

“I’m super proud, I don’t even know what to do,!” Brown said of his son’s success. “I told him don’t do the things that other people do, always try to just follow your own life, your path.”

Their advice continues to steer Upchurch in the right direction. And he hopes others will learn from his mistakes.

“The gambling thing, they need to just throw that out the window,” said Upchurch on his advice to the younger generation. “You can throw your life away for a couple dollars and it ain’t worth it.”

“That whole situation, that wasn’t me. I don’t play with the guns, that was just a heat of the moment type of thing,” Upchurch added. “That’s not the real DeAndre Upchurch. This is the real DeAndre Upchurch that’s going on now. I just want to play basketball and I just want to go to school. It’s behind me now.”

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — Former Michigan State Spartan, Marquise Gray, came close to pursuing his aspirations of playing in the National Basketball Association after he graduated from college in 2009. Gray made the Detroit Pistons’ summer-league squad and was one of the last members to be released before the season began.

He is still adamant about keeping his dream alive.

This morning he boarded a plane to Mexico for his second professional season across the waters.

Last season, Gray played in Turkey for the Gelisim Koleji and averaged 17 points and 10.7 boards per game. On Saturday, he fulfilled an obligation he made to his church family. He promised he would speak to the kids and open the gym to allow them to play board games, basketball, or anything else they wanted to do in order to keep them off the streets from 12 p.m.—4 p.m. before he took off.

The Flint Journal caught up with Gray before the event began in the basketball gymnasium at the Second Chance Church —formerly known as Stewart Elementary School— and Gray seems to be a changed man this time around.

Eric Woodyard: What exactly are you looking to accomplish out here today with the kids?

Marquise Gray: When I came home in the summer last year, I kind of made a commitment to my church family and it’s so much stuff that our young people have to deal with. It’s kind of different from when I was growing up or even maybe when (the older people) were growing up. I think the worst thing they had to worry about in their day was somebody getting stabbed or a fist fight and it’s not like that now.

For me, I realized it’s more than basketball. It’s actually using that talent that God gave me to draw people to him. But it’s all about God getting this glory, that’s it. I said that I was gonna help out any kind of way I can so when I got home I was doing like a Sunday school thing. I would like read a scripture or two, dissect it a little bit and then I would just try to get in touch with them. So I was doing that and they had stopped coming so last Sunday I announced that I was going to do this before I left.

EW: When did you become so “God-conscious?”

MG: I really wasn’t as spirit and “God-conscious” as I am now. Last year I kind of did some soul searching and found myself and realized it’s not about basketball. It’s about basketball but it’s not. The gift that I have, he’s given me that gift. Recognizing that, I have to pull people to him and it’s not even just talking about ‘you shouldn’t do this and you shouldn’t do that’ because one thing that I realized is that you make mistakes. Just because you’re God-conscious that don’t exempt you from temptation or making mistakes…you’re human. So I just want to be like a older brother to the younger guys.

I’ve always felt that it was something inside of me, it’s just something always pulling at me. Like even when I was doing wrong and dumb stuff, I would do it, but I’ve always just had something pulling at me. After a while if something keep pulling at you, you’re gonna look and then I just finally decided to take a stand.

EW: Talk about your stint with the Detroit Pistons?

MG: I was with the Pistons. I played summer-league with them and after that I was real close to being a guy that they picked up but it didn’t really work out. They didn’t really know what they wanted to do and I didn’t want to wait around so actually I started off in Isreal last year and that didn’t work out then I went to Turkey.

EW: How crazy was it for you to move out the country and play in Turkey?

MG: It was fun man. I enjoyed myself. I learned a lot of things and I just had a chance to really sit down and think “with my talent, how can I help others?” Because that’s what it’s about. You don’t get blessed so you can just hog the blessing. You get blessed so you can bless others and I had time to find myself. I could clear my mind and focus on things.

EW: What’s one thing that you didn’t expect about playing overseas?

MG: How rowdy the crowd is. The crowd is crazy! It’s been times that we’ve been on the road when I was in Turkey and the fans, they have to like call security guards and stuff because people be throwing stuff. You look up in the crowd, they got trash cans they lighting on fire. It’s just wild. It was real wild and fans talk to you. They actually cuss you out in they language.

