Royal Oak High boys basketball finding success with blue-collar work ethic

By: Christian Davis | Royal Oak Review | Published January 15, 2014

 Royal Oak High’s Mitch LaCombe brings the ball upcourt in a game earlier this season. The Ravens are beginning their push into the OAA Blue season.

Royal Oak High’s Mitch LaCombe brings the ball upcourt in a game earlier this season. The Ravens are beginning their push into the OAA Blue season.

Photos by Patricia O’Blenes

Without any returning starters from last season, Royal Oak High boys basketball coach Mike Massucci is pleasantly surprised with how well his team has played in the early goings.

At press time, the Ravens were 4-2 overall and 0-1 in the Oakland Activities Association Blue Division.

“You certainly don’t get grades a third of the way through, but looking back, I’m very proud of what we’ve done so far. We’ve beat some good teams and won some close games.”

In many ways, Massucci credits his seniors Erich Grohs (captain), Dante Valente (captain), Mitchell LaCombe (captain), Trevor Beerer and Tim Kohloff for the positive early returns.

“For every young person in Royal Oak that loves basketball, these five seniors are role models. They weren’t born with extraordinary height and athleticism. They are guys that worked really hard and improved tremendously,” Massucci said. “They have a platform now to say, ‘If you work hard, good things happen.’ Now, kids can come and watch them and think, ‘Hey, I can be like that.’”

One of the keys for the Ravens is a grind-it-out approach to the game.

“When we feel that the basketball game is at a fast pace, we’re not at our best,” Massucci said. “We’re at our best when we’re controlling games in the range of 55-65 points. If it’s getting higher than that, that’s not when we’re at our best.”

The Ravens have allowed only two teams to score more than 50 points against them.

“Defensively, we try to find the engine that makes their offense go, and go right at that,” he said.

The Ravens have made their mark mostly on the road. Royal Oak has played three of its six games on their opponents’ floor and one of them on a neutral court.

The nonconference slate is all part of Massucci’s meticulous plan to prepare his squad for a run in the Blue and the state playoffs.

For example, the Ravens made a long bus ride out to Almont High because they’ll be traveling out to Oxford High and Rochester Hills Stoney Creek later in the season.

“You have to find ways to get off the bus and play well,” the coach said.

Royal Oak hosted Clawson High on a Friday night.

“The gym was electric. That’s going to simulate what a Friday night league game might be like,” Massucci said.

Even the game against Detroit Cody on a neutral site in the Motor City Roundball Classic had its purpose: to give his team a taste of what district play will be like.

The Ravens won the game, earning themselves a trophy.

“I think one of the things we do better this year than we did in the past is celebrating successes,” Massucci said. “We always try to break the season up into three runs. At the end of 2013, we beat Cody for a trophy in the Motor City Classic. The second (third of the season) has a chance to end with a league trophy, and then the state playoffs is the third part.”

Massucci said “time will tell” how the squad handles the rigors of the Blue.

“We’re in a tough league. I think we’ll be outsized, and the other team will be quicker in most instances,” he said. “Our key is to play to our strengths, stay healthy, and preserver through the ebbs and flows of the season.”

Catch the Ravens against Hazel Park High at 7 p.m. Jan 17 on the road.