Renaissance Storms Into Semifinals

Renaissance turned in another dominating effort, crushing Warren Fitzgerald 73-36. Michigan target <strong>Malik Hairston</strong> led the way for the Phoenix with 22 points and 9 rebounds. The senior discusses not winning the Mr. Basketball award and his upcoming decision.

Another game, another rout. So goes another day in the life of the Renaissance Phoenix basketball team. In their march toward the 2004 Class B state title, Mark White’s club destroyed their latest opponent, Warren Fitzgerald, 73-36 at Calihan Hall on the campus of the University of Detroit. Fitzgerald took an early 4-0 advantage in the contest, but the senior-laden Phoenix were never really worried. An early tip slam by Malik Hairston really set the tone as Renaissance turned the tide and was up 20-11 at the end of the first period. The defensive pressure by the Phoenix really intensified in quarter #2, as every driving lane was seemingly cut off and Fitzgerald’s only source of offense was the jumper. Renaissance held Fitzgerald to 7 points for the entire stanza, on their way to a 40-18 halftime lead. Hairston, who finished with 22 points and 9 rebounds, and running mate Joe Crawford (16 points) played very little past the middle of the third quarter as their team coasted to the blowout victory. The win earns the Phoenix a spot in the state semifinals against Wyoming Park and this year’s Mr. Basketball, Drew Neitzel. Park disposed of Paw Paw last evening, 90-67, behind 40 points and 9 assists from the future Spartan.

Fitzgerald Coach Bill Snyder expressed admiration for Renaissance’s patience, depth, and intelligence…comments that Coach White appreciated. “That’s a nice compliment,” said White. “I’d say that’s a goal of ours. We always want play smart, play hard, and play together. That’s something that we have worked for not just this year, but during my entire tenure at Renaissance. That has been the foundation and the value system that we’ve tried to instill. We’ve got some experienced players that have been here for a while and they have grasped everything that we’ve tried to teach them.”

On the minds of everyone in the building was what exactly were the feelings amongst the Phoenix faithful about Drew Neitzel winning the Mr. Basketball. Coach White, however, made it clear that the award was of little importance to the task at hand. “I have total respect for all of the coaches that vote and I have a great deal of respect for the process of how Mr. Basketball is chosen,” said White. “I also have a great deal of respect for Drew Neitzel. I think he’s very deserving. If the coaches decided that he was the one, then I agree with them. But we have two great players…and they know that they’re great players. They won’t be defined by any accolades or any awards. Their #1 passion and desire is to be state champions and they will be remembered not only as great players, but also great winners.” Hairston echoed his coach’s sentiments. “I want to congratulate Drew. He has had a great season. Joe and I have worked hard and we’ve received a lot of individual awards like being selected for McDonalds All-American game, the Jordan Capital Classic, and USA Basketball. The only thing missing from our journey is a state championship.”

The forthcoming match-up with Wyoming Park wasn’t yet determined directly after this game. That said, Coach White also saw little importance in who the next opponent would be…let alone a possible grudge match with Neitzel’s club. “In the final four you don’t need any extra incentive,” said White. “We’re trying to get to the championship. It doesn’t matter who we play. We’ll be focused on what we need to do offensively and defensively.”

Many area observers felt that the way Renaissance destroyed Detroit Denby after Darryl Garrett won the Mr. PSL award prior to the Public School League championship between the two clubs had a lot to do with wanting to show those that didn’t vote for them who was really deserving. The Phoenix stars acknowledged that they thought about it “a little,” but that it just wasn’t as important as winning. “Sure we wanted to show people that we were deserving of the award, but that wasn’t our main focus, “ said Crawford. Hairston agreed. “To be completely honest I didn’t really think about it,” said the 6-5 swingman. “Me Joe talked about it before the game, but when we stepped on the floor it was all about the championship. It wasn’t Malik versus Darryl Garrett or Joe versus Darryl Garret…it was Renaissance versus Denby. And we won. All that other stuff is secondary. I want to win a state championship. It doesn’t matter who we play. If we play Drew Neitzel you might see a smile on my face before the game, but it doesn’t matte who we get.”

The only other question left outstanding on the night was where Malik Hairston is going to go to school. I had the opportunity to speak with Malik’s father, Richard, and he again indicated that a decision could come in the next week or so. “He was thinking about announcing his choice at the McDonald’s All-American game, but I’m not sure that’s still in the plans though,” said Mr. Hairston. Afterward we spoke to Malik once more and he reiterated what he told’s Dave Telep in an earlier interview. “I plan on announcing something a week or two after the state championship (on Saturday),” said Hairston. “I’m on the verge of eliminating a couple of schools, but I haven’t discussed it with them yet so I won’t mention who they are at this point.”

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