If you’re not mentally strong you won’t last. I’m the type of player where when I see stuff like that, I’m like ‘Ok, I’m about to kill! I’m about to go in kill-mode on all y’all.’ Sometimes I lose myself on the court. I start cursing. I don’t have any friends on the court. If you’re not on my team, you’re not my friend. Brother, mother, whoever it is…I don’t have any friends on the court.

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EW: Was it kind of frustrating to not play in the NBA right after college though because of all the hype you had surrounding you in high school?

MG: It was but at the same time this is how I put it in perspective. I came out. My class in 2004 had one of the most players go to the league straight out of high school in a while. So I came out with Marvin Williams, Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, LaMarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson, Shaun Livingston, Rajon Rondo, Jordan Farmar. Our class was deep and I was right in the mix! I forgot what I was ranked but I was right up there.

I had the chance to go out of high school but I promised my mother that I was going to get my education. I did that so when everything kind of boiled down and I found myself and put stuff in perspective, If I would’ve went to the league out of high school yeah I would have had the money and had all that stuff but I would have been bounced around. I wouldn’t have had the chance to grow as a man and on top of that I wasn’t mature enough to handle that lifestyle because even overseas man, that “lifestyle” if you don’t handle it right will go to your head, you will start thinking you’re more than you really are, you won’t work and it will kill you. Jay-Z and Beyonce got a song called “Hollywood.” Hollywood is a drug seriously.

EW: Do you feel like you would change anything if you could do it all over again?

MG: I had the chance to grow as a man. Did I like everything that happened? No. If I could would I change some stuff? Yes, of course. But at the same time, everything that I went through made me the man that I am today. Made me to be able to sit here and talk to you like how I’m talking and that was a blessing because I’m a firm believer that God whoops us. You can either do it his way and get it done quick and fast or you can do it your way and have a long grueling process.

EW: How was it to play for Tom Izzo down at MSU for four years?

MG: It was the best time of my life. Besides the 6 a.m. practicing, the four-hour practices, the constant on the road all the time and always tired, I really had fun. I enjoyed myself and on top of that I got my degree in Social Services. I will be the guy to go check out the home and see if it’s suitable for the kids. If it wasn’t suitable, the final decision would be up to me to where as if the child would stay in home or should the child would be removed.

EW: Are you looking at potentially doing that when your hoop career is over?

MG: When I retire from ball, I’m gonna get into coaching. I still have the same passion for basketball. It’s kind of the same I have as far as growing spiritually so I know some way, some how I’m still gonna be involved with basketball somehow and with kids.

It’s times that you will just come in and you can just tell that they’re going through certain things in life. You can just tell that they’re having a hard time in their young life and I just got to let them know that it’s ok but you just have to control it and don’t let it control you.

EW: What was your favorite memory at MSU?

MG: Final four. I got two Final Fours and one Big Ten championship. I did everything I was supposed to do in my college career except win a national championship and I was a game away from that.

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EW: You still talk to your old college teammates?

MG: Oh yeah, Idong Ibok that’s my best friend. Matter of fact, he came here to visit our church in the summer. He came up here and stayed with me for a little and we just kicked it just like old times. Travis Walton, those two are my best friends. I talk to them everyday, every other day. And (Goran) Suton, we all get together down there and we go out to eat and stuff like that, it’s still like we’re there. We just don’t have to abide by their rules. (laughs).

EW: How has it been to watch the Spartans this year?

MG: They’ve been giving me a heart attack. I haven’t been on this end of the spectrum in a long time you know going to the games, sitting in the stands and it’s different because I’m not used to it. I’m used to being on the court and I’m used to being the one that’s getting yelled at in the timeout but they’re alright.

One thing that we had when we were there, we had a identity. We had four seniors that been through wars, been through struggles, been through injuries, been through losses, been through wins so it was a trinkle down affect. It started with the point guard which was Travis (Walton).

