By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
The Oxford Wildcats boys’ basketball team wrapped up their 2019-20 season with a 79-38 loss to the Clarkston Wolves in the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) District No. 5 semifinals at the Dan Fife Fieldhouse at Clarkston High School on March 11.
The Oakland Activities Association (OAA) Red champion Wolves jumped all over the Wildcats from the opening tip, leading 23-0 after the first quarter and 47-15 at the halftime break. Utilizing their trademark full-court pressure defense, Clarkston forced the Oxford backcourt into a flurry of early turnovers, resulting in fast-break finishes around the rim.
Sophomore swingman Fletcher Loyer, the brother of Michigan State Spartans sophomore guard Foster Loyer, was the largest beneficiary, finishing with a game-high 26 points. Senior Matt Nicholson, a seven-foot Northwestern Wildcats commit, added 12 points, and sophomore Keegan Wasilk, head coach Tim Wasilk’s nephew, chipped in 10 points.
Trey Townsend capped an outstanding Wildcat career with a team-high 11 points. He finished the season with a school-record 456 points and will graduate having scored 1,010 points, second to only 1967 graduate Roger Miller’s 1,120 in program history.
Fellow senior Michael Houston pitched in nine points, all coming in the fourth quarter. Junior Trent Brown, the son of Dave and the lovely Debby Brown, hit two three-pointers off the bench.
The Wolves would have advanced to face the Lake Orion Dragons in the district championship game on March 13, but this tilt was suspended by the MHSAA due to concerns related to the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” head coach Steve Laidlaw shared. “We knew they (Clarkston) were going to be the best team we had played. It was important for us to start strong because of their transition, everyone on their team can pass, and because we were going to have trouble with their seven-footer, Nicholson.
“When you don’t hit shots, it makes it much easier for them to get out in transition. With us missing the open looks we did get and them blocking shots, it was just a bad situation for us.”
Oxford concluded their campaign with a 10-11 record, hovering within three-games of the .500 mark for the duration of the season. While this mark does not jump off the page, it also speaks to the depth of the OAA White, a sentiment echoed to this reporter by Laidlaw and other head coaches throughout the season.
Looking ahead to the 2020-21 roster, there are a lot of pieces with returning experience. Juniors Pedro Bottene, Mason Mulholland, Palmer Speck and Zach Townsend all handled the basketball extensively and will be counted on as veteran members of Laidlaw’s backcourt.
Of course, there will be losses to overcome, too. The largest of which being Townsend, one of the best athletes to ever study at Oxford High School. Classmate Ethan Robinson should not be overlooked, however, either.
“Trey (Townsend) is simply the best I’ve seen at Oxford,” Laidlaw said. “I was thinking about this, I’ve watched 38 years of Oxford basketball, from playing to coming up through the program to coaching, and he’s the best I’ve seen.
“Ethan (Robinson) really came out of nowhere for us. He only played about eight weeks for us last year before he broke his leg. This year, he came back, performed very nicely, and by the end of the season, he was one of our three or four best players. What’s funny about Ethan – and Trey, too, for that matter – is they’re both only 17-years-old. They won’t turn 18 until the summer or fall, so they’re young seniors.”
Houston, however, took a much different path to the varsity level than his classmates, a path that can best be described by the word, ‘perseverance.’
“Michael is one of the best stories I’ve ever encountered as a coach,” Laidlaw began. “He was cut as a freshman, came out his junior varsity year and made the team, and then we cut him again as a junior and he said to me, ‘Coach, I’ll be making next year’s team.’
“So, our (2018-19) season ended, and I never reached back out to him, you know, why would you reach out to a kid you had cut? But he showed up at our first offseason 6 a.m. workout and asked me if he could keep coming to the workouts.
“I told him he could keep coming to the 6 a.m. ones, but our after school workouts were already full. Coming from Pontiac, he never missed a 6 a.m. workout, and we were doing three per week. From last fall to now, he’s probably down about 40 pounds.
“He only played the fourth quarter against Clarkston (on March 11) and scored nine points. What a great story that is, you’ve been cut two of your first three years and you score nine points in a playoff game against one of the best teams in the state in your last game.”
Stories like Houston’s are part of what make high school athletics unlike anything else in America. The 2020-21 Wildcats are expected to again reside in the OAA White. The Birmingham Groves Falcons, Rochester Adams Highlanders, Southfield Arts & Technology Warriors and Stoney Creek Cougars are penciled in to return to the division, as well.
The Lake Orion Dragons, who brought up the rear of the OAA Red at 2-10, are expected to move down to the OAA White next school year, too. The Farmington Falcons are the most logical candidate to replace the Dragons in the Red.
By Teddy Rydquist