Utica head coach Dave Hinkle gathers the team for a conversation during practice.

Utica head coach Dave Hinkle gathers the team for a conversation during practice.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Utica boys basketball ‘back on the map’ in league-winning season

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Shelby-Utica News | Published February 22, 2023

  Utica junior guards Mason Brodi, right, and Sebastian Soriano, left, go head-to-head in a drill during Utica’s practice Feb. 9.

Utica junior guards Mason Brodi, right, and Sebastian Soriano, left, go head-to-head in a drill during Utica’s practice Feb. 9.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


UTICA — Defense wins championships, and in the case of Utica boys basketball, it results in the school’s first league title since 2012.

Earning a share of the Macomb Area Conference-Blue title with Warren Cousino, Utica’s aggressive effort on the defensive end has paid off this season.

Currently ranked first in the MAC in points allowed per game (47.2), Utica’s transformation this season has been one for the record books.

“Our defense is good just because of communication, our effort and our hustle,” junior guard Mason Brodi said. “We take the most charges in the state, and we just rotate and communicate so well. We can all guard one-through-five, we hustle and we play bigger than we are.”

The defensive unit has not only kept its opponents from scoring but has perfected its craft in the paint.

One of the top teams in the state at taking a charge, Utica’s physical play in the paint has been inspiring.

Junior guard Sebastian Soriano said guard Jason Azar, a 2022 graduate, was a mentor for the team in the paint.

“Last year, I didn’t really know how to take a charge, and he (Jason Azar) really inspired me,” Soriano said.

It’s a far cry from their 2022 season when the squad not only finished 7-14, but allowed 52 points per game on the defensive end and had a first-round exit in the state tournament.

Utica (13-4) featured a young core last season with a number of players not getting a substantial amount of varsity minutes, but Utica coach Dave Hinkle said the team’s growth this season is a product of last year’s mistakes.

“As soon as the season ended, we had this discussion that we were not going to have this feeling again,” Hinkle said. “They took it and ran with it.”

Led by Brodi, Soriano, junior guard Ali Hasan and senior forward Nick Bosilkovski, Utica has kept a steady pace of success this season, including a seven-game win streak during the year. Senior forward Luke Cottingham, senior guard Trent McFarland and junior guard Timothy Geottes have been reliable for Utica this season.

While both juniors, Brodi and Soriano have taken control as the veteran leadership this season.

“They took control of the ship, and they’re the hardest workers, which entails the rest of the team to be the hardest workers,” Hinkle said.

After a tough year in 2022, Utica’s progress started to form in the summer with open gyms, morning workouts and various camps for the team to work as a unit.

Featuring only five players from last season, Hinkle said the team needed every opportunity possible to play together.

“We played top-notch teams in the summertime, and we won a lot of those scrimmages,” Hinkle said. “It propelled those kids and gave those kids a ton of confidence that they could hang with anybody.”

The summertime success carried into the season, and the team’s cohesive play continues to be a driving force for its success.

Utica hasn’t cracked the top 20 yet in the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 rankings, but that’s just fuel for the fire for Utica.

“During the rankings on The D Zone and these different websites, some of us look and we’re not up there,” Brodi said. “It’s still in the process, but from what we’ve done, we’re on our path to get where we’re at and where we should be.”

Still having the MAC tournament to play before the state tournament, Utica will have ample chances to prepare.

With a mix of experienced and young talent, the team’s growth this season has been the most impressive display of success with the league title being a close second. While a significant step in the right direction, there’s still work to be done this year. At the very least, Utica boys basketball is back on the radar.

“I wanted to make history at Utica, and we did,” Soriano said. “We got our first league championship since 2012, I think. I wanted to put Utica on the map; that’s the mindset. Even last year, I just want to make Utica great.”