1 Bloomfield Hills, 1 Win from Title

March 21, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Armand Cartwright and Yante Maten were more rivals than friends during middle school.

But that relationship clearly has grown for the better over the last four years. After all, Cartwright allows Maten to raid his refrigerator, things like that – and together, they’ve led first-year Bloomfield Hills High to a basketball level the school’s predecessors never approached.

Bloomfield Hills – created when Lahser and Andover high schools combined last summer – reached the Class A championship game Friday with an 85-75 Semifinal win over Detroit U-D Jesuit at the Breslin Center.

Neither of the former schools made even the Quarterfinal round during their histories. But with the 6-foot-8 Yaten dominating the post, Cartwright running the show up top and a host of helpers filling in the rest of the lineup, the No. 8 Black Hawks upset a Cubs team ranked No. 3 at the end of the regular season.

“It feels like magic,” Cartwright said. “It feels great for us to get all together in one year, to work as a team, to get together to win the state championship.”

Bloomfield Hills (24-3) will face top-ranked Muskegon in the title game at noon Saturday.

Although the Black Hawks’ roster definitely is Lahser heavy with 12 former Knights and five Andover players, four of the former Andover players were among the 10 who saw the floor during the Semifinal.

Together, a “team from top to bottom,” in the words of coach Duane Graves held off another also having its best season of a much longer history – and despite missing one of its top scorers, who was unable to play Friday.

“It’s been an honor to coach my boys. … They make me look good,” Graves said. “When you coach you’re a coach, but it’s the players who play hard and make you look like a good coach. If you don’t have the players who buy in to what you want, it’s makes you just another coach.”

Jesuit won its first Regional title on the way to Breslin and carried a 22-2 record into East Lansing. The Cubs didn’t show it in falling 22 points down into the final minute of the third quarter – but showed plenty in cutting the deficit back to four with 1:32 to play.

Junior Jamarie Collins scored 10 points during the 33-15 run that pulled Jesuit within 77-73.

“It’s just that we got caught in the moment at the Breslin,” said senior guard Noah King, who led the Cubs with 24 points and 13 rebounds. “We had a little bit of the butterflies and we didn’t concentrate on how we play ball. We were able to do that in the second half.”

But they weren’t able to stop Yaten.

He finished with 25 points, 18 rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots and had five points and five rebounds as Bloomfield Hills went on an 8-2 run to finish that final 1:32 of the game.

Cartwright added 16 points and seven rebounds, with senior guard Xzavier Reynolds scoring 15 points with seven rebounds and four assists and junior guard Cameron Dalton adding 18 points off the bench.

Sophomore guards Billy Thomas and Cassius Winston added 21 and 16 points, respectively, for Jesuit, with Winston also dishing seven assists and grabbing six steals. Junior guard Gary Collins added 10 points off the bench.

The Cubs took the next step this winter after falling to Detroit Pershing on a buzzer beater in their 2013 Regional Final. Jesuit coach Pat Donnelly said the emotion in the locker room Friday was the same as a year ago – which is a good thing, because he knows that will bring his many returnees back to offseason work looking to avoid heartbreak next season.

“It’s definitely a different mindset,” Jesuit senior forward Nick Mutebi said. “In years past when we’d lose to a much tougher opponent, we’d just say it’s OK, at least we tried. Now, in the years to come, we’ll give each opponent our very best. And if we lose, it’ll hurt. We don’t take losses lightly anymore.”

Click for the full box score and video from the press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) Bloomfield Hills’ Armand Cartwright brings the ball upcourt with U-D Jesuit’s Gary Collins defending. (Middle) Bloomfield Hills’ Cameron Dalton and Jesuit’s Spencer Sanders work to corral a loose ball Friday.

HIGHLIGHTS: (1) Yante Maten had 25 points and 14 rebounds to lead Bloomfield Hills to an 85-75 win over Detroit U-D Jesuit in a Class A Semifinal on Friday. Here's a highlights package of plays Maten made during the game. (2) U-D Jesuit mounted a rally in the fourth quarter and got as close as four points from the lead on this Cassius Winston layup off the midcourt turnover by Bloomfield Hills. 

Championship Experience from Coach's Point of View Unimaginable, Unforgettable

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

April 4, 2024

WYOMING – As the final buzzer sounded, it was all I could’ve imagined – and more.

West Michigan

In the weeks leading up to March 16 and the Division 4 championship game, I experienced every emotion possible as I envisioned what it would feel like to be an assistant coach on the bench at Michigan State’s Breslin Center as the Wyoming Tri-unity Christian boys basketball team achieved its ultimate goal.

In my first year as the junior varsity coach at Tri-unity, I had been on the varsity bench for a majority of the season, assisting legendary coach Mark Keeler and fellow assistants Brent Voorhees, Bob Przybysz and Mike Kaman.

I was there encouraging, motivating and supporting the varsity team. It was a role I embraced, and had become accustomed to over my almost 30 years coaching high school basketball.

I started coaching in 1995 as Jim Ringold gave me my first opportunity as the freshmen girls coach at Wyoming Kelloggsville High School. I would then coach Kelloggsville’s freshmen boys team for eight seasons, while also coaching the freshmen girls at Grandville High School. I would also coach the junior varsity teams at both schools.

I love coaching. I have a passion for it. I’ve always enjoyed getting the most out of my players while creating a bond between player and coach.

