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MAC boys hoops coaches discuss importance of league play

By: Jason Carmel Davis | C&G Newspapers | Published January 10, 2020

 Clinton Township Clintondale’s Darrell Walker goes for a layup in a Jan. 7 game against Macomb Lutheran North. The Dragons hope to improve on last season’s second-place finish in the Macomb Area Conference Silver Division.

Clinton Township Clintondale’s Darrell Walker goes for a layup in a Jan. 7 game against Macomb Lutheran North. The Dragons hope to improve on last season’s second-place finish in the Macomb Area Conference Silver Division.

Photo by Brian Sevald


MACOMB COUNTY — In college hoops, big nonconference wins are nice to hang your hat on and pad your résumé for the NCAA tournament, but most coaches would tell you that winning a conference championship is one of the major goals.

High school is the same way. You don’t hang a banner for nonconference wins. The banners come from outlasting the teams in your division.

Division play in the six leagues that make up the Macomb Area Conference, comprising 36 teams, began Jan. 9. Each team plays 10 division contests. That small number of games creates a higher sense of urgency, according to Roseville High coach Hassan Nizam.

“It’s not like we play 25 league games,” said Nizam, who led his team to a share of the MAC Red Division title last season. “We only play 10, so you’ve got to take care of business. I tell my guys every year the cool thing about divisional play is, whether it’s the first game or 10th game, they all hold the same weight.

“Every game we play in the MAC Red is a championship game. That’s the mentality that we take and approach each game with, and we’re just trying to win them one at a time.”

Macomb Dakota coach Paul Tocco knows all about the highs of division play. The Cougars in the last six seasons have four MAC Red titles sandwiched in between two second-place finishes. Dakota made a trip to the Division 1 state semifinals in 2017.

Tocco said he uses a tough nonconference slate to prepare for the rigors of MAC Red play. In nonleague games this season, Dakota has already faced Detroit Cass Tech, Birmingham Brother Rice, Flint Powers Catholic and West Bloomfield High.

Clinton Township Clintondale boys hoops coach Rob Townsend, with multiple division titles on his résumé, believes there will be a lot of parity in the Dragons’ division — the MAC Silver. Townsend tabbed Eastpointe High, which has struggled for some time, as the team to beat in the league.

“Every game is going to be a battle,” Townsend said, “with no easy games in the league.”

MAC tournaments add to the intrigue
A wrinkle that has brought even more interest to the league is the addition of the MAC division tournaments — for boys and girls teams.

Toward the end of the season for the last three years, teams from the MAC Red and White, Blue and Gold, and Silver and Bronze have played a tournament to crown a champion. The tournament has winners and losers brackets, with winners needing to go 3-0 to hoist a trophy. The top four teams in each league qualify for the tournament, which puts added emphasis on already-important division games.

Warren Mott coach Jeff Olind, who won a MAC White title in 2014, along with district and regional titles, has mixed feelings about the tournaments.

“I like the idea of (the tournaments); however, I don’t like the current format,” Olind said. “I hope we can make some changes to it and make it even better in the future.”

Tocco believes the tournaments are a great way to end the regular season and prepare for the state playoffs. Tocco likes the tournaments as a tune-up for the postseason.

“It puts your team in competitive games late in the season,” he said.

Townsend likes that the tournaments give teams something else to play for.

“It makes your final position in the division important even if you don’t win the league,” Townsend said. “I like (the tournament) how it is, but I’m open to tweaking it some to try to make it better.”

Similar to the regular season, it’s likely that teams would have familiarity with their opponents in the division tournaments. Nizam said continuous improvement is a trait most division winners possess.

“(Division play) is all about consistent growth and what teams are executing their game plans the best, because I feel like every (team) will be prepared for (their opponents),” Nizam said.