Posted On: 03/6/18 2:00 PM
The Garfield Heights Bulldogs entered the season with high expectations. Many thought they would breeze to a Division I Final Four trip. But there have been some bumps along the road, including injuries and a five-game losing streak. They appear to have righted the ship in time for a run at that state title.
The Bulldogs are led by 6’9” Alonzo Gaffney (2019), one of the top players in the country in the class of 2019 and highly-touted freshman point guard Demetrius “Meechie” Johnson Jr.(2021) But it’s far from a two-man crew. Alex Heath (2018) may be undersized at 5’9” but the Mercyhurst-commit has proven to be one of the best players on the floor in nearly every game the Bulldogs have played this year.
That was the case again on March 4 when the Bulldogs (18-5) came on strong in the second-half to beat Euclid 72-62 in the sectional final.
Heath took control of the contest in the second half as he scored 18 of his 22 points to lead Garfield to the win in a sectional final.
“Alex was outstanding. He showed why he’s one of the best players in the area,” said Garfield Heights coach Sonny Johnson. Garfield also connected on 10-of-12 at the line in the fourth quarter.
Heath, who keeps the ball on a string, continually was able to break down Euclid’s defense with dribble penetration and knocked down open shot after open shot.
Gaffney, who is being recruited by the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State, Georgetown, scored 11 and was an intimidating presence in the second half when he was able to alter or block several shots. Brison Waller (2019), a 6’9” power forward, scored 12 and playing a strong inside game. Julian Whiteside (2018) added 15. Donovan Forte (2018), a Jacksonville recruit scored 8, all in the first half.
“For us to win it all they are going to have to take it to another level. If he and Zo are aggressive that’s when we’ll take it to another level,” said Johnson, whose team will play Warren G. Harding in the district semifinal on March 7. Euclid was led by its sensational guard Garvin Clarke (2020), who scored 19, including 15 in the first half.
Getting a dream team to win
At the beginning of the season, many thought Garfield would run the table with little trouble and breeze to a state title.
But it’s a far more difficult process than many anticipate as Johnson has worked to blend transfers Gaffney, Heath and freshman Johnson with returning players like Donovan Forte (2018). Johnson’s said the experience led him to gain respect for college coaches like Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams, who have to coach the “one-and-done” players.
“I’ve got a new respect for the schools like Duke and North Carolina. It’s hard to get special kids to come in and do less and be part of a special team. This has been one of the most challenging years. We’ve only had our entire team for seven of our 22 games. We are still gelling and continue to figure things out,” said Johnson.
Clarke impresses in defeat
Clarke, a 6’0” guard, was the best player on the floor in the first two quarters. He scored 15 points, displaying a strong jump shot with a nice stroke and ability to get the basket at will and finish through contact. He finished the year averaging 13.7 points per game.
“He’s just going to get better and better,” said Euclid coach TJ Kwasniak. “He plays defense now.”
Clarke, who is being recruited heavily by Youngtown State, continues to develop his game and add wrinkles, said Kwasniak.
“We’ve talked to him about becoming more of a point guard. Now he’s a point scorer. We’ve talked about him getting us into our stuff and understanding end of quarters situations. He’s got all the tools and he’s athletic as all hell,” Kwasniak.