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.


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.”

Brandon Carr (39) of the Kansas City Chiefs has become one of the top young corners in the NFL.

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — For 15 days, the National Football League has experienced an official shutdown. Professional football is out of action for the first time since 1987 as a nasty lockout lingers over the organization.

At the moment, there’s no guarantee that the 2012 season will begin in September as players and owners dispute back-and-forth with labor talks.

Coming off his third year as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, former Carman-Ainsworth standout Brandon Carr was prepared for this moment. The cornerback has been keeping a watchful eye on the situation.

“I’m on it every day,” Carr said of the lockout. “Some days are better than others but I have faith in our representatives and in our player’s union that they’re going to get the deal done and finish this up.

“All I can do right now is take care of my body and focus on the upcoming season.”

Carr is currently a restricted free agent.

Earlier this month, the Chiefs put a contract tender on the 24-year-old, which means if another team decides to sign Carr than they will have to hand over a first-round draft pick to the franchise. In 2010, Carr started all 16 games and gathered a total of 57 tackles — 46 solo, 11 assisted — including an interception in a week 16 win over the Tennessee Titans.

The Flint native also led the league in passes defended with 25. A “pass defended” takes place when any pass that a defender — through contact with the football — causes to be incomplete.

After experiencing so much success last season, Carr hopes the Chiefs, who won the AFC West Championship in 2010 after finishing 10-6, can continue to make leaps of progress.

“Of course I’m hoping to get back on the field but it’s always a business side to it. We don’t want to take a pay cut, we don’t want to work for free,” Carr said. “The NFL is not for long, you got so many years to get what you have to get and then you have to live the rest of your life with that money opposed to the person that’s a doctor or lawyer.”

With so many outside forces fighting for his attention, Carr is trying to clear his mind by making a difference in his community. On June 24, Carr hopes to get away from pro football as he hosts his first annual 7-on-7 shootout at Carman-Ainsworth High School. This event will give the area high school teams an opportunity to come out and sharpen their skills in the offseason against stiff competition with hopes of beginning the regular season on a high note.

“It’s an idea that I got from one of my teammates, Brandon Flowers, when I went to his camp last year and he held a 7-on-7,” Carr said. “I could have done a one or two-day camp but I just felt like in order for teams to get better as a whole than they should play together.”

He will also anchor his third annual golf outing. The “Brandon Carr Golf Scramble” will be held on Saturday, June 25. During this time of uncertainty in regards to his professional endeavors, those close to him try to keep him in a positive mindset.

“With everything going on, all the positive things that he is doing now — (like) giving back — that just makes me proud,” Carr’s older cousin/consultant, Terrance Robinson said. “I make sure he keeps his head on straight, I told him don’t worry about what’s going on with the lockout or what teams they’re talking about but just to prepare yourself.”

As Carr awaits for his next career move, with the lockout in full throttle, he’s continuing to spend every dollar wisely.

For more information on Carr’s upcoming events please contact Tawana Branch at (810) 210-6929 or via email (

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.


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.


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.

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — Running is defined in Webster’s dictionary as “to go by moving the legs faster than in walking.”

It also describes a runner as “one who, or that which, runs,” but University of Michigan freshman Justin Clarke of Flint simply deciphers his ability as something based on the assignment of a higher being.

“When people see me run, it’s not just the work of the body but it’s the work of God,” Clarke explained.

This may be true, but it also took long hours of hard labor, dedication, and a tremendous grind for Clarke to become one of the fastest sprinters of his class in the Big Ten Conference.

On Jan. 22, Clarke finished the 60-meter dash indoors with a time of 6.83 at the Simmons-Harvey Invitational. That mark ranks as the team’s best effort in that category for the young 2011 season. That same day, he also posted a 22.46 in the 200-meter Dash, which is the Wolverines’ third-best time in that department this year.
Clarke has twice been named as the “Wolverine of the Week,” and the folks in Ann Arbor believe they may have something special on their hands.

“For freshmen in general the expectations usually aren’t that high no matter what level guys are at but he’s kind of stepped in and was very serious,” UM track and field head coach Fred LaPlante. “He’s worked very consistently, he’s worked hard and stayed focused and been open-minded with listening, so he’s about as good as it gets for his freshman year.”

