By RANDY GREGORY
Without a doubt the most unexpected pleasant surprise of the entire previous school year was the stirring run made by the 2011-12 Rockford boy’s basketball team. The Rams clinched a share of the OK Red title on the last day of the regular season, won a district that included two excellent squads from Greenville and Northview, and topped a solid Hudsonville team for the third time en route to a regional crown. But the fun was just getting started as the Rams knocked off a favored Okemos quintet in the Class A Michigan High School Athletic Association quarterfinals. They even one-upped that triumph with a thrilling upset of a Romulus team that was a prohibitive favorite in the semifinals.
They then fell to a very talented Saginaw team in the finals to come up one game short of a highly improbable state crown, but not before being within two points with only two minutes to play. And they did it all after having to replace the legendary Steve Majerle, due to complications of Parkinsons disease, as head coach with an untested (varsity level) coach and with only two starters returning. Nick Allen stepped into an unenviable situation in replacing Majerle, but with proven assistant Ryan DeKuiper at his side they almost pulled off the upset of the decade by nearly running the table against a formidable gauntlet of imposing opposition.
The Rams did it on the backs of suffocating defense and consistently solid outside shooting. This year will include the same formula for success, but the team has also spared little in the way of the schedule for the encore performance.
With only six teams comprising the OK Red as opposed to the previous slate of eight teams, it opened the door a bit for the Rams to add a few new wrinkles to what is always a challenging schedule. The Rams will open up with a contest (December 7) against traditional power Muskegon Heights. The “Heights” has been the normal season opener for Rockford for several years, but with their transition to a charter school from a public school it wasn’t certain that would continue. Several of their veterans transferred to Muskegon High School and the Rams will play the Big Reds a week later in Rockford’s home opener.
There is one small task in between those two difficult contests for Rockford however. The Rams will journey to Grand Rapids Christian High School on Tuesday, December 11th to take on the Eagles and their new coach, you guessed it, Steve Majerle. Majerle underwent a surgical treatment and returns to the sidelines after a one-year hiatus. He also inherits arguably the top player in the state in Drake Harris and a pair of other potential Division 1 players. It will definitely be with mixed emotions that Majerle will take the reins against the Rams, but the action on the court should be top notch by both squads.
Macomb L’Anse Creuse North was also a semifinalist last season and they complete an unbelievable stretch of four games the Rams will open the season with. Toss in traditional rivals Forest Hills Central and Holland as well as a quartet of holiday tourney games against quality opposition and you get the idea.
It promises to be a tough test in conference play also with East Kentwood and Hudsonville expected to be amongst the better teams in an always difficult OK Red. It will be a fun ride and the Rams will be ready for what promises to be an exciting season. See you there!