Now I feel like they don’t have that. They have seniors but they don’t have a demonstrative guy that’s gonna demand to ‘do it this way or we gonna fight.’ That’s how it was with us. Practice wasn’t right if we didn’t get into it with each other but we felt like if we’re gonna bite each other’s head off in practice, then the other team they don’t stand a chance because we don’t know them. It’s really a brotherhood. It’s a secret society and all we got is us.

EW: What about your old high school. Talk about Beecher’s program a little bit. How do you feel about them?

MG: You got to take your hat off for Courtney Hawkins. He’s done a unbelievable job of turning that whole program around. Everything from football to basketball, getting the right people in the right position to be successful. You got to take your hat off to Coach Mike Williams, two-time coach of the year and went to the Breslin Center for the championship games for like the last three years or something like that. He hasn’t really had a lot to work with so that says a lot about his coaching ability. I’m happy for him man and when I go back and talk to those guys I always tell them ‘listen, only thing that matters is winning. If you win by one or if you win by 20…it don’t matter, just win!’

EW: Why do you feel like you were fortunate enough to make it out of a tough place like Beecher?

MG: I had older brothers and I had a mother that didn’t play. And I’m the youngest out of everybody I hang with.

I used to get picked on, they used to beat me up, they wouldn’t pick me when we played basketball or whatever and I carried a ball with me everywhere I went. I used to just walk and dribble. They would take my ball go to the court and not pick me on they team and if I tried to take my ball they would beat me up but all that made me tough. It made me able to withstand stuff so my mentality when they were doing that is that ‘I’m gonna be better than all y’all.’ For a minute that’s what I was striving for, to be better than all of them.

EW: What you expect to do over in Mexico? What’s your goals?

MG: To kill! I gotta stay in kill-mode. I gotta get a contract for next year.

EW: So you just signed a one-year contract?

MG: Yeah because when you’re overseas, you really don’t want to sign more than a one-year deal unless you’re on a top team and they’re talking about 1.5 or 2 million than you will sign maybe a two-year contract but other than that you always want to keep your options open.


By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — Marquise Gray has a recurring dream just about every night.

He’s in the National Basketball Association, he doesn’t know what team he’s on. It’s the tip-off, he has on the number 45 with a stylish headband to match his jersey. Before the ball goes up he looks in the front row and gives a wink, he doesn’t know who it’s directed to.

What the Beecher graduate does know is that this may be a sign.

“I feel like that’s God telling me don’t let the dream die,” Gray said of his NBA aspirations. “In the word it says if you have faith the size of a mustard seed than you can move a mountain.”

A mustard seed is typically 1 or 2 mm in diameter.

Gray feels it only takes that much certainty.

On Wednesday, he boarded a plane to Mexico with great certainty of his abilities while preparing for his second season of international basketball. Last year, Gray played in Turkey for the Gelisim Koleji while averaging 17 points and 10.7 boards per contest.

In 2009, Gray played on the Detroit Pistons’ summer league team but couldn’t crack the team’s regular season roster.

“I had the chance to grow as a man. Did I like everything that happened? No.” Gray
reflected. “If I could would I change some stuff? Yes. But at the same time, everything that I went through made me the man that I am today.”

Gray spent four years playing for the Michigan State Spartans where he averaged 4.4 points and 3.9 rebounds over his career. In high school, he was regarded as one of the top players in the nation. His 2004 prep class included future NBA players: Marvin Williams, Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, and Jordan Farmar.

Some scouts at the time even believed Gray could have skipped college to walk across the stage and shake commissioner David Stern’s hand directly after receiving his diploma.

But Gray wasn’t caught up in the hype, largely because of the tough love he received from his older brother, Keenan.

“I just wanted to keep him level-headed, because if he got to the point where he thought he was too good then maybe he would stop working,” Keenan said. “I wouldn’t tell him ‘good game.’ I would point out everything wrong he did.”

“I had the chance to go out of high school but I promised my mother I was going to get my education,” Gray added. “If I would’ve went to the league out of high school, yeah, I would have had the money but I would have been bounced around. I wasn’t mature enough to handle that lifestyle.”

