Clintondale first year coach Marquis Chavez instructs his players during a matchup against Clawson on Jan. 4 at Clintondale High School.

Clintondale first year coach Marquis Chavez instructs his players during a matchup against Clawson on Jan. 4 at Clintondale High School.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Clintondale basketball embracing physical mentality

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Fraser-Clinton Chronicle | Published January 10, 2024

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — In high school sports, a team motto can mean everything to a program as they come together for the season.

Some are based on team experiences in the offseason, some on a mindset the coach wants to instill and some are based on team goals.

Either way, the practice shirts and huddle breaks that brand the motto are what symbolize a team.

For Clintondale boys basketball, physicality is everything for first-year coach Marquis Chavez, and the “Be a Dawg” saying on Clintondale practice shirts is what he expects from his guys day in and day out.

“The biggest thing I wanted was toughness,” Chavez said. “I preach ‘Be a Dawg.” We have that on the back of our shooting shirts, and it’s everywhere in our program. It’s just a dawg mentality I wanted all the kids to have. I expect them to compete at the highest level no matter who we’re playing and no matter if it’s a practice or a game.”

Chavez previously spent the past five seasons as an assistant coach at Warren’s Michigan Collegiate, two of which were under head coach James Scott, who is now the head coach at Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett.

Michigan Collegiate was known for a physical and defensive-minded brand of basketball, which led them to a 21-3 record and the regional championship stage in 2022.

Chavez said he credits watching Scott to helping him transition as head coach for Clintondale this season.

“I was blessed to be under James Scott at Michigan Collegiate,” Chavez said. “Just watching him build the program when he came over to MC. It was just seeing that, envisioning, and making my own plan out of it.”

The team took to Chavez’s culture with ease, which has paid off for the Dragons with an 8-2 record and the fewest points per game allowed (42) in the Macomb Area Conference this season.

Senior Shamar Riser-Pressley, a 6-foot-7 football commit at the University at Buffalo, leads the defensive efforts as a threat night in and night out on the boards.

Riser-Pressley, a first team all-state honoree on the defensive line, recently scored the first touchdown of the U.S. Army Bowl from the tight end position on Dec. 18 at the Ford Center in Frisco, Texas, the training center for the Dallas Cowboys.

Now back and leading Clintondale, Pressley said Chavez’s emphasis on physicality has paid off for the team this season.

“We break down our huddles saying, ‘Be a Dawg,’” Riser-Pressley said. “We got it on our shirts. He (Chavez) put it in our heads. Now, that’s our mindset.”

Clintondale has no shortage of playmakers on both ends of the court with junior guard Justin Gloster, a 6-foot-4 pure scorer, junior forward Davon Ciesiolka, junior guard RaMone Shannon and senior guard John Pitts. Junior guard Daron Collins has been a consistent contributor this season in the sixth-man role.

Gloster has taken full control of the offense this season, averaging between 17 and 18 points per game, but he said his biggest improvement has come on the defensive side.

“I feel like I got better as an all-around player,” Gloster said. “Not just offense, but defense too. I feel like I can guard the other team’s best player when needed.”

The balanced efforts on both sides of the court have catapulted Clintondale to a hot start this season, winning the Jim McAndrews Memorial Tournament in a 52-42 win over Marine City Cardinal Mooney on Dec. 30 at Cardinal Mooney High School.

Clintondale jumped out to an 8-2 record last season before dropping eight straight, so an impressive start isn’t uncharacteristic for Clintondale.

The Dragons are set to begin the bulk of their Macomb Area Conference Bronze play in January, which is where things got rocky last season.

League play has been a struggle lately for Clintondale, which hasn’t won a league title since the 2013-2014 season, but Gloster said the group is more motivated than ever.

“I think our confidence is way better because we all believe in each other and we all know what each person on the team is capable of,” Gloster said. “We all play together well as a team because everyone knows what their job is when they step on the court during a game.”

Riser-Pressley said the team came into the season ready to rewrite last season’s mistakes.

“I felt like our mindset this year coming off a bad season last year was just getting the work in, keeping our head down and staying humble because we really got something to prove now with our new head coach and all that,” Riser-Pressley said. “We got to really put the work in, keep our head down, and let our skill and our work speak for us.”