2012 Boys Basketball Finals in Review

April 5, 2012

Did we just watch one of the greatest MHSAA boys basketball champions of all-time?

That’s a question being asked around the state coming off this season’s Boys Basketball Finals at Michigan State’s Breslin Center.

The team that brought up in those comparisons is Lansing Sexton, which won its second-straight Class B championship in convincing fashion. But that run was only one stroke of historical significance to emerge from this season’s Finals.

Saginaw added to one of the state’s strongest traditions with another championship in Class A. Flint Beecher posted the best finish of its successful run by finishing undefeated and champion in Class C. And Southfield Christian set the bar high with its first title run, finishing with one of the sharpest shooting displays in MHSAA history.

We wrap up the winter with a look back at those four tournaments, and a look ahead at teams we could see back at Breslin in 2013.

Four quarters

Saginaw wins No. 6: Class A conveniently played out to end with No. 1 Saginaw vs. No. 2 Romulus – until unranked Rockford crashed with a 62-61 win over the Eagles in a Semifinal. But the Rams, making their second MHSAA Final appearance, nearly earned their second championship. Rockford made 10 3-pointers and was tied with the Trojans as late as 4:36 to play before Saginaw finished on a 14-2 run. (Read the full report.)

Seeing Red again: Lansing Sexton concluded one of the most impressive runs in MHSAA history with a 67-32 win over No. 7 Stevensville-Lakeshore in the Class B Final. The Big Reds finished 27-1, winning all of their games by at least eight points despite playing a schedule loaded with many of the best from Class A. It was Sexton’s third-straight appearance in the B championship game, and second-straight title; the Big Reds also won back-to-back titles, in Class A, in 1959-60. (Read the full report.)

Best of Buc-Town: That’s another argument being made after Beecher became the 12th team in MHSAA history to win 28 games – one more than the best of the school’s other three championship squads. Beecher claimed Class C this season by beating reigning champion Schoolcraft by 20 in the Semifinal and Traverse City St. Francis 74-60 in the championship game. (Read the full report.)

Can’t-miss champs: Southfield Christian tied an MHSAA record with 12 3-pointers in the Class D Final, on 46 percent accuracy, in downing Climax-Scotts 76-44 after escaping Muskegon Catholic Central 78-74 in the Semifinal. Senior Chris Dewberry made 10 of 13 shots from the floor in the championship game, including 6 of 8 from 3-point range. (Read the full report.)

Numbers game

54,823: Total attendance of the eight Semifinals and four championship games, combined, at the 2012 Boys Basketball Finals. The total was roughly 5,600 more than attended in 2011.

74: Wins over the last three seasons by Lansing Sexton, tied for sixth-most in MHSAA history for a boys basketball team over that span of time.

19: Number of games, to one win, that Southfield Christian lost two seasons ago. The Eagles improved to 11-10 last season before going 24-2 and winning the Class D championship last month.

3: Runner-up finishes by Flint Beecher before beating St. Francis to win its first MHSAA championship since 1987. Those just-misses came in 2008, 2003 and in Class B in 2000.

11: Points scored by Saginaw, in a row, to close out the Class A championship game. The Trojans rode that final 11-0 run to a 54-42 win over Rockford.


“They have a big influence in my life. Coach Thomas with all the help he has done for me this season; I could call him any time and get advice. And the same thing with Coach Dawkins. We’re brothers. It’s all about love and having that relationship. He texts me at night and lets me know how things are going, and I text him and ask him for advice about things. I was really appreciative of their support.” – Saginaw first-year coach Julian Taylor, on former championship-winning Saginaw coaches Marshall Thomas and Lou Dawkins, who sat behind the Trojans’ bench at Breslin during the Final

“Denzel is every father’s dream. Both my sons, Drew and Denzel. I’ve been very lucky to be able to coach both my sons and for them to enjoy the thing that I love most, basketball. Denzel’s been incredible. He’s done everything we’ve asked of him. His freshman year he had two knee surgeries. The doctor had to put his knee back together. He didn’t know if he was even going to play again, and he fought through some difficult struggles with his knee. We talked about adversity and different things. When he was being recruited by Michigan State, coach (Tom) Izzo said, ‘I’m not going offer you, because you can’t shoot it. You can do everything else.’ So Denzel, when he got done, he went to the gym and shot 500 shots. … That’s the kind of guy Denzel is. He’s going to do extra. I’m really proud of him. I love him. He’s my son, and for the people who doubted him and watched him play, I feel bad for them, because they just missed a fine, fine high school basketball player.” – Sexton coach Carlton Valentine on his son, senior Denzel Valentine.

“It was worth it. We’ve been putting in work all year, the offseason, way before the season; we didn’t just wait for the season to prepare for it. So it was worth a lot. We put a lot into this. And we appreciate this, and not just us, the whole community, the whole coaching staff. We made a lot of sacrifices to get here and finish the job. It’s just a blessing.” – Beecher senior Cortez Robinson, on coming back to win a title after losing in the Semifinals the last two seasons.

“We don’t take anybody for granted. We learned earlier in the year looking at film and seeing guys and going, ‘Oh, this is going to be a cake walk,’ and we come out and guys get up 30 on us and we’re looking like, ‘All right, now we’ve got to find a way.’ We played our hardest, and we just felt like if we played our hardest, we know we put in more work than them. That’s the confidence we have in our work that we put in, so we came out and let that show.” – Southfield Christian senior guard Lindsey Hunter III  

See you next year …

Rockford: The Rams certainly were a surprise of the tournament, but won’t be if they make it back in 2013. Seven juniors should return to lead the way, including top guard Chad Carlson and key contributors Chase Fairchild and Kyle Short. (Honorable mention to Macomb L’Anse Creuse North, which made its first Semifinal appearance ever and should return all but two players, including its top two scorers.)

Muskegon Heights: The Tigers look good to return – it’s just a matter of if it will be in Class C or if the school will opt up into Class B, the class it played in this season. Muskegon Heights’ top three players were a junior and two sophomores, and 6-foot-4 forward Mike Davis showed star potential in the Semifinal while carrying more of the load because of an injury to 6-5 leading scorer Juwon Martin.

Beecher: The Buccaneers will graduate seven players off this season’s team, but return two-time reigning Associated Press Class C Player of the Year Monte Morris. With some help, he could carry Beecher back to Breslin for a fourth-straight season.

Climax-Scotts: Three starters during this run were juniors, including 6-7 all-stater Malachi Satterlee. He and the other returnees gained valuable experience during this runner-up finish, as did coach Steve Critchlow, who went 25-1 in his first season running the program.

Link up

To watch all 12 games and press conferences after each, click on MHSAA.tv.

PHOTOS courtesy of Terry McNamara Photography.

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.)