Before he left his hometown to go overseas, Gray had to fulfill a commitment he made to his family at the Second Chance Church. He opened the doors to the gym at his church home last Saturday —formerly identified as Stewart Elementary school — for kids in the area to play on his Wii system, board games and basketball.

Gray thinks the kids need to be more “God-conscious,” which is something he developed after his NBA dream halted and he went off to play in Turkey.

“I want to let them know that it’s someone that’s not much older than them but at the same time still can relate to some of the things they’re going through,” Gray said. “I just want to let them know that I care (and) let them know that I love them.”

The members of the church applaud his energy.

“To see him, it’s a blessing and it brings a smile on my face because he doesn’t have to do this,” 56-year-old Second Chance Church attendee Jimmie Hatcher said. “He could be out doing something for himself but here he is doing something for them.”

Religion is now a way of life for Gray but basketball is still his passion. He describes his attraction to the game as if it were a drug. The 6-foot-8 baller believes he itches when he’s away from the sport for too long.

He can scratch that itch again with his second pro season just around the corner.

 

Eric Woodyard

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — Tonight is a celebration, surely it is.

The Greater Flint Afro-American Hall of Fame will host its 27th annual induction ceremony at the Riverfront Bauquet Center with a mingle beginning at 4 p.m and the program starting at 4:30 p.m.

The hall will welcome Tracy Byrd, Warren “Teddy” Dodson, Tommy L. Hamlett, David Hollingsworth, Jacky King, Eugene Marve, Fred Toins, and Coquise Washington Brown as its newest class.

“We want to preserve our history, because if you don’t know where you come from, it’s going to be hard to determine where you’re going,” Hall founder Norm Bryant said.

While this is a great thing for the community, it got me thinking about where exactly are we going as far as sports are related. How many more top-tier athletes are we capable of producing in the city in the near future?

I have been impressed with a few athletes in the “city” schools (i.e. Thomas Rawls, Ahasuerus McDonald, Jaylen McGee), but as a unit, we have a lot of work to do. Sure, it’s cool to “preserve our history,” but we have to create a history to preserve.

What’s going to happen 27 years from now if Norm Bryant no longer is a part of our community? We can only flip the Glen Rice and Mark Ingram stories so many times.

My whole mindset about city schools (Northwestern, Southwestern, Northern) was changed after reading Circuit Judge Duncan Beagle’s presentation to the Flint Board of Education regarding high school athletics. A graduate of Southwestern High School in 1966, Beagle’s studies have magnified a few problems that have to be addressed, especially in football.

In 2010, Southwestern and Northwestern did not win a single football game the entire season. The city posted a 5-22 overall record. This should not be acceptable in a city that once prided itself on athletics.

Now that I think about it, we have not won a state basketball championship since Northern did it in 1995. Powers’ Class B title doesn’t count, because they’re not a city school. We were once the “Basketball City.” I know we’re still capable of producing teams like the ones of the 1980s that captured five titles in a row. Let’s push our youth to work harder not only in sports but in academics as well, because many talented athletes aren’t even eligible to play.

Beagle hit the nail on the head when he included this in his research: “I am deeply concerned that many of our athletic teams have accepted losing, especially in football, and there is no strategic game plan to address how we can become more competitive.”
I totally agree — we need a plan (or two)!

That’s if we want to celebrate the successes of future athletes like the ones who will enter the Greater Flint Afro-American Hall of Fame tonight. I challenge the parents, staff, students, coaches, and the community as a whole to get back on the right track. It shouldn’t take a few stats to realize that we need to change and that we’re not competitive. We should have more pride than that.

Being a “Flintstone” used to mean something. I’m not sure how much longer it will if there’s no progress.

Powers' #20 junior Patrick Lucas-Perry dribbles past Carman-Ainsworth's #5 freshman Denzel Watts.

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — Powers senior guard, Patrick Lucas-Perry is not like most high school athletes.

