EAST LANSING — For Bloomfield High basketball players like Yante Maten and Armand Cartwright, this was the culmination after years of chipping away at their goal.
For Dylan Deitch, this was a welcomed new reality.
Maten and Cartwright, along with a host of other teammates, are former players of Bloomfield Hills Lahser, which had won district championships the last two years. Deitch and four other teammates are from Bloomfield Hills Andover, which were knocked out of the first round of the playoffs the past two seasons.
Now, together, as the combined team of Bloomfield Hills, they were on the floor of the Breslin Center playing for a Class A state championship March 22 in East Lansing.
“It feels like magic,” Cartwright said the day before the game.
The Black Haws lost to Muskegon High 91-67 in the championship after beating U-D Jesuit 85-75 in the semifinal March 21.
Despite the loss, Deitch said it was a special run, especially for a school in its first year.
“It really is a difference, and people not in the district don’t realize that, but it’s, honestly, a completely different atmosphere from both schools,” he said. “Coming in and being huge rivals, the guys on the team came in and said, ‘We have one goal, that’s to make it to the Breslin, and when we get there, anything can happen.’ I think that’s what made it special: everyone bought in and played for each other.”
Coach Duane Graves, who had coached Lahser the previous three seasons, agreed.
“I think when you bring two programs together and have the success we had, it just shows what good kids that we have,” he said. “I think what really helps with this whole process is that the kids bought in and understand what it’s going to take and the hard work. I’m really impressed.”
Against Muskegon, which finished 28-0 overall, the Black Hawks had trouble matching its size and speed.
The Big Reds shot 67.4 percent, with many of the buckets coming from inside. Of Muskegon’s 91 points, 72 of them came from in the paint or on fast breaks.
“I think the game just got out of our hands and that inexperience caught up to us,” Graves said.
On the other side, Bloomfield Hills had trouble finding its rhythm, shooting 43.6 percent for the day, including 29 percent in the first half.
“Someone forgot to take the Saran wrap off the rim for us. Other than that, I thought our boys fought as hard as they could,” Graves said.
Xzavier Reynolds led the team with 21 points. Maten scored 13 in 18 minutes of work because of foul trouble.
Against Jesuit in the semifinal, Maten led all scorers with 25 points, along with 18 rebounds, four blocks and four assists. In the quarterfinal, Maten again asserted himself, scoring 31 points to beat Warren Mott 74-68.
This was Maten’s fourth year starting at the varsity level. Graves remembers telling Maten’s mom when he brought him on varsity as a freshman that he was a special player and that he was going to take the program for a ride.
“I got to go along that ride and ride on his coat tails,” Graves said. “Yante carried us here. … We put a lot of burden on his shoulders, and I’m very proud of the way he handled it.”
Graves also said he was proud of the whole team.
“It’s been an honor to coach my boys,” he said following the semifinal win. “They make me look good. You can be the greatest coach in the world, but if you don’t have the kids that listen and work hard, you’re just a coach.”
The Black Hawks were 24-4 overall, and despite some key departures, like seniors Deitch, Cartwright, Maten, Todd Weiss, Alex Gasso, Logan McDonald, Reynolds, Khalil Gracey, Nathan Graham, Spencer McCourt and Eric Weiss, Graves believes this could be just the beginning.
“We’ll be back here. I have a freshmen group that went 20-0, a JV that went 8-12 and didn’t have all their players because we kept taking them,” the coach said. “We have some talented kids in the pipeline, and a lot of them were at our practices working hard. They got a taste of what this is all about. We’ll be right back at this.”