New arena showcases local talent

By: Timothy Pontzer | C&G Newspapers | Published December 20, 2017

 Michigan State University freshman forward Jaren Jackson Jr. wins the tipoff against Oakland University in a Dec. 16 contest. Jackson and the Spartans topped the Golden Grizzlies 86-75 in the second game of a doubleheader at Little Caesars Arena.

Michigan State University freshman forward Jaren Jackson Jr. wins the tipoff against Oakland University in a Dec. 16 contest. Jackson and the Spartans topped the Golden Grizzlies 86-75 in the second game of a doubleheader at Little Caesars Arena.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

DETROIT — A frigid December afternoon felt like a late March evening inside the cozy confines of Little Caesars Arena as the Hitachi College Basketball Showcase gave a taste of what is to come at the city’s newest venue Dec. 16.

Set to host both the Horizon League conference tournament and the opening two rounds of the NCAA Tournament in just over three months, the newest arena brought in two matchups that could be in a big bracket in the future. University of Detroit Mercy and University Michigan tangled followed by a battle between Oakland University and Michigan State University.

The Big Ten powers showed their supremacy over their Horizon counterparts, as the Wolverines topped the Titans 90-58 before the Spartans survived the Golden Grizzlies in a back-and-forth battle 86-73.

“To bring college basketball like this to the city of Detroit is tremendous,” Detroit Mercy coach Bacari Alexander said. “For us to be able to christen the court with Michigan like we did at Joe (Louis Arena) so many years ago is a great opportunity.”

The first matchup was the inaugural college hoops contest in the new arena. It served as a callback to when the Titans and the Wolverines met at Joe Louis Arena on Dec. 12, 1979, in what was the first-ever event for the facility.

“I’m really excited that we were able to be a part of this inaugural event,” Alexander continued. “It’s not the result that we hoped for, but all four coaches recognize this great opportunity to bring college basketball to the city of Detroit and how that is good for the game and city itself.”

OU coach Greg Kampe said that he was proud that his program was part of the day.

“You had the Red Wings here last night, college today, the Lions are playing right now and the Pistons are back here tomorrow,” he said. “That’s all happening right here, and the people running this thought enough of us to have us as a part of it.”

A handful of local players from the coverage area were also on the new hardwood.

A trio of Macomb Dakota grads suited up for Detroit Mercy in Jermaine Jackson Jr., Jack Ballantyne and Tariq Jones. A true freshman, Jackson started at point guard and recorded five points and two rebounds.

North Farmington graduate Jacob Joubert is a redshirt freshman guard for the Titans and saw action off the bench.

For the Spartans, Warren Mott grad and Troy native Kenny Goins played 20 minutes. A redshirt junior, he posted four points, seven assists and two steals.    

“If I look for stars and heroes, Kenny Goins did an unbelievable job,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said.

Goins said family and friends asked him for tickets to the game months in advance. He admitted that he couldn’t meet all those requests.

“It’s awesome to see so many Division 1 programs under one roof. Detroit is an up-and-coming city. People see everything moving back downtown, and they want to be a part of it,” said Goins.

While playing with the Marauders, Goins played a major role in the team reaching its first quarterfinal in 2014. The MSU forward turned down scholarship offers to walk on at MSU. He then received a scholarship in 2015.

MSU freshman guard Brock Washington, who is a 2017 graduate of Southfield Christian, said he loves how the event puts a spotlight on the city of Detroit. He said the area deserves to be recognized.

Washington is a preferred walk-on, similar to how Goins started his career in East Lansing. Preferred walk-ons are recruited and invited to play for a particular program and can earn a scholarship down the line. Washington, who is a Detroit native, received interest from a number of schools, including Oakland.

Washington and Goins have formed a bond. Washington called Goins a close friend, and he said they talk frequently about the hard work and dedication needed to progress as an athlete at a high-level program.

“(Goins) is somebody I’ve come to rely on and talk to a lot,” Washington said. “I know I had offers from other schools, but it’s a dream to be at MSU. My dad played here, so when I had the opportunity, I couldn’t pass it up.”

Goins has seen a lot in his time in East Lansing. The team advanced to the Final Four in 2015 — his freshman year, which he redshirted. He played, on average, 10 minutes a game in the 2015-16 season, and he started 14 of 35 games last year.

“You come in as a walk-on and you’re trying to play your way onto the floor, because coach Izzo doesn’t just give anybody minutes,” Goins said. “I think I started half of last season’s games. You just come in and work hard.”