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January 15, 2014

Clintondale boys basketball coach says solid start is product of a team effort

By Jason Carmel Davis
C & G Sports Writer

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Despite losing nine players from last year’s division-title winning team, the Clinton Township Clintondale boys basketball team was off to a 3-1 start at press time. Pictured is Clintondale’s Greg Robinson (13) driving to the hoop during a Dec. 10 matchup against Sterling Heights High.

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Early in the 2013-14 season, it looks like the Clinton Township Clintondale boys basketball team hasn’t missed a beat.

The Dragons — 3-1, 0-0 Macomb Area Conference Silver Division at press time — lost nine players to graduation after winning the program’s first division title since the 2008-09 season. Clintondale did return five players from that championship squad, according to Dragons coach Rob Townsend, but the team also has eight underclassmen, including three sophomores who see the floor each night.

“They will have a learning curve as the season progresses,” said Townsend, in his seventh year with the program.

Towsend said team defense is the biggest reason for Clintondale’s solid start. He said his players have  made a commitment to stopping opponents after seeing how successful that approach was last season, when the Dragons held opponents to 46.9 points per game — good for the sixth-lowest total in the 36-team MAC.

Clintondale, at press time, was allowing 50.8 points per contest.

The Dragons are relying to a full-court, man-to-man defensive scheme to stymie opponents. That’s a bit of a change from last season, Townsend said, when Clintondale employed a variety of man and zone looks on defense.

“Although we haven’t trashed our other defensive schemes, so far we have only focused on man-to-man the length of the court,” said Townsend, who said that because of that attack he regularly goes 12 deep on the bench. “The players have really bought into it, and at times, it has been as good as any team I’ve had.”

Leading that group, Townsend said, is senior all-around talent Semaj Richardson. Townsend said Richardson is his first three-year player. The Dragons’ coach said Richardson has been a tremendous leader on and off the court.

But Richardson isn’t the team’s only option.

Townsend, who prefers a balanced offense and likes to score in transition, said Clintondale in its four early season contests has had three different leading scorers.

“We just try to go to the hot hand,” Townsend said. “The players are unselfish enough to do that. We have assists on 45 percent of our points so far.”

Getting out in transition is one of the keys for Clintondale repeating as MAC Silver champions, Townsend said, adding that the division would be tough, with St. Clair Shores Lakeview (co-champions with Clintondale last season) being the team to beat. Marysville and St. Clair Shores Lake Shore would also battle for the crown, with St. Clair Shores South Lake being a dark horse in the race, according to the coach.

“For us to compete, we simply have to rebound and defend,” Townsend said. “We have to utilize our strength, which is speed, and (hide) our weakness — lack of height.”

Townsend, who in the 2011-12 campaign guided Clintondale to its first Michigan High School Athletic Association district title since 1992, said he’s excited about this season because of the makeup of the team. He called his squad a fun group that plays unselfishly and hard.

Townsend said he knows the team has some improvements to make as the season goes along, but if those improvements are made, he thinks the team will have an excellent season.

“We want to hit our stride heading into (MHSAA Class B) district (playoffs) this year,” Townsend said. “I think that if we improve the defense we have been playing, then we will be a tough team to face. But I also know that if we have any letdowns, that plenty of teams will beat us.

“We have to be resilient and bounce back each game, each play, if we’re going to improve.”
Clintondale next hits the court for a matchup against South Lake, set for 7 p.m. Jan. 16 at Clintondale.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Jason Carmel Davis at jdavis@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1107. Twitter Follow Jason on Twitter.