In Clarke’s transition from Southwestern Academy to the UM, he didn’t really know what to expect. In fact, he tried to stay as far away from the university as possible since most of his older siblings had already attended UM at some point.

“I was trying to avoid Michigan, I was actually fighting it and I didn’t apply until like the last day,” Clarke said.

In the end he figured it would be the perfect fit. He couldn’t pass up the chance of being so close to home, continuing the great family tradition they’d built at the school, and having the chance to learn the ropes from his big sister. Brianna Clarke is a senior at UM.

“One of the ways I’ve helped him transition was to get him involved in a program called ‘Leaders And Best’ which also pairs him up with a upperclassmen that actually is going in the same field that he’s going into,” said his sister Brianna.

“I (also) usually help him in his studying skills because some of the courses are a lot of the prerequisites that I took, and (I try to) link him with different faculty members that I’ve made relationships with to make sure he gets the best teachers for each class.”

“Every weekend we try to get together and have dinner and spend time,” Justin added.

This relaxation off the track seems to be paying off considerably when it’s time for Justin to compete. He also qualified for the finals of the Notre Dame Meyo Invitational on Friday, Feb. 4 by running a 6.87 in the 60-meter dash preliminaries, finishing in 10th place even though the event was non-scoring.

The frosh will have a chance to put his skills on display again this weekend when the Wolverines travel to the University of Illinois for the Big Ten Indoor Championships. Michigan has won the event 26 times and Clarke hopes he can be a factor in another Wolverine victory.

Clarke’s humility is what makes him come off as an “old-soul.” He seems to have been here before and his musical tastes reflect this since he finds pleasure in rocking to legends like The Temptations, Al Green, and Luther Vandross in his spare time.

The former Saginaw Valley Scholar Athlete of the Year should come up big this weekend since he’s never been the one to fold under the bright lights.

“He’s run his best against the best so he’s got some good guys he’ll be facing this weekend and hopefully he can keep his focus and give it his best shot and we’ll see how it goes,” LaPlante said.

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — If pressure busts pipes than why is Patrick Lucas-Perry still standing?

Entering high school, PLP had just as much pressure to succeed on the hardwood at Powers Catholic than Tiger Woods has to return to his old form in 2011.

Yes, it was that intense.

Lucas-Perry is the youngest of five children. His dad, LaVal Perry, played under Dick Vitale at the University of Detroit. His brother, Laval, was an All-State high school player at Powers and now a member of Oakland University’s hoops squad.

Patrick’s sister, Victoria, was also a WNBA prospect after four stellar seasons at Michigan State, including an appearance in the 2004-2005 national championship game against Baylor.

“The pressure that I’ve had on me has just been inspiration and a reminder of who I am and what I need to do with my life,” Patrick said. “I take it as something that will always be there to keep pushing.”

Although the expectations were aerial, his response was impressive.

Now in his senior year, Patrick has been somewhat of the All-American kid.

He’s spent four years on varsity and will break the MHSAA record for most games played (106) if Powers makes it to regionals. He won the Class B state championship as a sophomore. He has a 3.8 grade point average. He averages 17.2 points and 6.5 assists per game. No tattoos. No girlfriend. He bakes. He’s a big league “texter.” He’s a true momma’s boy and a Christian.

“He’s met and exceeded all of our expectations,” Patrick’s mother, Patricia said.

“I think he’s had an advantage because he’s had to watch us all and learn from our mistakes, from our highs and lows and kind of develop into a really well-rounded player,” His older sister, Victoria said.

While it does have its perks, being the baby of the family has not been easy for PLP. Especially in a family that enforces tough love. Like the time when Patrick tore his ACL this past summer playing with the Michigan Mustangs. In the first AAU game of the season at a tournament on Oakland’s campus, he thought he “tweaked” something and finished the contest scoring over 20 points.

Unaware of the severity of the injury at the time, Victoria yelled from the sidelines for him to “suck it up,” which is the reason he now plays with a bulky “Stone Cold” Steve Austin knee brace attached to his leg.

