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PREP NOTEBOOK: KLAA North is up for grabs on hardwood, Hardy hot out of the gate in Mr. BBall quest WITH PHOTO GALLERY

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The balance on the boys basketball scene out of the KLAA North is evident. Four-time defending champ, Walled Lake Central, has its work cut out for itself if the Vikings want to snare a league crown for a fifth year in a row. Central will be tested by cross-town foes Walled Lake Western and Walled Lake Northern and darkhorses Lakeland and Waterford Mott.

"It's going to be a grind, it's going to be tough," said Central head coach Chuck Spolsky of the competition in the league this year. "You're going to have to protect your home court. There's three, four, five teams that could possibly be in contention (to win the league). That's a pretty deep crop and then most of us will see each other again in districts in March. It will be a slugfest."

Spolsky's club is coming off two straight Class A district titles and regional final appearances and is led by savvy senior guards Nako Ziegler and Dylan Hudspeth and fast-improving junior forward Houston Tucker. The Vikings are 2-0. Ziegler hit a game-winner at the buzzer on opening night last week versus Detroit University Prep.

Western is probably the early-season favorite to take the crown, with a majority of the Warriors' lineup returning from last winter's squad that won a KLAA Lakes Conference championship. Senior shooting guard Delano Smith is a prolific scorer in the backcourt. Michigan State-football commit Cody White can be a terror on the wing and floor general Kam Ford is a proficient pace setter at the point. Smith tickled the twine for 25 in an opening night win over Ypsilanti. White and Ford are fresh off leading Western's football program to a spot in the state finals and being the county's premier pass-catching tandem on the local prep gridiron back in the fall.

Northern (1-1) will be good the next two years with a talented young core of underclassmen. Transfer junior point guard Jalen Kelso (Pontiac) is a force of nature on the perimeter, junior small forward Andy Millikan is one of the area's top outside marksmen and junior power forward Ethan Ancick can be a double-double machine when playing at peak performance. Sophomores Spencer Brown and Troy Lattimore have shown flashes of brilliance since joining the Knights varsity as freshmen last season.

Lakeland (1-0) features a nice inside-outside combo in sniper Kyle Soderberg and active post player Cass Phillips. Soderberg had 25 points on opening night too. Mott (2-0) is a spirited group showing increasing cohesion on the court and known for excellent ball movement and swing rotation. Versatile junior forward David McCullum, a Division I football prospect at quarterback, anchors the Corsairs attack.

Mr. Basketball watch

North Farmington senior guard Amauri Hardy came out guns blazing in his senior campaign debut over the weekend, piling up 38 points in his Raiders’ 72-65 loss to Southfield Christian. Hardy’s prodigious start to the season made a statement that he needs to be taken seriously in the race for the 2017 Mr. Basketball award and that the recent Oklahoma State-signee intends to fight tooth-and-nail for the honor against perceived frontrunners Xavier Tillman (Grand Rapids Christian), Isaiah Livers (Kalamazoo Central) and Jamal Cain (Detroit Cornerstone).

The 6-foot-2 lefty assassin is trying to become the fifth player in Oakland County history to collect the award, following in the footsteps of Birmingham Detroit Country Day's Chris Webber (1991) and Shane Battier (1997), Clarkston's Dane Fife (1998) and Rochester's Paul Davis (2002) - Webber, Battier and Davis went on to be NBA Draft picks. Last year, Rochester Adams swingman Spencer Littleson (Duquesne) was a Mr. Basketball finalist and finished third in the balloting.

Other lesser-heralded Mr. Basketball candidates like Macomb Dakota's Jermaine Jackson, Jr. and Detroit East English Village's Greg Elliott both had big efforts in the scoring column in victorious outings over the weekend as well, as Jackson put in 37 and Elliott went off for a career-high 45 They are uncommitted. Tillman is inked with Michigan State, Livers with Michigan and Cain with Marquette.

Tweet of the week

"Game day....totally locked in," WL Northern boys hoopster Andy Millikan before going out and dropping a team-high 18 points in the Knights' narrow 60-57 loss to Oak Park Friday night.

Last Updated: 12/12/2016 11:19:50 PM EST

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