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East Grand Rapids: Womens Basketball Team

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Imagine putting in countless hours of work, preparing for a goal you set months ago. All the blood, sweat and tears that prepared you for this moment. Then by the drop of the hat, your goals have been derailed by a global pandemic that no one saw coming. This is what the East Grand Rapids Women’s Basketball team is going through. The Pioneers were 21-1 and were the likely favorites to win the state championship in Michigan.

East Grand Rapids Womens Basketball Team: The Interview

I spoke to their Assistant Coach Dominick Melton about their historic season, his thoughts on the disrespect of women’s basketball, his three highly touted recruits, and much more.

How did you tell your team that their season was postponed, and how did they respond?

“As a coaching staff, we had a meeting with them Thursday morning when we found out. Ironically, the morning we found out that the season would be canceled, we were told it would be limited to parents and family. Then two hours later, the government came out with a statement saying they were postponing it. So we had a meeting at the school and we sat down with them face to face and talk to them about life, and that things happen. As cliche as it may sound we told them to never take things for granted.”

“A couple of them were in tears, to be honest. They were very emotional, some showed stronger emotions than others, but they were all on the same page. Like you said, they were working so hard since last summer. We lost last year in the district final game to the same team we beat this year to keep advancing. It just shows their hard work on the course of the season, but you know there were some tears, very emotional and a lot of questions asked about how long is it going to be? Is it possible if we are going to play? Is the season done?… You know it was tough, a lot of those kids only play basketball or they are seniors and have been around each other for six or seven months. By the snap of our fingers, we say we aren’t practicing anymore was heartbreaking for the kids.”

How are you and your coaches making sure your girls are staying on top of their schoolwork and other priorities they may have?

“The good thing that we have in our situation is that East Grand Rapids is one of the strongest academic-based schools in the state. So academically it is extremely important here. We have a bunch of kids here that go to prestigious schools, Ivy League schools. I would be shocked if any of my players have anything less than a C+ or that have ever had one. I’m dealing with kids with 3.5, 4.0. 3.2 GPA’s. So their academics are strong. But we check in with them and text them to see how they are doing, how’s school going… We keep in close contact with their parents as well. The parents in the communities do a good job of staying on the kids.”

Talk about the three girls on your team that have D1 offers. What makes them so special, and what schools have offered them so far?

“We have three kids with D1 offers and a couple of other kids with D2 looks and possibly in the future some D1 looks. The thing is with those kids is, number one, they are just good kids as far as in the classroom and academically. Number two, they are good teammates. And number three, they have a strong work ethic.

“They love the game of basketball. I’m talking about kids that will sometimes spend four or five hours in a single day after practicing two hours of a high school practice to go do another workout with their shooting coach for an hour. Then going to run and lift weights. These kids eat and sleep basketball. They just put the time into it. They also play in a high-volume AAU circuit. They play for MBA (Michigan Basketball Academy) under the Under Armour circuit. One of our players, her mom is the director of it, who played college basketball. So she’s huge into it.

“Jillian Brown, who’s a junior and has already scored 1,000 points, and she probably had 15 to 20 different schools to choose from. Five power five conference schools. But she chose Northwestern because it was the right fit for her, not only with basketball but school — fit, the size and distance. She has an older sister who plays in the Atlantic-10 at St.Bonvanture. So she just comes from a basketball family.”

“We have another kid, Macy Brown, who is Jillian’s younger sister that’s in 9th grade. She has offers from Central Michigan, and Grand Valley State. Nebraska is looking at her and she’s only a freshman. The craziest thing, we joke about, because the youngest of the three sisters is that Macey is going to be better than you two. I joke with them about it.”

“We also have Alli Carlson, who’s a sophomore. She’s been offered by Youngstown State, Grand Valley State University. Ferris State, The University of Detroit, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, and is growing interest from Michigan State University and other Top D2 programs.”

“All three of these only play basketball, so they spend a lot of time in the gym getting the work in. These are kids that if you tell them you have to stay in the gym all day and lock them in there, they wouldn’t have any problem with it. They are flat-out gym rats…We are blessed to have three interchangeable guards and any given night they get 20 to 30 points. It’s very hard to scheme against us with the talent we have and our supporting cast. They instill a lot of confidence in the other kids. It makes it easier for us as coaches, it makes us look good.”

Why is Women’s basketball so disrespected?

“For me as a coach, I think it’s disregarded on a lot of levels because some people don’t understand the blood, sweat, and tears these kids put into it regardless if it’s male or female. I used to always say it before I got into coaching. All I want to do is coach boys. “I’ll never coach girls”. But me, being a young man at the time, I’m glad that I went the route I did and to coach women’s basketball because if you can build a rapport with them they will be willing to run through a brick wall.”

“Now you have to know what you’re talking about and you build a relationship with them. I always tell our players and their parents the relationship I take on with you guys is I want to be another parent away from home. They spend so much time away from their parents, I want them to see me as a father figure… But I think people don’t understand it because they aren’t there coaching it. They just go off of what they see. If they took the time and sat down with one of our kids, someone in the WNBA or the college level, their respect level would grow for it.”

“I see the NBA players giving them shouts, but there are probably some WNBA players that could stand a chance in the NBA or the college men’s side. I like that we are seeing more women getting into coaching on the men’s side and I think that’s big… I think my relationship grew with it because I have a daughter myself, so just build a relationship with my daughter and seeing her enjoyment around the sport as well.”

“I’ve played games and made a move, a euro-step and I’ll get to the basket. But having a kid on the team that puts in a ton of work and will do a euro-step and the ref may call travel because they aren’t expecting them to. And I’ll go back and say that’s not a travel. You’re not expecting her to make that move because you’re watching so many men’s games. She can do the same thing a man can do…

“I hope that it doesn’t come to an end and we get the news that the season isn’t over. We are one of sixteen that’s hoping the same thing, we are watching the news and social media and hoping it all works out.”

What suggestions would you make to help increase the popularity of it?

“I think if there was a way to televise some of the women’s games. Let’s say they play 20 games, televise two or four games throughout the year. I know you get to see the McDonald’s All-American games that are in Chicago, but that’s just the one opportunity you get to see the top 16 girls or guys in the country. Also, you could do border states. If they could have a State Championship between divisions. I live in Michigan, so you have Indiana, and Ohio on the border. Well, you could get the top four teams from each state and have a big showcase and televise it. I think it’s just the marketing from the high school level could be better.” 

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