An MRI after the game would later reveal the damage and he missed out on a pivotal recruiting summer. Despite the blemish, Patrick now laughs the situation off and is pleased with the college offers he currently has on the table.

“I like to think that everything happens for a reason and maybe I could have got scholarships, but I feel like the opportunities and the scholarships that I have right now are the best opportunities for me,” Patrick said.

According to Patrick, schools like Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Oakland University, and Boston College have all aggressively pursued him. At the moment, his top two choices are narrowed to Oakland and Penn, but all that could change. His mind can change day-by-day, but the look on his face when asked about joining his brother in Rochester next season was priceless.

“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,” Patrick said while speaking of Oakland’s program and potentially playing with his brother. “Being a Golden Grizzlie would just be an all-around great opportunity and something that would last for a lifetime.”

Patrick will not make his official decision on his college arrangement until after the season. One which he hopes will end with another Powers celebration at the Breslin Center after a state championship.

Western Michigan's Jamarko Simmons, left, catches a pass in front of Iowa defender Bradley Fletcher during the second half of their college football game, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2007, in Iowa City, Iowa. Western Michigan won 28-19.

By Eric Woodyard | The Flint Journal

FLINT, Michigan — The odds of earning a spot on a pro football roster seemed to be slim and none for JaMarko Simmons.

For four months, he worked tirelessly at the Security Packaging company on South Dort Highway trying to pay his bills as well as provide for his two-year-old son, Jaylen.

Simmons’ days as a All-American wide receiver starring on Western Michigan University’s football team were a distant memory. Instead of catching passes he “provided exceptional packaging products” to the company’s valued customers.

“I was seeing how this 9-5 thing was and it wasn’t for me,” Simmons said. “It was definitely a wake up call.”

Things quickly changed with one conversation in mid-October. The Jacksonville Sharks of the Arena Football League needed a physical wideout and offered Simmons a spot on the team. Without thinking, Simmons accepted.

“I was real excited about it,” Simmons said. “I got a second chance at it (and) a second chance at everything as injury free and really being able to show my talents.”

At WMU, Simmons was a four-year starter and became the first receiver in the program’s history to catch more than 100 passes in a season. He also broke the record for career receptions (260), passing Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings in the process.

After graduating in 2008, Simmons signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent but was hampered by a herniated disc in his back and didn’t make the final cut. The New Orleans Saints granted him another tryout but this would fall through. He then had plans on playing in the UFL but a fracture in his foot put his career at a standstill.

For a player who had never dealt with any major injuries all throughout his college tenure, Simmons often found himself frustrated and emotionally damaged. Being injured reminded him just how much he loved the game. When things seemed to be falling apart, he decided to rededicate himself to the sport.

He reached out to his former high school track coach at Flint Central, Carlos Benton, to help get back to the basics.

Simmons trained with Benton at Grand Blanc high school for close to two months before heading off to Jacksonville for the start of training camp with the Sharks last weekend. They met up for four sessions per week, which lasted nearly three hours to work on his flexibility, quickness, speed, cardio and agility. Simmons also participated in his own weight lifting regimen on top of their encounters.

Benton was highly impressed with the drive of his young protege.

“When we first started working out he wasn’t in shape but had the work ethics of it but as we’ve been working out he’s been getting very comfortable,” said Benton, who is now the girls cross country coach at Grand Blanc. “I can see the maturity from high school to college and I would be very shocked if he didn’t make it.”

Before he can make it back to the NFL, Simmons believes he has to crawl before he walks and this opportunity may be a stepping stone for the next level.

“I’m going to give it all I got. I still got a whole lot in the tank, a whole lot to give and it’s just one day at a time,” Simmons said. “My ultimate goal is to make it back to the league in 2011-2012 (and) hopefully it’s not a lockout and I can show what I got.”

While his sights may be set on the NFL, Simmons has to emerge as a star in the AFL first.

The rookie will get his chance when the Sharks take on the Arizona Rattlers on March 12 to kick off their five-month season.

“He better be very serious because if he’s not then he’s not going to make it,” Jacksonville Sharks head coach, Les Moss said. “These guys in this league are very good football players and he’s gonna be challenged every bit as much as he’s been challenged anywhere he’s been.”

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.