Although this may sound a bit cliche, it’s truly the best way to describe him. He played hockey all the way up until high school. How many city athletes do you know of that have to decide whether or not to seriously pursue hockey or hoops?
PLP is the youngest of five children and is regarded one of the top guards in the state. He currently averages 17.2 points, 6.5 assists, and 3.8 steals per game for the Chargers (15-2) and looks to lead them to another Class B state championship this season.
Last weekend, PLP sat down with the Flint Journal at the Applebee’s on Hill road for a full interview on his career, his upcoming college plans, and the legacy that he hopes to leave at Powers.
Eric Woodyard: I had a chance to talk to your mom and she told me that you are a super momma’s boy. I know this can’t be true…(laughs)
Patrick Lucas-Perry: (Laughs) She let the cat out of the bag but yeah, I think my mom is someone who’s always going to be there for me and someone I can depend on. So I guess you can say I’m a little momma’s boy.
EW: You’re the baby of the family so how does that feel to have to live up to the expectations that all of your brothers and sisters set before you?
PLP: I get that question a lot. I just tell them that the pressures that I’ve had on me is just an inspiration and just a little positive and reminder of who I am and what I need to do with my life so I just take it as something that would help me through my life. It’s something that will just always be there to be pushing me.
EW: I know you won a state championship as a sophomore and was the captain of the team. Why do you think they had that much confidence in you to put you in that role?
PLP: I think a lot of teams even the Lakers with Derek Fisher and the Celtics with (Rajon) Rondo. The point guard role has a lot of purpose and a lot of meaning to help the team and really lead and be that person to take their teammates and their team to the next level. I think being a sophomore a lot of pressure was put on me but I would like to say that I just like to make my players better around me.
EW: What was your favorite year playing varsity?
PLP: The teams over these past four years have been so unique and diverse and just different type of players. I really cant put one whole season to say that it’s better than the other but I feel like the chemistry that I’ve had throughout my whole career at Powers has just been great. It’s been a great experience from the coaches and from everybody.
EW: You played other sports too but what made you want to stick just with basketball?
PLP: Yeah, actually when I was coming into high school I was either going to play hockey or basketball and I was like ‘dang, which one am I going to do?’ but I just chose basketball over football, tennis, and track because I just felt like it was just something I could do forever and it was just a passion I had.
EW: Hockey though? (laughs) Not a lot of people play hockey…
PLP: Yeah, not too many people but my parents just had me do a lot of things when I was growing up and it was just something that I just started liking over the years. Then I realized that I was pretty good at it and I started playing travel and the AA and it was just something I always thought was fun and enjoyable.
I played from when I was like five to eighth grade year actually. Actually I don’t watch a lot, I just like to play it.
EW: What are your ultimate goals this season?
PLP: All-State, I’d like to do that again. Dream Team. But right now individual awards I’m not even focused on, I’m really just focused on that state championship.
Powers’ #20 junior Patrick Lucas-Perry dribbles past Carman-Ainsworth’s #5 freshman Denzel Watts.
EW: Out of all the battles this season, what was your favorite battle this season?
PLP: I’d have to say Carman because that’s the team that we lost too. It’s that one game that I will look back two years from now or whatever and will be like ‘I wish I had that one back,’ so I will have to say Carman and Denzel (Watts).
EW: Do you think that has motivated the team?
PLP: I really think it did. I think it gave us a great learning experience, a wake up call and in my eyes something that we can just persevere through to winning the state championship.
EW: What colleges have been aggressively pursuing you the most?
PLP: I think it’s between Pennsylvania University, Harvard, Oakland, and Boston College.
EW: What would you say is your top two?
PLP: Penn and Oakland probably.
EW: How fun would it be to play with your brother, LaVal, at Oakland?

PLP: I’ve never done it before and it would be something that’s just a insurmountable, great experience all tied into one especially with Coach (Greg) Kampe there. Being a Golden Grizzlie would just be an all-around great opportunity and something that would last for a lifetime.
EW: When will you make your decision?

PLP: After the season.
EW: How would you like to be remembered at Powers? Your family all has their legacy but what do you want yours to be?
PLP: That’s a good question. I just would like to be that leader that someone is compared to. I hope to be that person and just someone that will be remembered as a great point guard and being a true point guard.
*Look out for Eric Woodyard’s full-length feature story on Patrick in tomorrow’s sports section of the Flint Journal.

