The Howell boys basketball team won its fourth Class A district title in five years on Friday night, and their reward is a date with undefeated Ann Arbor Skyline in regionals.
“They have three incredible guards,” Howell coach Nick Simon said. “Three guys who can score from anywhere. A couple of good athletic bigs who are solid at screen-setting and play off those guards really well.”
So, he was asked, does that mean the Highlanders have Skyline right where they want them?
“That’s exactly right,” he said, chuckling. “I think we do pretty well when we’re the underdog. I think it’s easy to get guys motivated when no one thinks you can do something. It’s easy motivation.”
The Highlanders (14-8) and Eagles (22-0) play in the first game of a regional doubleheader tonight at Salem High School.
Simon was asked if Skyline doesn’t present a similar dilemma as Canton, a team that ran past the Highlanders in the KLAA tournament and finished the season with one loss.
Instead, he compared Skyline more to Novi, which Howell played twice during the regular season, winning one.
“Novi has a couple of guards, they’re going to shoot 25-foot 3-pointers consistently,” Simon said. “The first time we played Novi (a 70-55 Howell win) I thought we did a really good job of forcing them to shoot those shots the entire game. The second time (a 65-53 Novi win) they made a lot of those shots.”
Simon’s game plan, besides forcing Skyline to put up lower-percentage shots, also calls for patience.
“Making sure we stick to the game plan,” he said. “Guys make tough shots early, and they believe they can make it every time. You start to close out too hard, on them, and they make layups.
“If they make tough shots early, we have to stick to the plan that we’re going to have to make them take those shots the entire game. We have to make sure we’re real calm and are aware of their press at all times. You can’t give a game like Skyline any easy baskets in transition or on turnovers, either.”
Simon believes his team’s schedule has given his players a good idea what to expect, but he’s also pleased that he has a surplus of players for the first time all season.
Injuries to Johnny Shields and Josh Palo, among others, often left Simon without enough players to scrimmage.
But they’re all back and available tonight.
“They are 100 percent for this time of year,” Simon said.
Simon’s had a team of underdogs before, back in 2014, when his team won a regional championship by beating a Grand Blanc team that had run roughshod over the KLAA that season.
He’s also looking for a little help in the stands.
“We need everyone from Howell to come down and cheer us on,” he said.