By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
With 20 seconds remaining in Tuesday night’s victory, the Ravenna student section started chanting:
That was about as wild and crazy as the Bulldogs got after a truly historic achievement – moving to 20-0 and wrapping up the first-ever perfect boys basketball regular season in school history with a 71-51 victory over host Fruitport Calvary Christian.
Afterward in the locker room, one of the players wrote the following message on the whiteboard:
“That’s been our philosophy all year,” explained first-year Ravenna coach Courtney Kemp, whose team is ranked No. 5 in the final Associated Press state rankings. “I remember seeing 0-5 and 0-6 up there. We want to play with the humility, the hunger and the sense of urgency of a team that is desperate to get a win.”
The Bulldogs know they have accomplished something truly special on the hardcourt, an achievement that will be talked about in the small farming community in eastern Muskegon County for years to come.
They also know that they can’t afford to celebrate it right now, as they will be hosting a grueling Division 3 District, starting with a third showdown on Monday against West Michigan Conference rival North Muskegon (14-5). If they survive that, stern tests loom against a pair of tournament-savvy teams in Kent City and Muskegon Western Michigan Christian.
“It’s a season to remember, for sure,” said 6-foot-5 senior center Jacob May, who scored a team-high 21 points with five rebounds in Tuesday’s regular-season finale. “It’s been a blast. Our goal was to put a banner up in the gym and we got that conference title, but we can’t be satisfied with that.”
May is one of five senior starters who rose above some early setbacks to win the school’s first boys basketball conference championship in 40 years and first outright WMC title in 47 years. It was the school’s third boys basketball championship in 51 years in the WMC.
The perfect season becomes more impressive when you consider that the team lost its coach in June, when Justin Johnson left after five years to take the same job at Division 1 Muskegon Mona Shores. Johnson, whose teams won a combined 16 games over his first three years, guided the ‘Dogs to a breakthrough 15-7 finish last year and their first postseason win in more than a decade.
In August, star guard Josh Cox suffered a serious knee injury in the season-opening football game against Hopkins. Then in November, 6-5 senior Grant Parker learned he needed surgery and decided not to play basketball to recover in preparation for his college football career at Saginaw Valley State.
The ‘Dogs have never used any of those losses as an excuse, instead wearing down one opponent after another with their deep, senior-laden roster.
The strength of the team is a versatile front line of three seniors – May (14 points, nine rebounds, two blocked shots per game), 6-4 Calvin Schullo (14 points, five rebounds) and 6-4 Hunter Funk (nine points, 8.5 rebounds, four assists).
Kemp, who served as Ravenna’s junior varsity coach under Johnson, also brings good length off the bench in seniors Jack Emery (6-3) and Dom Mabrito (6-2) and junior Joel Emery (6-1).
The backcourt is in the hands of senior football standouts Connor Kilbourne and Trevor Sterken, with sharpshooter Dom Jones coming off the bench.
“They are all so competitive,” said Kemp, who like Johnson before him, played high school basketball at Unionville-Sebewaing. “Our depth is one of the biggest reasons for our success, which makes a huge difference in games and in practice. These guys go at each other hard every day, and it makes them better.”
That depth was on display Tuesday against Fruitport Calvary, which came out on fire from long range but ultimately couldn’t keep up for four quarters. May and Schullo were the only two Bulldogs in double figures, but 10 of the team’s 12 players scored.
Ravenna’s quest for perfection was tested during four consecutive road games in mid-February. The Bulldogs edged Wyoming Potter’s House on Feb. 11, then survived their closest call with a 54-52 win at North Muskegon two days later. Next came Ravenna’s most impressive win, a 70-36 overwhelming of neighboring rival Muskegon Oakridge on Feb. 18, followed by a win at Scottville Mason County Central to improve to 17-0.
Schullo said one of the biggest motivators was a pair of heartbreaking losses on the football field – during the regular season against Oakridge and a season-ending loss to Montague in the Division 6 District championship game.
“They took it from us in football, so we were determined to get it back in basketball,” said Schullo, who scored 13 points Tuesday.
The challenge now for Ravenna is to exhale, momentarily, and enjoy a historic hardcourt achievement at a school known statewide for football – boasting MHSAA Finals championships in 1994, 1996, 1997 and 2003 – while simultaneously preparing for a tough District where everyone will be out to hand the Bulldogs their first loss.
“It sounds funny to say, but we still don’t feel like we’ve accomplished anything yet,” said Kemp, who is assisted by Andy May and Tim Jones. “That has to be our mentality because teams are going to be gunning for us next week. We can celebrate 20-0 later.”
Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Ravenna’s Jacob May attempts a free throw during a win this season. (Middle) Calvin Schullo operates the offense under the watchful eye of Bulldogs coach Courtney Kemp. (Photos courtesy of the Ravenna High School yearbook staff.)
We've got a long way to go before the stories of this season conclude with four MHSAA boys basketball champions crowned March 15 at Michigan State University's Breslin Center.
But the first week of the 2023-24 regular season gave us plenty to fill our first installment of “Breslin Bound” – our official tip-off to following more than 700 boys basketball teams through those final buzzers in East Lansing.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Flint Carman-Ainsworth 46, Flint Beecher 44 This was their first meeting since January 2022 and it provided a memorable start as the Cavaliers downed the reigning Division 3 champion.
2. Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 75, Ferndale 66 These two both have several new contributors, but big things will be expected again as well as Brother Rice regularly contends in Division 1 and Ferndale is the reigning Division 2 champion.
3. Lansing Waverly 58, Detroit Martin Luther King 57 Waverly took major strides last season doubling its win total from 2021-22 and could be on the verge of more coming off this impressive victory at the Detroit Douglass Tip-Off Classic.
4. Norway 49, Munising 48 After the Knights gave Munising a tough final regular-season test last season, the Mustangs went on to claim the Division 4 championship. Norway will attempt to build off back-to-back 15-7 seasons starting with this win.
5. Wyoming Tri-unity Christian 64, Grandville Calvin Christian 44 These two combined to finish 46-9 a season ago, when Calvin defeated Tri-unity 63-42 in the regular-season finale (although the Defenders rebounded to finish Division 4 runners-up).
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Rochester Adams (2-0) The Highlanders provided one of the best late-breaking stories of last season, reaching the Division 1 Quarterfinals after finishing fourth of five teams in a strong Oakland Activities Association Red that also featured North Farmington and Ferndale. The momentum started rolling again with wins last week over Milford 52-48 and Macomb L’Anse Creuse North 74-59.
Utica (2-0) Last season’s co-champion in the Macomb Area Conference Blue defeated MAC White reigning champion Port Huron Northern 68-49 in their opener and then Utica Eisenhower 56-41 at the MAC Champions of Champions event at Center Line. Utica improved to 15-7 last season after finishing 7-14 in 2021-22.
Dundee (2-0) After holding its own last season in a strong Lenawee County Athletic Association and finishing 13-12 overall, Dundee is hoping to turn a fast start last week into a climb up the standings with league play starting Friday. The Vikings doubled up East Jackson 52-26 and downed Milan 67-37 to start things off.
Goodrich (1-0) A 22-5 finish last season included a shared championship in the Flint Metro League Stars and a run to the Division 2 Quarterfinals, where the Martians fell by only five to eventual champion Ferndale. The second-to-last of those five losses came to Flint Beecher, 70-55, but Goodrich avenged it Friday with a 58-55 win over the Bucs.
Hillsdale (2-0) The Hornets finished just 4-19 last season, their second sub-.500 in a row. But the turnaround may be starting. Hillsdale is halfway toward last year’s win total after defeating Union City 53-45 and Jonesville 50-40 – and after losing to Union City 52-36 and Jonesville 39-23 last season, with Jonesville going on to finish 19-6.
Royal Oak Shrine Catholic (2-0) This is another team well on its way to bettering last season’s success by Jan. 1. After going 3-19 last winter, Shrine defeated Bloomfield Hills Roeper 48-30 and Utica Ford 55-52 in overtime last week. Ford had defeated the Knights 63-50 last season, and the 55 points Shrine scored this time would have been their second-highest total of 2022-23.
Adrian Lenawee Christian (2-0) Lenawee Christian finished last season on an 11-5 run after a 2-7 start, and might be rolling that right into this season as well after opening with a 74-60 win over Blissfield and 73-58 overtime victory over Hanover-Horton. Blissfield was among teams to deal the Cougars a loss during last season’s tough early stretch. Lenawee Christian is playing in the Tri-County Conference this winter after playing previously as an independent.
Wakefield-Marenisco (2-0) The Cardinals were a solid 13-10 last season, with the final week including a third win over Bessemer as they faced off in a District Semifinal, followed by a third loss to Ironwood in the District championship game. This season’s first week saw the same schedule, but a better outcome – Wakefield-Marenisco edged Bessemer 60-57 and this time defeated Ironwood 48-30. Ironwood was first and W-M third last season in the Copper Mountain Conference Porcupine Mountain.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – River Rouge (1-0) at Ferndale (1-1) – As noted above, Ferndale was last season’s Division 2 champion, and defeated Rouge 72-60 in last winter’s meeting.
Friday – Kalamazoo Central (0-0) at Battle Creek Central (0-0) – These longtime rivals finished first and third, respectively, in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East last season.
Saturday – Detroit Cass Tech (0-0) at Holt (1-0) – The Rams host the reigning Division 1 champion Technicians in the 4:30 p.m. game of the Moneyball Classic.
Saturday – Grand Rapids South Christian (0-0) vs. Rockford (1-0) at Calvin University – This will be the 10 a.m. opener of The Invite at Calvin University, with the reigning Division 2 runner-up Sailors taking on a Rockford team coming off an 18-win season.
Saturday – Grand Rapids Catholic Central (0-0) vs. Grand Rapids Northview (1-0) at Calvin University – This will cap off The Invite tipping approximately 7:35 p.m. and pitting last season’s Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold co-champion and White outright champion, respectively.
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PHOTOS (Top) A Westland John Glenn player gets to the basket during U-D Jesuit's season-opening 83-48 win over the Rockets. (Middle) Bath defenders surround a Charyl Stockwell player during the Sentinels' 63-55 victory. (Top photo by Olivia B. Photography; middle photo by Click by Christine McCallister.)