JaVale McGee

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — In 1984, Phoenix Suns power forward Larry Nance won the first ever NBA Slam Dunk competition. He did it with an array of acrobatic dunks that brilliantly utilized his length and lanky build.

At 6-foot-10, Nance went head-to-head with legendary dunkers like Julius “Dr. J” Erving and Dominique Wilkins in Denver to become one of the tallest winners in the history of the contest. But what would Washington Wizards center, JaVale McGee know about Larry Nance though? He wasn’t even born yet.

McGee, 23, wasn’t born until four years after Nance’s feat.

This Saturday, the Flint native will look to recreate that magic and perhaps have something in common with Nance. McGee was selected to participate in this year’s Slam Dunk Contest at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles, Calif. He will battle DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors), Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers), and Serge Ibaka (Oklahoma City Thunder) for the title.

McGee lists Nance’s performance in the ‘84 contest as his favorite of all-time, but vows to come with his own creative niche.

“I’m just really excited,” McGee said. “I got some things up my sleeve that people have never seen and it should be a pretty good contest.”

Just like Nance, McGee is also relatively large to be fighting for the crown as the league’s best dunker. He is 7-feet tall and weights 250 pounds. Since his name was officially confirmed as a member of arguably the most popular event of the entire weekend, McGee has earned a newfound fame that can sometimes become annoying.

“It’s definitely fun getting the attention, it’s also hectic though,” McGee added. “You can’t go places you went before without being heckled by everybody.”

Wizards Cavaliers Basketball.JPG

McGee lived in Flint until the age of four, but often moved from city to city. His mother, Pam McGee, was a star at Northern high school, and won back-to-back NCAA championships at USC. She also played professional basketball in several different places, including overseas and in the WNBA. Due to her career, JaVale lived in Detroit, Chicago, and even Los Angeles, but he did come back to his hometown to attend Flint Northwestern in the seventh and eighth grade.

In high school, McGee played at Detroit Country Day, Fremont’s Providence Christian HS and Hales Franciscan in Chicago before completing two years of college basketball at Nevada-Reno.

In 2008, McGee was selected by the Wizards with the 18th pick of the NBA draft and he is now in his third season averaging 9.2 points and 7.6 rebounds.
Although McGee is hardly home, he’s still realizes where he’s from and hopes to make his community proud. He has the ink to prove it.

“I definitely rep the city of Flint. I have the Flint tattoo and everything,” McGee said. “I’ve been there for like half my life like on and off, but I’m just trying to go out there and represent and win this dunk contest.”

*Click this link to check out Eric Woodyard’s complete interview with McGee.

Flint's Chelsey Jackson of the IPFW women's basketball team.

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — The typical college athlete generally begins to play his/her desired sport at a very early age.  Most of the time they begin to hone their skills starting as soon as elementary school because they have a unique passion for their craft.

Chelsey Jackson was different.

“I was just playing because a couple of my other friends were playing,” Jackson said.

The Flint native didn’t participate in organized basketball until she was 12-years-old and didn’t get serious about it until after a close relative passed away. She used the game as an outlet to release her inner frustrations.

Jackson never dreamnt that something she did to help past the time would one day earn her a full-ride athletic scholarship to Indiana-Purdue/Fort Wayne University.

Now a senior playing on IPFW’s women’s basketball team, Jackson is one of the school’s all-time greats. On Feb. 5, she became just the 15th member of the university’s 1,000-point club after scoring a game-high 19 points against Western Illinois. Last Saturday, she showcased her skills in front her of loved ones when she made her homecoming trip to Michigan as the Mastodons took on Oakland University in Rochester.

With over thirty of her close relatives in the stands sporting white t-shirts that beared her name and number on them, Jackson poured in 12 points and handed out three assists. The Mastodons defeated the Grizzlies, 70-55.

“It’s always good coming here and playing in front of my family because a lot of them don’t get to go to Fort Wayne to see me play,” Jackson said.”So it’s always fun coming back here and playing.”

