Not much was expected of the Lutheran Westland boys basketball team a year ago.
The Warriors had a brand new coach in Dymetrius Ware, and their best returner was a better football player than he was a point guard.
Yet there they were, competing in the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference-Blue and almost winning the whole thing. Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest edged them for the title by one game in the final standings, as Lutheran went 9-3 in the conference and Northwest was 10-2.
While the Warriors have graduated five seniors, they’re back to make another run for a league title, and they just might do so if they can overcome one key loss in the lineup. Plus, they might even have one of the best up-and-coming juniors in the state on their roster.
Here are three questions surrounding Lutheran entering the 2022-23 season:
How will the Warriors fare
out the league MVP?
At the end of last season, Ware asked his players to give him an honest answer.
He said to his guys, who were sitting in a circle on the court, “Who here really loves the game of basketball?”
Most of the Warriors raised their hands. But not senior Paul Davenport.
“I was totally shocked,” Ware recalled of the moment. “He said, ‘Nah, Coach.’ I was like, ‘Oh my goodness,’ because he was like one of those once-in-a-generation guys for us.”
So, naturally, Davenport went on to be named the MIAC-Blue MVP, just a few months after the wide receiver/linebacker was named the league MVP for football as well.
The 5-foot-6 point guard totaled 342 points, 113 assists, 71 rebounds and 56 steals. Not only was he named the league’s MVP, but he was also all-conference and he made the league’s dream team.
“I’ve been coaching for 30 years at different levels, and Paul was a once-in-a-generation kind of player,” Ware added. “He played as if his life depended on it. Against Cristo Rey, before the playoffs, I had to tell him to stop being so aggressive. He was diving and scrapping, and we were up by 15 points. I had to tell him that we had the state playoffs coming up.”
Obviously, replacing a player like THAT would be tough for any team in Michigan to do.
But that’s the position the Warriors find themselves in entering Ware’s second season on the bench.
“My biggest concern is just replacing his leadership,” Ware continued. “For us to continue what we were doing, we’ve got to do things the right way, and to be successful in our conference, we’ve got to be able to adapt. And he helped us with doing that. We see a lot of different kinds of teams. There’s a lot of zone defense and a lot of man-to-man and a lot of ball screens. There are different types of offenses and defenses. Last year, we were able to handle those types of situations , and now I’m working as best as I can to develop more leaders to replace a guy like Paul.”
Can Christian Fontaine live up to the hype?
Davenport’s leadership might not be replaced by Christian Fontaine.
But his offensive output will be because, well, Fontaine actually led the Warriors in scoring as only a sophomore.
The All-Dream Team and first-team all-league small forward scored 337 points and added 81 rebounds, 31 assists, 30 steals and 13 blocks. He’s well on his way to becoming a 1,000-point career scorer.
And Ware thinks he might also be well on his way to a Division I college in three years.
“Paul wasn’t even our leading scorer. Christian was, and he’s got a really good upside,” Ware said. “I believe he can play DI. He has to get stronger, and I want more leadership from him. But with a couple of guys returning, I think he’s going to be one of our best, and he’s definitely one of those guys taking the off-season the most seriously.”
If anyone can take the reins from Davenport, it’s going to be Fountaine, who has a great outside shot and plenty of finesse when it comes to finding ways to score.
“He puts the work in,” Ware added. “He’s our leading scorer. He averaged 16.5 points and shot 35% from the field and 40% from 3. He’s going to be a guy everyone looks up to. He was a quiet assassin a year ago, so he needs to be in a leadership role this year.”
Who will round out the Warriors’ lineup?
Counting the freshmen and JV levels, Ware expects to have 42 players in the program this winter.
That means competition in tryouts will be fierce. And some spots on the varsity might be earned by players who are relatively under-the-radar within the program right now.
However, Lutheran does have a few guys returning who have the potential to make them one of the top teams in the MIAC again.
Aside from Fontaine, expected returners include seniors Dominic Catallo and Luke Witte, juniors Nate Rooker and Justice O’Brien and sophomore Nathan Yakobe.
Others who contributed during Lutheran’s Summer League were sophomores Tom Shafer and Simon Hoeft, who were JV players last winter. They could make a push for a varsity spot as well.
“We just got to hire a freshmen coach to come in and help, and we’re looking forward to that,” Ware said. “It’s great to have one extra staff member now that we can have both a freshmen team and a JV team.
“It’s been a big off-season for us. We’re gonna be pretty young, and we’re going to have about two seniors, two or three juniors and the rest will be sophomores. When you lose five good seniors, it has an impact on you. So going into my second year, we made sure we got those young guys as much development as possible this summer.”
Brandon Folsom covers high school sports in metro Detroit for Hometown Life. Follow him on Twitter @folsombrandonj.