D1 preview: The contenders’ stories told on the tough tournament roads

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The final four teams playing in this weekend’s Division 1 men’s basketball group at the Breslin Center have certainly earned the momentous opportunity that awaits them.

Detroit Catholic League Central saw its five teams finish in the top six in Division 1 Michigan Power Ratings (MPR) — and No. 6 Warren De La Salle Collegiate outlasted the others. The I-75 corridor has always been impressive this winter – and defending champion Grand Blanc is back.

Grand Rapids Northview became one of the stories of the season as it emerged from a growing number of annual Division 1 contenders on the west side of the Lower Peninsula. And Belleville could become the headliner this weekend after emerging from a bracket that originally included the best in the Detroit Public School League and the southeastern part of the state.

DIVISON 1 Semi-finals – Thursday
Warren De La Salle Collegiate (18-7) vs. Grand Rapids Northview (25-1), noon
Big White (20-5) vs. Belleville (19-6), 2 p.m.

FINAL Saturday 12:15 p.m.

Tickets for this weekend’s matches are $12 for the semi-finals and finals and are available through the Breslin Center box office. All semi-finals will be broadcast and viewable with a subscription to MHSAA.tvand the four finals will be broadcast live on Saturday on Bally Sports Detroit, with Division 4 and 1 games on BSD EXTRA and Division 3 and 2 games on the main BSD channel. All four will be streamed live as well as on the BSD website and app. Audio streams of all semi-finals and finals will be available for free on the MHSAA Network.

A look back at the four Division 1 semi-finals (with classification by PMR at the end of the regular season, and statistics until the regional finals):

BEAUTIFUL CITY
Record/ranking: 19-6, No. 44
End of league: Premiere at Kensington Lakes Activities Association East
Coach: Adam Trumpour, ninth season (148-52)
Championship history: Class A runner-up in 1998.
The best win: 47-45 over No. 10 Detroit Cass Tech in the quarterfinals, 59-48 over Romulus in the regional finals, 50-47 (OT) over Ann Arbor Skyline in the regional semifinals, 38-37, 62-45 and 63- 43 on Dearborn.
Players to watch: Da’Jon Johnson, 5-10 sr. G (12.1 ppg, 3.0 apg); Mario Johnson, 6-4 sr. G (10 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 3.8 apg); Bryce Radtka, 6-8 sr. C (10.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg).
Outlook: The Tigers return to the semifinals for the first time since 2002, having won nine of their last 10 games and with five of their losses by a combined 11 points. Four seniors start, joined by second-year guard Jalen Jenkins, another balanced offense contributor with 10 points per game. Trumpour, who helped the staff who guided Romulus to the 2013 Class A title, led Belleville to district titles four of the last six seasons (not counting COVID-abbreviated 2019-20) and also took the Tigers to quarterbacks. final in 2017-18.

GREAT WHITE
Record/ranking: 20-5, No. 8
End of league: Saginaw Valley League Premier
Coach: Mike Thomas, fifth season (88-22)
Championship history: 2021 Division 1 champion, 1952 Class B runner-up.
The best win: 67-60 over No. 4 Detroit Catholic Central in the quarter-finals, 65-58 (Regional Semi-Final) and 64-63 over Flint Carman-Ainsworth, 80-62 over No. 20 River Rouge, 70-66 (OT) over Division 2 No 4 Ferndale, 68-57 over Division 3 No. 2 Flint Beecher.
Players to watch: RJ Taylor, 6-0 jr. G (16.8 ppg, 51 3-point, 4.3 apg); Upstream Allen-Johnson, 6-1 jr. G (13.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.2 apg); Tae Boyd, 6-3 days. G (13.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg).
Outlook: The defending Division 1 champion started this season against some of the best teams in the state and started 1-3 – but after picking up the pace, the Bobcats were nearly unbeatable. Grand Blanc has as many as 18 wins in its last 19 games, and losses have undoubtedly benefited this run against Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, Detroit Martin Luther King and Muskegon. Something else to keep in mind: no senior starts and eight of the top nine players in the team’s rotation are expected to return next season. Taylor made the 2021 all-state first team.

GRAND RAPIDS NORTHVIEW
Record/ranking: 25-1, No. 24
End of league: First at Ottawa-Kent Conference White
Coach: David Chana, third season (47-15)
Championship history: Never played in an MHSAA final.
The best win: 54-52 over Kalamazoo Central in the Quarterfinals, 68-55 over No. 9 Muskegon in the Regional Semis, 71-48 over No. 17 Rockford in the District Finals, 68-64 (OT) over Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, 64- 51 over Grand Rapids Christian.
Players to watch: Kyler Vanderjagt, 6-4 sr. G (22.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg); Jalen Charity, 6-6 sr. G (13 ppg, 6.0 rpg); EJ Ryans, 6-3 soph. G (10.4 ppg, 3.3 apg).
Outlook: Northview’s resounding win over Kalamazoo Central on Tuesday added to the excitement of a run that saw the Wildcats into their first semifinal since 1990. Aside from an eight-point loss to Grand Rapids Christian in early February, Northview is undefeated and has four wins by five runs or less. Vanderjagt made the all-state first team last season when Northview finished 8-6, and he nearly matched his scoring average from last year this winter; he will continue his career in Belmont, Tennessee. Senior guard Grant George is adding 7.7 points per game off the bench.

WARREN DE LA SALLE COLLEGE
Record/ranking: 18-7, #6
End of league: Fourth in Detroit Catholic League Central
Coach: Gjon Djokaj, second season (31-11)
Championship history: Class B runner-up in 1982.
The best win: 50-48 to No. 2 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in the quarterfinals, 68-33 to No. 11 Canton, 49-46 to No. 1 Detroit UD Jesuit, 59-54 to No. 5 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, 73-51 over No. 4 Detroit Catholic Central, 91-49 over Detroit Western, 57-44 over Coldwater, 76-69 (2OT) over Division 2 No. 4 Ferndale.
Players to watch: Tamario Adley, 6-3 sr. G (11.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg); Michael Sulaka, 6-8 jr. F (10.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg); Nino Smith, 6-0 jr. G (10 ppg, 4.3 apg).
Outlook: With Tuesday’s win over St. Mary’s, De La Salle had earned a win this season over every other top Catholic League Central team. Defeating the Aiglons sent the pilots back to the semi-finals for the second consecutive season and the third time in four seasons (not counting 2020 for short COVID). Six players averaged at least eight points per game, and five had made 16 or more 3-pointers at the start of the week. Four starters are back from last season’s semifinal team that lost 55-39 to Ann Arbor Huron, and three starters plus undergraduate freshman Pheonix Glassnor (8.0 ppg) are expected also come back next winter. Junior Triston Nichols (8.8 ppg) and senior Caleb Reese (8.0 ppg, 4.1 apg) also start.

PHOTO Grand Rapids Northview’s EJ Ryans (5) throws a shot during his team’s regional semi-final win over Muskegon. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)

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