Avondale boys basketball looks for playoff push

By: Timothy Pontzer | Troy Times | Published February 27, 2018

 Auburn Hills Avondale senior wing Nick Whiteside dribbles down the floor Jan. 24 against Rochester Hills Stoney Creek at Little Caesars Arena. At press time, the Yellow Jackets were 10-8 overall.

Auburn Hills Avondale senior wing Nick Whiteside dribbles down the floor Jan. 24 against Rochester Hills Stoney Creek at Little Caesars Arena. At press time, the Yellow Jackets were 10-8 overall.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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AUBURN HILLS — To put it plainly, the start of February was not kind to the Auburn Hills Avondale boys basketball program.

Coach Tim Morton is even more blunt, calling it the low point of the season. The Yellow Jackets suffered three consecutive losses Feb. 2, 8 and 13, dropping the team out of a tie for first place in the Oakland Activities Association White Division and putting the team at .500.

“Our first goal is always to win the division, and that was the plan until that stretch,” Morton said after a Feb. 21 practice. “We were in until those three games. We lost a close one to (Rochester Hills) Stoney Creek at Little Caesars Arena; we lost to (Rochester) Adams at our place by four; and then Oak Park (High) took it to us. We went from 8-5 and 4-3 in the league to 8-8 and 4-6. It was really tough.”

Morton’s squad takes pride in its defensive prowess, but those three contests saw Avondale surrender over 60 points each night. As a whole, the group only allows 52.7 points per game. He called the subsequent contest — a Feb. 16 affair at Oxford High — a make-or-break point for the group.

“I think it was a turning point, since we were out of the league race. We had to do some serious soul searching,” Morton said. “I really, really like how we responded. We went to Oxford, which is our longest road trip. It was their Winterfest game, so they had a really good crowd. After losing three in a row, we could’ve just mailed it in, but we didn’t. We had a really good second half and held them to three baskets in the second half. It was probably our most convincing win of the year.”

The final score read 54-37 in favor of Avondale. A 51-48 victory over Birmingham Seaholm followed Feb. 23, improving the Yellow Jackets to 10-8 at press time.

“The strength of our team is our defensive presence,” Morton explained. “With the exception of that Oak Park game (64-42), our defense has kept us in it. We’ve been playing more full-court defense as of late to take advantage of our quickness.”

Morton also pointed to his club’s depth as a major benefit, especially as the calendar flips to March.

“We’ve been rotating 10 to 11 players, and I think it’s a definite advantage,” Morton said. “It’s a long season, and other teams may really suffer from nagging injuries and chemistry issues. Because of our depth, we’ve been able to maintain through the grind. We have defined roles, but we can also tweak that as we go along. Going into the tournament, you need that depth in case of early foul trouble or an injury. If you take one guy out of our formula, we have another guy ready to step up and take that spot.”

Morton named senior forward Daniel Milton, senior point guard Will Fahoome, senior wing Nick Whiteside, junior shooting guard Kobe Anthony and senior guard/forward Martone Cole as players that can each step up when needed. Milton, Fahoome and Cole each serve as team captains. Whiteside is a football standout who is committed to Saginaw Valley State University and Anthony recently returned from a fractured tibia.

“It’s been awhile since we’ve had this much depth,” Morton said. “Because we’re so deep, it can sometimes present problems for me because I’m not sure what lineup to put out there with the margin between players being so close. It’s been a learning experience, but a good challenge to have. If we can play hard and play together, we have a shot. That’s why they call it March Madness.”

The last time Avondale captured a district crown was in 2015. This year, the Yellow Jackets head to West Bloomfield High to face Waterford Kettering in a playoff opener at 5 p.m. March 5. Morton expects his group to be ready, specifically citing Cole as someone who the club will lean on in the postseason stage.

Cole leads the team in scoring with 16 points per game, along with leading the squad with three assists per contest.

“But we’ve shown when he’s off the floor for rest or foul trouble that we can still succeed,” Morton said. “It’s good for him because it drives him, and it’s good for the rest of the team because it shows that we can compete even if he were to go down.”

Despite that early February rut, Morton believes the subsequent turnaround has his group brimming with confidence moving forward.

“We beat Rochester (High), Troy Athens and Waterford Mott, which are each teams at the top of their divisions,” Morton said. “We’ve proven ourselves against some of the best teams around. We’re playing well as a team, and we should go into the tournament with some confidence.”

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