Friday, December 19, 2008

Former Glory, Hopeful Future Highlight Current UDM Titans

Is there a Division-I school in America that has been a better beneficiary of the city it domiciles within more than the University of Detroit-Mercy?

The question begs to be asked when one looks at the sheer volume of talent that has formed a procession-like march from Detroit's rugged public schools and former city Catholic schools into the hallowed halls named for Titan coach Bob Calihan. From Detroit Austin's Dave DeBusschere to Detroit Pershing's Spencer Haywood, Highland Park's Terry Duerod and Detroit St. Martin DePorres grad Tony Tolbert, some of the area's finest jewels of the hardwood have made historic Calihan Hall home. The list of Titan Hall-Of-Famers reads like a Who's Who list of the city's long sporting history.

Earlier this week Haywood returned to be honored as UDM played host to Aquinas College of Grand Rapids at Calihan. While the current Titans labored to defeat the tiny NAIA school, the nod to a glorious past and hope of a similar future was impossible to ignore.

Titan basketball is enriched by the fact that the University of Detroit is truly a product of Detroit's potent prep basketball legacy. There's UCLA, nestled in talent-rich and tony Los Angeles, and DePaul University in Chicago, another hoops hotbed. New York's St. John's University comes to mind when considering the aforementioned question, too, because the five boroughs command a similar presence as Detroit's basketball history. But unlike UDM, those programs are nationally-known brands with large, savvy recruiting networks.

All of those reasons make the men's basketball accomplishments of UDM all the more remarkable because the Titan legacy is largely made in the Motor City. Even today, as the UDM recruiting base has expanded regionally, nationally, and in some cases, internationally, to counter the shrinking Detroit public school population and absolute void of a Catholic League school within the city proper, UDM still retains its' distinctive city-proper signature with a handful of players from the PSL.

"This is what Keri (Gaither) and I are trying to rebuild, the identity that U of D can be a first choice for a PSL player," Haywood explained from press row on Wednesday night as the honorary Titan coach. "This is a special place and there's a unique history that matches the city itself."

UDM Athletic Director Keri Gaither faces a unique challenge. Continue advancing her school's athletic department from a financial and competition standpoint and do so in a city as depressed as any in America due to the economic conditions not seen in over two generations. And to be sure, UDM is a Detroit institution, because of the rich history that lives in the memories of so many followers. As one UDM staffer put it Wednesday night, "Calihan Hall is home to me. Even if I wasn't working, this is where I'd want to be."

Calihan, one of the area's living, breathing museums of basketball history, is undergoing a gradual renovation. There's the remodeled Titan Club and a refurbished foyer that relishes the Titan tradition with several etched glass panes, video boards and framed pictures abound. The press room upstairs is decorated nicely with pictures that recall the school's historic architectural infrastructure in it's glory. The floor gleams with the school's new Titan logo and the Titans' newly-renovated lockerroom is like a hall-of-fame at any other school. It's arguable there's not a building in the state, including MSU's Jenison Field House, with a more impressive pedigree of amateur basketball than Calihan Hall.

Likewise, the courtside Titan legacy is undergoing a renovation. When Gaither hired men's coach Ray McCallum to replace city icon Perry Watson, she hired a coach that was already well-versed with several aspects of the pressure that defines major college basketball. McCallum served as an assistant at Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana and was charged with resurrecting his alma mater's good name when hired to be head man at Ball State from 1993-2000. The Cardinals waged battles with Gary Trent and Ohio U., Devin Davis and Miami and Earl Boykins, Brian Tolbert, Derrick Dial and Theron Wilson from Eastern Michigan.

The last admission, EMU, is a key reminder of the progress McCallum must make within the network of PSL and Catholic League coaches in metro Detroit. While Boykins was a Cleveland, Ohio native, Tolbert -- like his brother, Tony -- was a DePorres grad, Dial was a Cass Tech product and Wilson was a transplant from Detroit King who transformed Royal Oak Dondero into a top 10 team in Class A for three seasons. Those players all could have played at UDM 15 years ago, but chose EMU lead by Ben Braun and Gary Waters. Waters now coaches Cleveland State, a Horizon League opponent who visits Calihan on January 3rd.

Tomorrow afternoon Eastern Michigan will welcome back Detroit King prodigy and former Huron George "Iceman" Gervin when the Eagles host the Bonnies of St. Bonaventure. Like UDM, Eastern has a history in several sports that most schools not located in the shadow of a Big Ten power would envy seven days a week. But in 70 games with EMU, the Titans enjoy a 55-15 advantage over their Ypsilanti rivals. Add winning marks versus Central and Western, and 32 wins combined over Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame, it's easy to see why UDM's hardwood history becomes a central rallying point for supporters of the program.

The amount of talent available to UDM has thinned, and fighting the state's three MAC schools, Oakland University and two Big Ten powers for the same fruit from the same trees won't be easy, but procuring the top rung of metro Detroit's talent is clearly McCallum's charge.

UDM is relying on McCallum and Autumn Rademacher, a former Titan hired to resurrect women's basketball, to re-make the Titans into what they're known for: A basketball power in a talent-rich region.

~T.C. Cameron is the author of Metro Detroit's High School Basketball Rivalries, which will be offered in August 2009 from Arcadia Publishing. Cameron's first title, Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, is available at retailers nationwide.


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