When girls basketball season moved from fall to winter joining the boys in 2007-08, I stayed at Grandville. I spent 21 seasons there before stepping down.

I still wanted to coach, and I heard that the Tri-unity junior varsity position was available. I had always respected and liked Keeler and was excited for the prospect of joining a perennial powerhouse.

I didn’t really know about Tri-unity growing up in the Wyoming Park school district. But as a young kid, I would rush home and eagerly await the afternoon delivery of the Grand Rapids Press. I would quickly find the sports page and read it from front to back, hoping one day to see my byline.

I began writing for the Press’ sports department in 1997. It was my dream job. And that’s also when I first started covering Tri-unity boys basketball.

I remember watching eventual NBA all-star Chris Kaman, along with Bryan Foltice and others play for this little Christian school and have unbridled success under Keeler.

MHSAA Tournament runs became the norm for the Defenders. They won their first Finals title in 1996, and they would claim four more over the next 26 years. They also had six runner-up finishes.

Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action.I was sitting on media row writing for MHSAA.com in 2022 when Brady Titus led Tri-unity to its fifth state championship.

I never thought that two years later I would be on the coaching staff as the Defenders pursued another one. But there I was.

I knew this year’s team had the potential to be special.

Tri-unity had returned four of its five starters from a year ago, after suffering a heart-breaking two-point loss to Munising in the Division 4 Final.

Eight seniors were on the roster. The team had a mix of talented guard play, senior leadership, size and depth. We had shooters and we played great defense, a trademark of Keeler’s teams.

This was the year, and that heaped lofty expectations on Keeler and the team. It was basically “state championship or bust.” Anything less would be considered a disappointment.

Keeler wanted it badly, and I knew the players did as well. I think they felt the pressure at times of living up to the expectations that had been set.

We had several lopsided wins, but also had a few tough losses to Division 2 and Division 3 teams – Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Wyoming Lee, Grandville Covenant Christian and Schoolcraft – all talented teams that I think made us better despite falling short.

As the postseason started, there was anxiety and excitement.

We were one of the favorites, but it wouldn’t be easy. We would have to earn each of the seven victories needed to win it all.

First came a District title, but then we had to play a quality Fowler team in its home gym in the Regional Semifinal. This was a game we knew would be a challenge – and it was.

We led by only one at halftime after a 7-0 run to end the second quarter. The score was tied 33-33 in the fourth quarter before senior Lincoln Eerdmans made a key 3-pointer to spark our victory.

As we went through the handshake line, several Fowler players said, “Good luck in the Finals.”

Our defense played extremely well in the Regional Final and state Quarterfinal to secure our team another trip to the Breslin.

St. Ignace was our opponent in the Semifinal, and we had to face a senior guard who could do it all – Jonny Ingalls. He lived up to the hype. He was good, and we didn’t have any answer for him in the first half. We trailed by one, only to fall behind by seven late in the third quarter.

Was this the end? Were we going to fall one game short of our goal?

Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. We were down by five points in the fourth quarter, but junior guard Keaton Blanker, and others, rose to the occasion. We rallied to win a tight one, and now we were one win away from a Division 4 title.

The night before the championship game, we stayed at a hotel in East Lansing as we had the first game of the day at 10 a.m. We had a team dinner, and the players seemed relaxed and eager to close out the season the way they had intended.

There was one thing that worried me. We were playing Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. A team we had played in the second game of the season and defeated by 30 points.

Would we be overconfident? I had no idea. They were a different team now, but so were we. Anything could happen.

Keeler gave a spirited and emotional pregame speech. In last year’s loss to Munising, he felt like the team played not to lose, and this season his big thing was “I want to win.” He said it to every starter that Saturday morning during the final moments in the locker room before tipoff, asking all five individually to say it back – which they did, the first one quietly but followed by teammates replying louder and louder as everyone got fired up and “I want to win” rang through the locker room. I think it inspired all of us.

After a competitive first quarter, we started to find our rhythm and expanded the lead. We were ahead by double-digits at the half, and a state title was within our grasp. Senior Wesley Kaman buried a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the third quarter to give us a 20-point cushion. It was at that point I knew we were going to win.

All five starters reached double-figure scoring, led by Jordan VanKlompenberg with 19 points and Owen Rosendall with 14. That balance was intentional and a successful sign for our team all season.

The exhilaration of winning was intoxicating. I loved watching the boys celebrate something they had worked so hard to accomplish. I will never forget their faces. I looked to my right from my seat on the bench and watched them running onto the court, just wearing their joy. They were just elated.

I was so happy for Keeler, a devout Christian who is respected by so many people in high school basketball circles. I learned so much from him this season. The way he approaches each game, his competitiveness. He instills his strong faith in his players and understands that the game of basketball is a bridge to a higher purpose.

Keeler is the fourth-winningest coach in state boys basketball history with a record of 694-216, and will be the winningest active coach next winter as all-time leader Roy Johnston retired from Beaverton at the end of this season.

The tournament run was one of the best coaching experiences I have had, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of a state championship season.

Dean HolzwarthDean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) The Wyoming Tri-unity Christian bench, including the author (far right) and head coach Mark Keeler (middle), celebrate a 3-pointer late in the Defenders’ Division 4 championship win over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. (Middle) Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action. (Below) Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)