Tuesday during his lunch hour at Muskegon Heights High School, Jessie York
walked into the Tigers gym, the weight of another state title run resting firmly on his shoulders.
"I couldn't eat, so I just came in and shot free throws," York said. "Then I looked up and saw those banners hanging in the rafters and realized what Muskegon Heights basketball is all about. I want to add another banner up there."
Those banners represent six state championships, including Class A (big school) titles in 1954, '56 and '57; and Class B titles in 1974, '78 and '79.
If the Tigers are to add a seventh state title, much of it will hinge on the play of York, a standout shooting guard rated among the top 25 players in the state.
"Jessie is the heart and soul of this team," Muskegon Heights coach Keith Guy said. "He's the first one to practice and the last one to leave."
At 6-foot-1, some might consider York a bit undersized to play the two-guard in college, but I doubt many of those people have seen him play.
"He's a scoring threat whenever he touches the ball and I think for a guard he rebounds extremely well," Guy said. "I put him at the point a little too because he's such a good ballhandler."
This season York has averaged nearly 19 points, five rebounds, three steals and three assists per game. The Tigers are currently 20-1 and ranked the No. 3 Class B team in the state.
A four-year varsity starter, York scored a season-high 28 points as Muskegon Heights won a rematch against Flint Beecher after Beecher had defeated the Tigers earlier this season.
"That's the thing about Jessie, he steps up in big games," Guy said. "I don't want to look ahead, but we'd love an opportunity to play Detroit Renaissance (in the state finals)."
"It's a dream come true playing for Muskegon Heights," said York, who transferred from Muskegon High after his sophomore year. "I transferred here because of Eddie Spencer
Spencer, a consensus two time all-stater, is now in his first year at Central Michigan
, along with assistant coach Lamar Chapman. Chapman coached Muskegon Heights to a 42-9 record and two consecutive trips to the state semifinals the past two years, where they were Class B runners-up last season.
On the court, York has a lot of weapons in his arsenal.
Those weapons were on display Tuesday night in the Muskegon Heights gym against Fruitport as the Tigers began their tournament run and the road to the Class B state finals.
York scored 21 points to lead the Heights to a 67-48 victory over the Trojans. True to his form, York scored in the paint (eight points), at the free throw line (4-of-4 free throws) and from beyond the three-point arc (nine points). He scored 11 points in the first half and 10 in the second.
York displayed perfect form and a quick release with a hand in his face to score from beyond the arc. He showed his speed and quickness by using a crossover dribble to split a double-team and score from inside the paint.
But perhaps most important of all, York and his teammates play stifling, in-your-face pressure defense for 32 minutes, a source of pride for the Tigers.
"Our team is like a gun," York said. "We just keep reloading every year. This year we've placed more emphasis on defense and pressuring opponents."
York hopes to take his basketball skills to CMU next year, but first he must take care of business in the classroom.
"One of my biggest problems last year was grades, because I focused too much on basketball," York said. "Well, I've turned it around. Coach Guy made me go to summer school instead of playing AAU ball and that helped me a lot."
Since he's refocused on his academics, York said he's doing much better in the classroom. Next month he plans to take the ACT test in hopes of attending CMU next year.
"The CMU coaches told me I need to pass my test before they'll even talk to me," York said. "I hope to be at CMU, even if I have to walk-on."
York said he doesn't want to be compared to any other players, he only wants to be himself. And being himself means staying focused in the classroom and doing his utmost on the court to bring the Tigers another state championship banner.
When it comes to playing basketball, the Muskegon Heights motto is "anybody, anytime, anywhere." The great hope for the Tigers is that "anybody" will be Detroit Renaissance, "anytime" will be March 27, and "anywhere" will be the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich., for the state championship.
No high school in the state of Michigan has a finer basketball tradition than Muskegon Heights. The Tigers have won six state championships in their illustrious history. The past two years, Heights was coached by current Central Michigan University assistant Lamar Chapman, while CMU forward Eddie Spencer led the Tigers in their quest for a seventh state title. This year, it's Jessie York's turn to lead Muskegon Heights.
Highly rated wing guard hopes to join former coach and teammate at CMU.