Blogs > Burney's Bites

Burney's Bites will focus primarily on the local preps sports scene, but will also touch on some college and pro athletics, mostly in regards to athletes who hail and have played high school sports in Oakland County. My goal for the blog is to be conversational and anecdotal, a more relaxed and free formal take on high school athletics than you see in regular game day coverage.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


By Scott M. Burnstein
Special to The Oakland Press
On a team that has a great deal of new faces, it was old familiar jersey number 11 that got the job done for the Oak Park boys basketball team on Wednesday night in a highly-competitive pre-season scrimmage against Mount Clemens. Senior swingman Kenny Harper, a reserve role player for the Knights the past two seasons, stepped to the forefront and dropped a game-high 32 points, including delivering a number of key baskets in the clutch, to lead Oak Park to a 68-64 overtime defeat of the visiting Bathers, in front of a sizeable and boisterous home crowd.
With the score knotted at 55-55 in the final minute of the game, Harper scored four straight points – a 10-foot jumper and two free throws – to give the Knights a 59-55 advantage.  Then in the extra-session with his team clinging to a four point lead, he stayed blazing hot and drained a tough jump shot in the lane that hit nothing but net and gave Oak Park a 68-62 lead with 48.9 seconds left in overtime. His steal of a Mount Clemens inbounds pass in the game's closing seconds sewed up the win.
Harper and fellow starters and co-captains, Jalen Crawford (wing) and Jamar Durhal (center) are the only returning players from a 2008 team that was stacked with Division 1-caliber talent but failed to live up to expectations. After being a mainstay in early-season top ten polls, the '08 Knights, led by high-scoring forward Kallante Miller (scholarship to Central Michigan which was revoked due to legal problems) and whirling dervish of a point guard, Sam Burton (lots of DI offers, but due to test score eligibility he's playing JUCO this year), faltered down the stretch and never lived up to expectations, finishing out the scandal-filled campaign a meager 10-11. Besides losing Miller and Burton to graduation off last year's team, Oak Park has also lost starting guard Daryl Flemister and top reserve Chris Dewberry, both who transferred out of the school district last summer.
Durhal was held out of the scrimmage by new head coach Denolius Burkes because of a minor injury, however, Crawford, had a solid outing for the squad and contributed 16 points and four assists.
"I've got to pick up the slack this year with Kallante (Miller) and Sam (Burton) gone and tonight was a good start," Harper said in the locker room following the game. "I'm the leader of this team and along with Jalen (Crawford), I've got to take care of it and protect it like it's my family. We can be good this season if everyone just plays hard and smart every time we hit the court. There's no question we have the talent. People might not know about us like they did last year, but it's my job to make them know."
The 6-1 slasher's outing is even more impressive when you add in the fact that he almost didn't suit up to play in the scrimmage since he's still battling the effects of a flu virus he caught over the Thanksgiving holiday. 
"I just fought through the sickness," Harper said of the effort.  "I put it out of mind and just played hard. In the end, my adrenaline and motivation shined through. I need to set an example for the younger guys. That's what I tried to do. Hopefully, this game will set a tone for the rest of the season."
Almost just as hot as Harper, Bathers' junior shooting guard Thomas Hannah, very nearly stole the spotlight and the game. Hannah scored 28 points and sank a toasty six-of-nine 3-balls. Down four in the game's final 10 seconds he drilled a long 3-pointer from deep in the left corner to pull Mount Clemens to within one point at 59-58. He then went to the free throw line with 1.5 seconds remaining in regulation – via a technical foul on Oak Park for having too many players on the floor – with a chance to win it for the Bathers.  But Hannah split the pair and the contest went into overtime.
Sporting new life, Oak Park started the overtime with pep in its step and an ironclad desire to claim victory on its home court. Hoops by Joe Glover and Bobby McPherson in the first minute of OT put the Knights in front 63-59 and Harper's heroics took over from there. Brand new starting point guard Terry Starks, who had a crucial three point-play in the extra stanza as well, looked good running the Oak Park offense throughout the course of the scrimmage and registered 12 points, six assists, and three steals.
Forward Keith Johnson, an athletic-banger type, rounds out the Knights starting line-up. Slinky and steady sophomore guards, Jeremy Armstrong and Denolius "Little D" Burkes III, the coach's son and namesake, will spell Harper, Crawford, and Starks in the backcourt.
"We're going to be a little younger this year but I really like the mix of players we have to work with," said Burkes, taking over the Knights varsity hoops program after coaching the junior varsity and being a varsity assistant the last two seasons. "I think this year will be different and fun. We'll be more balanced and disciplined and I think we're going to be playing harder defense. Our team chemistry is at its best that it's been since I got here two years ago.
Burkes prepped at Detroit Central and as a senior in 1988 led his team to the PSL finals at Calihan Hall. Overseeing and coaching the "Team Legion" AAU program over the last decade, Burkes has a strong relationship with a majority of his players due to having coached them previously either on the JV or with his summer travel squad. Burkes thinks this familiarity will aid the team in adapting to its new lineup.
"The continuity is already there," he said. "From a coach-player perspective, we actually probably know each other better than most other teams that have been together at the varsity level for longer than we have. I'm excited to get going next week."
The Knights kick-off the 2009-2010 campaign next Monday night when they play Willow Run.


Anonymous Dan said...

Go Oak Park!

December 3, 2009 at 11:10 AM 

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