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Seniors leave legacy in East Detroit hoops

By: Jon Malavolti | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published April 18, 2011

DETROIT — Don’t label them lucky and don’t refer to them as flukes.
These Shamrocks knew how to win.

In a three-year period, the core of the East Detroit boys basketball team won 56 games.
Not exactly one-hit wonders.

And when that trio of Ethan Blackwell, Johnnie Mills and Charles Baskin were joined by Jalan Smith, C.J. Bates and Steven Lewis in prominent playing roles this season — the six seniors produced the most successful season in the past 45 years of program history.

The team’s graduating class, which also includes Jerome Dodson and Jaron Smith, added a Macomb Area Conference White Division title, a district title and its first regional title since 1966 to its impressive legacy before bowing out in a March 22 Class A state quarterfinal.

The 22 wins are the most for the program since at least 2000. The three losses, the last of which came in that quarterfinal at the hands of Southfield High at the University of Detroit-Mercy 59-47, are the fewest in that span.

“I love these seniors because they work so hard,” East Detroit coach Dave Zauner said. “These kids were working at 6 a.m. Everything I asked them to do, they did. They deserve all of this.

“It’s all about them; they deserve it all.”

Zauner said he had a good feeling about the trio of Blackwell, Mills and Baskin their sophomore season.

“I knew we had something special,” the coach said of his guards “And then their junior year, they kind of took off.”

East Detroit went 14-7 in 2009 before a 20-4 campaign last season in which the Shamrocks won the MAC Blue Division title and their first district title since 1992.

“So our goals were high this year,” Zauner said. “They accomplished everything and above. So I have nothing but good things to say about them.”

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the graduating group was the grit and determination they displayed. The Shamrocks didn’t back down from anybody, despite having to look up at most of its opponents. Blackwell and Baskin hover around 5 feet 6 inches tall, while Mills and Jalan Smith approach 6 feet. Bates and Lewis are the only two of the regular group that could fairly be called post players, but the pair rarely spent time on the court together during this year’s playoff run.

East Detroit had to hustle to beat its opponents. The Shamrocks utilized their quickness on both ends of the floor to make up for their lack of height. Their swarming defense turned into fastbreak points more often than their opponents would like to recount.

The Shamrocks showed their heart in their final performance. Southfield, state semifinalists two consecutive years now, jumped out to a 9-0 lead and held a 26-14 halftime advantage. Each time East Detroit made a run, Southfield responded. But the Shamrocks put the Blue Jays on the ropes after a pair of big plays by Blackwell.

Trailing 46-38 with five minutes to play, the senior point guard nailed a 3-pointer, forcing Southfield to call a timeout. East Detroit, now down 46-41, had a chance to pull closer to the Blue Jays than it had been since the opening minutes.

Southfield came out of the break and ran a play with its biggest player on the court getting the ball. Blackwell, giving up nearly a foot, rose up, swatted the ball away in the post and took off down the sideline, getting fouled along the way. He calmly stepped to the line and sank a pair of free throws to make the score 46-43 with 4:44 left.

But East Detroit couldn’t capitalize on the momentum swing, as Southfield closed out the game on a 13-4 run and left the Shamrocks wondering what might have been had they not struggled in the early goings.

“We didn’t play our game today,” said Blackwell, who led all players with 16 points on the night. “We were too busy focusing on the big stage. We should have just took our time and ran our stuff, that’s what it came down to.”

Blackwell said the squad wasn’t intimidated by playing at Calihan.

“This is what I live for. I wanted this,” he said. “We just didn’t come out on top tonight.
“Our team, we battled hard all season. We’ve got heart.”

Zauner said the team’s early struggles were “uncharacteristic.”

“It was a tale of two halves,” the coach said. “If we stayed focused in the first half and didn’t have so many turnovers, who knows.

“I loved the way they played all season,” the coach said. “I was just hoping they could pull it together for a second-half run, and they did. They made it a game.”

For more coverage of the game and photos, visit our website at and click on the Sports link.