DETROIT – Living up to their nickname on the boys basketball court, the Detroit Pershing Doughboys are really cooking and rising at the right time.
Sizzling and flying might be more accurate.
The 2013 Doughboys, the unanimous No. 1-ranked team in the state entering this week’s state tournament – are a perfect blend of experience, savvy and athleticism.
Perfect as in undefeated, becoming only the second Pershing hoops squad in the illustrious history of the Dougboys’ program to finish the regular season an unblemished 20-0 (The 1996 Doughboys were the other).
At the head of the ship, or maybe more accurately the aircraft carrier, is first-year head coach Wydell Henry and his senior captain, Mr. Basketball candidate Kahlil Felder, Pershing’s all-state point guard.
Felder, a consummate playmaker and ‘coach on the floor,’ is signed with Oakland University. Joining Felder in a stacked Doughboys backcourt is Martez Walker, another Division I college recruit, and Lorenzo Collier, a pair of hard-working wings and Darsean Woodson, who spells Felder at the point and often plays alongside him, when the OU-bound floor general goes off ball, which he does sporadically throughout games.
Standout 6-foot-9 juniors Justin Tillman – battling an injury bug for most of the winter, yet still considered the top post prospect in the state’s Class of 2014 – and Dwayne Embry, as well as senior Tawanto Snead make up an incredibly imposing Doughboys frontcourt.
Henry took the reins on the bench from A.W. Canada, who stepped down last fall and who Henry, a longtime well-respected presence on the local AAU scene with the REACH Legends organization, served as an assistant under or a number of years.
Henry's assuming command of the squad this season has been a smashing success.
And his team's schedule was not by any means brimming with cupcakes. Henry’s club went toe-to-toe with the best in the mitten and came out unscathed. Victories against Romulus, Detroit Consortium, Harper Wood Chandler Park Academy and defending Class C state champion Flint Beecher are just a few of the impressive notches on the Doughboys’ belts. In the Beecher game, squaring off versus Iowa State-bound Monte Morris, Pershing rallied from 18 points down in the second half to claim the win.
Capping the regular season in style, Pershing posted a decisive 74-59 win over Catholic League champion University of Detroit-Jesuit in the annual Operation Friendship game pitting the top squads in the CHSL and PSL in a pre-tourney battle of public and private school cage titans.
Felder scored 22 points, dished off five assists and swiped away four steals in the game. Walker added 14 points for the winners.
Next up for Pershing is a district-opener against Detroit King this week, as the Doughboys tip off their state tourney run which they’re hoping will conclude in the program’s sixth state championship, the first since Canada guided them to the 2009 crown with current Michigan State starters Keith Appling and Derrick Nix, leading the way.
Last March, Pershing snuck past King 75-70 in the regional finals.
The 1996 Doughboys didn't make it to the Breslin Center and the Class A final four, losing to Southfield-Lathrup in regionals.