EAST LANSING, Mich. - Detroit Edison was not supposed to be here. The Pioneers entered the Class C semifinal with 11 losses, and no one had them making it this far in the state tournament. The season begin with a losing streak, a couple of players left, and the injury bug bit them, but they still managed to keep it together and make an unprecedented run. Their Cinderella-like run came to an end today against Flint Beecher, 76-68, who advanced to its fifth Class C state title in six years.
"It was tough coming into the season," Edison head coach Brandon Neely said. "We started the season off five guy ineligible due to transferring in, and we 2-6 by the time we got the rest of our guys. So, our entire starting five changed once all those five guys were eligible. So, it's like we had to start a whole different season, and those guys had to get used to playing with each other, as a result, we had 11 losses. But we always knew we were better than 11 losses."
"We finally put five guys on the floor, they learned to play with one another, and as games went on, we got a little more cohesive and went on a little run."
Taking down the two-time Class C defending champs was not going to be an easy test, and Neely knew that. This was the third consecutive time that the Beecher seniors had been to the Breslin Center, so this was like home to them, compared to the Edison players. Beecher senior guard Malik Ellison got off to a slow start, but came alive in the last three quarters, scoring a game-high 28 points and dishing out eight assists. Ellison also went 15-21 from the free throw line, shooting more than Edison did as a team, which was ultimately the Pioneers' demise.
"We knew Malik was a tough little guard," Neely said. "He has played in three state championship games, and I think the advantage that he had is that we understood how the games goes. We're here for the first time, so, he knew how to work the situation with the referees. He shot 21 free throws, and the game plan was definitely not to send him to the free throw line. It was tough for us."
Neely was visibly emotional at the end for his seniors, some who had coached for four years, including forward Jamal Keese, who led the way for Edison with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Fellow senior Amari Hudson scored two points, and grabbed six boards in his last game for Edison.
"Opportunity can slip away from you at a drop of a hat," Neely said. "I really feel bad for my seniors, because I know how bad these guys wanted it and they are extremely hard working guys, and to lose them is going to be tough for me."
The game may not have ended in Edison's favor, but one thing these last few weeks have done is put the program on the map. The small east side of Detroit charter school is slowly becoming a basketball power, with the girls team winning the Class C title last week, and the boys making it all the way to the semifinals. If no one knew about Edison last week, they do now.
"it's a blessing," Hudson said. "The school was built six years ago, and no one knew who we were. Every time somebody ask me what school I go to, and I say DEPSA, or ECE, they ask if its a middle school. I say no every time. To see where this program is headed, and to help put it on the map is a good feeling."
This certainly won't be the last we hear from Edison. The Pioneers lose a few key seniors, but they return a lot of talented juniors, including 6-8 forward Deante Johnson, who had 17 points, nine rebounds, and four blocks. The guard play will be stellar as well, with Gary Solomon returning, who scored 15 points in the loss to Beecher. Point guard Pierre Mitchell is a Central Michigan commit, and he chipped in 10 points and four assists. The future is bright for Edison next season and beyond.
"We have a great group of kids in the building," said Neely. "When people come in our building, they are very surprised by how well-mannered our students are. Our school is a small one right over there on the east side of Detroit in the Eastern Market, and we are building something great for next season. We bring back a great group season, and our kids plan on being back here."