Although they may not have the time to be present for all of her contests, her folks are appreciative of all her accomplishments.

“I’ve always been proud of Chelsey since she first decided that she wanted to play. It’s just fantastic for me” Jackson’s father, Richard Williams said.”Playing Division I basketball, getting to play against some of the best talent in the country. What more can you ask?”

Jackson decided to attend IPFW after graduating from Flint Central high school in 2007. As a junior at Central, she only averaged 8.9 points but improved that production to 21.3 as a senior. She also led the city in scoring during her final year of prep basketball and was named to the First-Team All-Saginaw Valley Conference squad.

When it came time to decide on what college would be the best fit, she made her decision based solely on which program would afford her the opportunity to develop the best.

“I just felt like IPFW was a place that I could grow with because when I first came here the program wasn’t really big,” Jackson recalled.”They were just trying to sell us a dream on the idea, and I was just trying to find a place where I could just grow with the program. I felt like IPFW was the place where I could do that.”

Jackson averages 9.7 points thise season and has reached double-figures in her last four games.

On Monday, Jan. 31, she chipped in 23 points connecting on six of her nine field goal attempts against Centenary. She fired back with 19 points on Western Illinois. Against IUPUI on Feb. 7, she scored 15 points with five rebounds and added 12 more at Oakland.

“Her performances the last three weeks have been unbelievable. Chelsey’s always gone through some trying to figure out what she’s best at and she’s just figured it out now,” IPFW head coach, Chris Paul said.”You can just see it on the floor now, she’s calm, she’s comfortable, she looks like a senior, she’s shooting the ball with confidence. I just can’t say enough about the progress she’s made, not only this year but from her freshman year until now.”

IPFW is in second place of the Summit League with a record of 11-3 in conference play.The Mastodons have a overall record of 17-6.

“I’m just trying to work hard every time, every second I am on the court and that’s been paying off,” Jackson added.

Justice Thigpen (middle) poses for a portrait with his daughter Reba and his son Justice Jr. after a church league basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 12. Justice was the first Afro-American from Flint to play in the NBA.

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — When Justus Thigpen Sr.  was called up from the Continental Basketball Association to play for the Detroit Pistons in the middle of the 1972-1973 season, he became the first basketball player from Flint to ever play in the NBA.

After he hung up his sneakers for good, he was willing to pave a similar path for his two young children, Reba and Justus Jr.

But it was up to them whether or not they wanted to follow in their father’s footsteps as a professional ballplayer.

“He was the first man to put a basketball in our hands, but one thing he would always say to us (was), “I’m going to introduce you to the game but it’s up to you whether or not you want to stick with it,’” Reba Thigpen remembered.

The two kept at it. Although neither of them ever cracked a NBA or WNBA roster, their success in the sport still made their dad proud. Reba left Northern High School as the school’s all-time leading scorer in 1989 before heading to Lansing Community College for two years where she scored 30 points per game.

Justus Jr. was also a Northern graduate who attended Iowa State and averaged 17.6 points per game as a senior in 1993. He got passed over in the NBA draft but had a brief stint in the preseason with the Utah Jazz before playing for several teams in the CBA, including the Flint Fuze.

The trio was all back on the same court this past Saturday in a church league at Scott Elementary with Justus Sr. coaching them just like old times. There’s only one difference now, Justus Jr. (40) and Reba (41) are not the same little whippersnappers that Justus Sr. used to drill in the playgrounds. He still has no problem reminding them or anyone else of his resume though.

“In this sport, if you get to that highest level, it’s a certain cockiness that you gotta have and you need that if you want to be great or successful,” Justus Jr. said. “So he would remind himself, ‘Hey, I was that man who paved that way for a lot of cats.’”

In his prime, Justus Sr. was a handful. He was cut from virtually every basketball team he tried out for from the seventh grade all the way up until his senior year of high school at Northern in 1965.

“For a guy to never make the high school team, I’m the only one to come out of there and play professional basketball and I’m in five hall of fames,” Justus Sr. boasted. “But I couldn’t make a high school basketball team and they call me ‘the late bloomer’ but that’s not true. They just didn’t let me play.”

