Blue Devils’ backcourt one for the books, leading charge for South basketball

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Grosse Pointe Times | Published February 20, 2024

 South celebrates after a 32-point win over Macomb Area Conference Red rival Roseville on Feb. 5 at Roseville High School.

South celebrates after a 32-point win over Macomb Area Conference Red rival Roseville on Feb. 5 at Roseville High School.

Photo provided by Grosse Pointe South boys basketball


GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Like it or not, the game of basketball has, and continues to, trend in the direction of elite-level guard play as opposed to dominant big men on the inside.

Luckily for Grosse Pointe South, they have both with 6-foot-7 senior Nathan Davey anchoring the center position, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a team with a stronger backcourt than the Blue Devils.

Anthony Benard, a 2023 graduate, was the face of South’s Macomb Area Conference Red-winning backcourt last season before taking his basketball career to Division 1 at Mercer University.

Everyone in the state knew guard Karter Richards was going to be the next man up, but they still haven’t been able to contain the senior as Richards’ performance so far this season has warranted a Mr. Basketball nomination.

“He’s had a lot of time on the court and a lot of time to mature,” South head coach Stephen Benard said. “His game has evolved over the four years to where it is now, and just being a leader. He’s playing top-10-player-in-the-state basketball right now and has been all season. He’s definitely elevated his game and has been a big reason as to why we’re having so much success this year.”

Already leading South to its second consecutive league title this year, Richards put up 22 points against No. 9 ranked Warren Lincoln, who beat South earlier in the year, on Feb. 17 to win the MAC Red/White Tournament.

The Lake Superior State University commit has one of the better all-around scoring skill sets in the state, and the Blue Devils offense continues to flourish with him at the forefront.

“It’s nothing like I’ve ever played before, especially with Karter on the team,” South junior guard Tory James said. “I’ve never played with somebody like Karter before. It’s crazy. He’s a really good player.”

James, a West Bloomfield High School transfer, has been an immediate impact player for South this season, setting the school’s single season three-point record.

A reliable scorer last season for the Lakers, James has asserted himself as one of the top guards in the MAC and a top scoring threat for South alongside Richards.

“He’s (James) been a huge part of our success,” Benard said. “He’s averaging almost 15 points a game and can play the one or the two. Since I’ve been at South for five years, I’ve just had great guards. Anytime you have great guards that don’t turn it over, you’re going to have a chance to be in every game at the high school level, and I have that.”

Add guys like junior guards Vincent Vachon, a three-year varsity player, and James Michelotti, and it’s easy to see why the Blue Devils backcourt is highly touted.

Without a key three-pointer from Vachon against Chippewa Valley in the quarterfinals of the MAC Red/White tournament, South might not have found itself matched up with Lincoln for a shot at the tournament title.

But as South’s guards tend to get the bulk of the attention, Davey and sophomore Julian Lancaster have been reliable contributors in the front court for South.

Davey was tasked with filling the void of graduating senior Alex English, a 6-foot-8 stretch center, and has taken his game to another level this season.

“He’s a little different than our player Alex English from last year,” Benard said. “He’s a little more versatile handling the ball. If he gets a rebound, we let him bring it up the court and he pushes the action, which is a little different than we had with Alex. He’s had a really good season so far.”

Lancaster is one of three underclassmen on the Blue Devils roster alongside freshmen Kooper Richards — Karter Richards’ younger brother — and guard Samuel Rouleau.

Kooper Richards is already a lethal scorer in his first season with elite level shot-making ability that appears to come with the territory of being a Richards, and he’s drawing rave reviews from his teammates along with the rest of South’s underclassmen.

“All three of those kids are going to be huge and be in our shoes in two or three years,” Davey said. “They’re great players. Kooper, he’s small, but if he grows a little bit, I think he’s going to be better than Karter. His style of play is very smart.”

Currently 17-4 on the season and on a 12-1 stretch, South will host Detroit Denby in the final regular season matchup on Feb. 22 before the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 state tournament begins on Feb. 28.

South is slated to play the winner of Detroit Western and Detroit Martin Luther King on Feb. 26 in the district semifinals.

The Blue Devils were the story of last season’s tournament after winning their first district championship in 30 years, but ultimately fell short of a regional title with a four-point loss to Warren De La Salle in the regional championship.

“We felt like we had unfinished business last year,” Benard said. “We were up seven, eight or nine points against (De) La Salle at half, and they just went on a little bit of a run in the second half. It’s a game we thought we should’ve won. It motivated us for this year.”

South is currently ranked No. 17 according to The D Zone’s Top 100 and will have to fight its way through a stacked district consisting of King (No. 31), Western (No. 63), Detroit Cass Tech (No. 14), and Grosse Pointe North if it wishes to make it back to the regional stage.

Davey said he knows South is being underestimated because of its history, but said the guys are ready to prove everyone wrong.

“I think a lot of teams overlook us,” Davey said. “They look at us like, ‘Grosse Pointe South hasn’t been historically that good.’ Last year, we won a district for the first time in 30 years. I think we can definitely play with teams that don’t think we can play with them.”