Huron’s senior class bonded together to leave mark on basketball program
EAST LANSING – Waleed Samaha wishes every coach could have the experience of being around a group like his 2021 senior class.
The Ann Arbor Huron boys basketball coach watched as the team’s core group slowly grew into something special and was on the cusp of winning the school’s first-ever state championship.
Despite coming up just short of the Division 1 state title to Grand Blanc on Saturday at the Breslin Center, Samaha was thankful to see his team leave their mark on the program and give its community something to be proud of.
“Even when they were sophomores, I could tell there were the makings of a special group,” Samaha said. “We had to learn how to win first and once we learned how to win, we learned how to practice, and we learned how to compete literally possession to possession.
“That was the growing that we had to do. We had to grow up a little bit sophomore year and then we carried that into the spring and summer, and we had a great summer two years ago.
“We had a great season last year. We had no spring, summer or fall this year, so their maturity really led the way. I can’t say enough about how high-character of a group this is. Every coach should have an opportunity to coach a group like this.”
As juniors last season, Huron’s senior core of Julian Lewis, Kingsley Perkins, Devin Womack, Brandon Rawls, Tyson Edmondson and Sergio Bennett banded together forming one of the state’s best teams and had their eyes on a state championship.
But the pandemic ended the 2020 season short of the district championship game and the River Rats nearly saw their 2021 season end in the district tournament because of COVID-19 issues.
Huron was able to weather the storm and fought its way to the state title game against a Grand Blanc team that was also look to win its first-ever state championship.
In the end, Grand Blanc prevailed 45-36, but the River Rats were still fortunate to have the opportunity to make it to the finish line.
“We’re so grateful,” said Edmondson. “We could’ve been on the couch watching this game, so we’re just so thankful that we got to play in it and COVID didn’t stop us and I’m just happy that we got to play.”
Huron’s senior class didn’t win a state championship, but they did finish 41-2 with two conference titles, a district championship and a regional title and will go down as one of the best teams from the Ann Arbor area.
“It was good to be around them,” said Lewis of his teammates. “We didn’t end it how we wanted to, but just being around the guys I grew up with is just special, especially playing my last game with them.
“We were just lucky to be able to get through our situation with Ann Arbor Public Schools because for a second, we weren’t going to play. Then we actually got a season, so we were really blessed. We worked hard and got this far, but we weren’t able to make it, but it’s just a blessing to be able to play.”
For a group that had played together for years, seeing it come to an end without a title stings, but the memories created during the journey will last a lifetime.
“These are all of my brothers,” said Edmondson. “I’ll be with them for the rest of my life, I’ll always keep in touch. We wanted this one. I feel bad for coach (Samaha), but I’m just proud of everybody. We tried our hardest and we just didn’t get the outcome we wanted.”
Huron will send five players to the next level for basketball with Lewis headed to William & Mary, Bennett off to Adrian College, and Perkins, Womack and Edmondson all going to Lake Superior State. Rawls will continue his athletic career at Saginaw Valley State for football.
Though this run has come to an end for the successful squad, Samaha said the team has more than etched its name in the history books and should be congratulated for the run they had.
“These guys have only lost two games in 800 days,” he said. “They’re winners. This is a group of winners and that’s why I insisted that they all come out together (to the postgame press conference). They’re great students, great people and great athletes that have done a lot of winning at Huron.
“It would have been nice to see them go off the right way. I know they’re disappointed and I’m disappointed for them, but I don’t think it takes away from who they are as people and what they were able to accomplish.”