When he finally got his chance, he made the best of his opportunity and earned a scholarship to Flint Junior College (Mott Community College) where he dominated in two seasons, averaging 26.5 points as a sophomore. In the fall of 1967, he transferred to Weber State University where he finished out the remainder of his college eligibility. During his tenure as a Wildcat, Justus Sr. made the Big Sky Conference first team for two consecutive seasons.

In 1969, he was drafted by the San Diego Rockets of the NBA but opted to take an offer from the Carolina Cougars in the ABA. Before the season began, the Cougars shipped him over to a league in Paris for one year to develop. He did so well in France that the Pittsburgh Pipers of the ABA came calling and later the Flint Pros of the CBA.

Justus Sr. averaged over 40 points per game, with no three-point line, for the Pros in the 1972-73 season, competing against legends like George “The Iceman” Gervin, who is now in the NBA Hall of Fame, on a nightly basis. He signed with the Detroit Pistons in the middle of that season and played in 18 games while averaging 2.6 points in the Motor City. He would never get another shot at the NBA, but he still marvels at his past triumphs.

“I want people to understand that I was the first one to be in the NBA!” Justus Sr. said. “A lot of us old timers don’t get a lot of recognition. We were the original ‘Flintstones.’”

Although the Thigpen family reunion was a prosperous one with great tradition on the line, their Kingdom Entertainment team still fell to Great Lakes Black, 88

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — Adrien Allen was only searching for a better opportunity when he decided to move from Flint to Las Vegas in September.

The Southwestern graduate never imagined that he would soon be playing professionally for the Las Vegas Aces in the American Basketball Association.

Allen had been a football player for the majority of his life. The thought of pursuing only basketball seemed like a longshot and others had little faith in his abilities to make the transition.

“Basketball is my first love and growing up through high school, I would have coaches and a lot of people tell me that because of my size football would be the only way I would be able to make it,” Allen said. “But I always knew that one of these days I was gonna fall back on basketball because I just love basketball so much.”

The road was not an easy trip for Allen. In 2006, he graduated from Southwestern. He had several layovers along the way, including stints at Flint Central as a freshman and Flint Powers as a sophomore, before becoming a Knight his final two years. After high school, Allen took his skills to Buffalo, N.Y., where he played quarterback for Erie Community College for one season.

He spent the next two years at Northwood University in Midland,  where he played football but was never allowed to step on the hardwood. Allen’s athletic career seemed to be crumpling when he didn’t return to Northwood for his senior year and decided to make the trip to Las Vegas instead.

As fate would have it, he stumbled upon the league while casually surfing the web.

Allen narrowly made the date for the tryouts. His “lunch-pail mentality” impressed head coach, Kirk Baker, as well a few veteran players on the roster. It wasn’t until after Allen made the team that he was informed of Baker’s ties to his hometown.

Baker attended Flint Northwestern from 1982-1983 and cracked the varsity roster as a sophomore before moving to Lansing to finish high school. Baker is in his first season as head coach for the Aces and enjoys coaching the rookie.

“For a Flint guy he doesn’t have too much of a jumper, but he’s got that tenacity and he plays hard,” Baker said. “It was something that I needed so we picked him up.”

“The thing that impressed me is when we played Stephon Marbury’s team (from China) in the preseason games,” Baker said. “(Adrien) came in, he played hard, he gave us the energy that we needed. He did well preseason and in the first couple games he was came off the bench and he was giving us like 12-14 points a game.”

In eight games, Allen has started twice and averages 5.4 points per game. Baker thinks that Allen’s recent drop in productivity is typical of first-year players because they are still learning how to play on the next level. The Aces also have a balanced team with six of the 12 players averaging double-digits in scoring. Whatever is the cause of this decline from the early season, Allen is still elated to have made it this far.

“I’m very proud of myself. I feel like I overcame a lot of stuff dealing with coaches and people telling me that I couldn’t do this and I couldn’t do that. I always knew deep down inside that if I would put that hard work in and dedicate myself that I would find a home and one day my dream would finally come true.”