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BOOM! Pilots Are State Champs for First Time in School History

In case you missed it, De La Salle Collegiate captured the 2021-22 MHSAA Division 1 basketball state championship Saturday, knocking off defending state champion Grand Blanc, 67-58. In doing so, the Pilots finished the season with 20 wins (20-7), plus won the first basketball state title in school history. 

Additionally, the Purple and Gold became the first Division 1 team to win both football and basketball state titles in the same academic year since Clarkston (2017-18), and became the first Macomb County team to win a basketball championship at the Class A/Division 1 level.

The Pilots are also the third ever Macomb County boys hoops team to win it all. St. Clair Shores Lake Shore, which was coached at the time by longtime DLS headman Greg Esler, was the first to accomplish the feat in 1994.

On Saturday against Grand Blanc, junior Nino Smith led all De La Salle scorers with 18 points. He also recorded a game-high six assists. Meanwhile, junior Triston Nichols and senior Tamario Adley added 17 points and 12 points, respectively.

Additionally, junior Michael Sulaka led the team with eight rebounds and three blocks (also a game-high).

After the game, Pilots head coach Gjon Djokaj reflected on his squad’s collective effort as an offense. 

As Djokaj told MLive.com’s Jared Purcell, “I can honestly tell you, I’ve never once with this group said, ‘We’re going to you. This is your game where you’ve got to get big buckets,’ or anything like that. It’s always been a collective balance. Our offense is predicated on motion and attacking and creating for other people. That’s probably why it took us a little bit longer to buy in and connect because all of these guys on our team can get it done individually.

“Nino could do this every game, but he sacrifices. Tamario could do this every game, but he sacrifices... Today was Nino, Triston and Tamario. Yesterday was Mikey. The day before, it was Caleb (Reese). It’s just been a consistent change, and the ball does the work.”

The Pilots' high-level play vs. Grand Blanc and throughout the weekend at the Breslin Center, including against Grand Rapids Northview in the state semifinal round, was a reflection of the team’s mantra throughout the season: “Brothers On One Mission.” And specifically, that mission was to win a state championship as one cohesive unit. 

That winning formula carried over into the MHSAA state playoffs and culminated in the program’s history-making victory Saturday. 

Simply put, mission accomplished. 

Below now are some stories from the local media regarding the history-making win:

  • Athletics News
  • Basketball
  • State Finals