Utica junior Kellen Condon goes up for a tough shot against a Warren Woods Tower defender.

Utica junior Kellen Condon goes up for a tough shot against a Warren Woods Tower defender.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Senior class leaving its mark at Utica High School

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Shelby-Utica News | Published January 8, 2024

 Utica celebrates a dunk by senior Blake Dean before the end of the 79-47 win over Warren Woods Tower on Dec. 21 at Utica High School.

Utica celebrates a dunk by senior Blake Dean before the end of the 79-47 win over Warren Woods Tower on Dec. 21 at Utica High School.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


UTICA — They came in their junior year and lit a fire under the program, winning the school’s first league title since 2012.

Now in their curtain call season, Utica boys basketball’s nine seniors are looking to put their final touches on a legacy that future classes will look up to.

“They definitely left their mark,” Utica head coach Dave Hinkle said. “They’ve set the example that we as a coaching staff were really wanting to set. It’s easy for us as coaches to say what we want to see, but they actually came in and did it. They’re self-motivators.”

Hinkle said the seniors are examples to the younger players coming up in the program.

“They are Utica basketball, and they will forever be Utica basketball regardless of what happens moving forward,” Hinkle said.

The Macomb Area Conference Blue league title win was step one, but the state tournament has been another story for the Chieftains.

Utica was on a tear last year to the tune of a 14-6 record in the regular season, but a 15-point loss to Troy in the district finals left some unfinished business on the table.

Led by all-state honorable mention and senior guard Mason Brodi, Utica has jumped out to an unbeaten 9-0 record and a first-place stance in the MAC Blue.

“Coming into this year, we knew we set the bar high last year, but now that was the expectation,” Brodi said. “Our goal is to exceed that and get past some of the things we struggled with. We’re hoping to improve on those and improve the whole season with each other. With nine people coming back, we knew we had people that were on board with us and ready to improve.”

Brodi headlines the senior-led group of Luke Cottingham, Blake Dean, Timothy Geottes, Nick Gojcaj, Numehnne Gwilly, Ali Hassan, Hussein Naser and Sebastian Soriano, who all contribute night in and night out.

With a surplus of depth and leadership, the Chieftains have improved on the offensive end this season, averaging 64.8 points per game (third in the MAC), a six-point increase from last year.

Brodi, Hassan, Soriano and Cottingham are currently all averaging double figures in points, and Hinkle said Hassan’s growth has been vital for the team.

“Last year, he was more of a guy who took a ton of charges, distributed the ball and guarded the ball,” Hinkle said. “This year, he put in a ton of work in the offseason on the shooting machine and just worked on his shots and honing in on his skills. He’s a guy we can count on now that’s really stepped up on the offensive end.”

If you know anything about Utica basketball, defense is still the priority, and Utica is still showing why it’s one of the top defensive teams in the MAC.

Allowing only 48 points per game, the Chieftains pride themselves on the dirty work of the defensive end, taking charges, playing physical and making opposing teams uncomfortable.

“Our main word is “gritty,’” Brodi said. “We’re a gritty team, we get after it, we play different lineups with different size guys, but we’re always up and aggressive. We’re trapping, we’re pressing, we’re getting on the floor, we’re boxing out, so all those little things are our main focus that we strive to be the best at.”

Utica’s success last season seemed to be perceived as a fluke in the high school basketball world, as a 15-7 record and league title didn’t make a strong case for a top 100 team according to The D Zone, but they’re starting to get some recognition.

Currently ranked 24th in the top 100, the Utica basketball program is gaining traction, and Hassan said it’s about time.

“This year, we made a statement that we’re one of these top teams and that we can compete with these top teams,” Hassan said. “We should get appreciated because we put in that work.”

The senior class as a whole should be appreciated for what it has brought to the program and is currently accomplishing.

There’s always the pressure as a senior to end on a positive note, and Hinkle said he’s instilled it in his seniors and his junior class of Jonathan Carter, Caston Rissman, Kellen Condon, Eddy Tohme and Owen Sulik to give it everything they have this season.

“Every year, we just talk about having a sense of urgency with our senior class,” Hinkle said. “We talk to the underclassmen about making sure you’re doing all the right things and making sure we can have a special year for the seniors as much as possible.”

Soon, it will be the juniors’ turn to follow suit as the veteran leaders and make their mark on the program, but until then Utica will focus on winning back-to-back league titles and making a run in the state tournament for the school’s first district title since 2009.

Already 3-0 in the league, Utica will face the bulk of its MAC Blue schedule in January before the state tournament begins in the final week of February.

“Knowing it’s the last year, there’s a lot on our shoulders and there’s a lot we want to live up to,” Brodi said. “With this being the last run, there’s a lot of pressure that you didn’t think you’d feel last year when you still knew there was another year left. It’s just kind of performing under that pressure and performing as best as we can.”