Amid Season of Hurdles, Tri-unity Earns Breslin Return

By Steve Vedder
Special for

April 8, 2021

GRAND RAPIDS – It may be a familiar destination for Wyoming Tri-unity Christian's boys basketball team. But there's no arguing the path to get there has been strewn with potholes this season.

The Defenders will play in their ninth MHSAA Finals championship game since 1996 after racing past Rudyard 61-43 in Thursday's first Division 4 Semifinal at Van Andel Arena.

While playing in a Final is nothing new for Tri-unity, the win overcame another obstacle in what has been a challenging season for the Defenders (14-2), who move along to Saturday's 10 a.m. championship game at Breslin Center. Among the issues Tri-unity has overcome include playing only 10 regular-season games, axing the last two weeks of the schedule due to a COVID shutdown, playing only once in an abbreviated Regional and losing 12 seniors – plus coach Mark Keeler – to quarantine protocol early in the year.

Despite the reduced schedule and missing out on the chance to build early momentum, the Defenders have more than prevailed. The program has won four Finals titles and will make its ninth trip under Keeler, who this winter passed Paul Cook for sixth place on the state's all-time win list (627).

"It's been a very trying year," Keeler said. "I knew we had good potential, and guys have responded so well. We played a tough schedule, the kind of competition you want. We were able to stay humble, which is always something I have believed in. It's been a tough year, but it's been really exciting for the school.

"The guys have played awesome all the way through. We were confident we could make it to the Breslin, and we peaked at the right time. We've got a great senior group, and we really want to finish it out."

The Defenders never trailed Rudyard (18-3) after a 16-2 run snapped a 4-4 tie late in the first quarter. The Bulldogs did cut the lead to 20-16 with 7:13 left in the first half, but Tri-unity scored 16 of the next 19 points for a 36-19 halftime lead. The lead reached 54-34 with four minutes to go in the game.

2021 D4 Boys Basketball Semifinal - Tri-unity Christian

While Keeler said he believed all along the team was a Finals contender, co-captain Austin Treece, who finished with 11 points and eight rebounds, said there was pressure to meet lofty goals.

"For sure," he said. "There is always pressure, but we just play bigger. We do a great job because I think we're a hungry team."

Co-captain Jaden Ophoff, who had six rebounds, two assists, two steals and four points, said the team has never felt distracted from its goal of playing in East Lansing. Beating Rudyard was just another step, he said.

"We didn't know what to expect from them, coming from the Upper Peninsula," he said. "We were able to adjust to them."

Tri-unity junior guard Brad Titus was virtually unstoppable. He scored 28 points on 11-of-21 shooting while adding four rebounds, six assists and six steals. Titus, who started as a freshman two years ago on a Division 4 semifinalist, said he's heard about playing in a championship game for years.

"This is really big, a blessing. I love it," he said. "We went two years ago, but we were cut short two years ago. It's great to be going."

Rudyard coach Jim Suggitt said Titus, who averages 22 points and four assists per game, was the difference.

"We tried to trade for their point guard, but Mark wouldn't buy it. I told him we'd even throw in the team bus, but he wouldn't go for it," Suggitt said. "He was the best ballplayer on the floor. He could take over whenever he wanted to."

Rudyard's E.J. Suggitt, who finished with 19 points, said the game plan was to keep Titus in check.

"We wanted to stop (him)," Suggitt said. "But even if you stop him, their role players will step up. They are a very tough team; they just played better basketball."

Keeler thinks Titus has played well enough in his career to be at least a two-time all-stater. He's thrilled Titus will have the chance to join his teammates in a championship game.

"The numbers (of past championship game trips) don't matter because this is a whole new group," Keeler said. "It's exciting for them, and it's something they will always remember. They've heard from other players we've had what it's like. It's a thrill." 

Click for full box score

PHOTOS: (Top) Tri-unity Christian's Aidan DeKlyen pulls up for a shot in front of the Rudyard bench Thursday at Van Andel Arena. (Middle) The Defenders' Brady Titus was the game's high scorer with 28 points. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

St. Clair County Celebrates 1st Mr. Basketball Winner, PHN's Jamison

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 29, 2023

The Jamison family has spent plenty of time over the years driving long distances as Tyler chased his basketball dreams.

Bay & ThumbAfter the Port Huron Northern senior achieved one of the biggest ones, they had to put some more mileage on the family vehicle.

As the newly-crowned Mr. Basketball, Jamison was invited to a special presentation during the Boys Basketball Finals this past Saturday afternoon at the Breslin Center. It was an invitation Tyler and his family didn’t hesitate to accept, and the drive from Port Huron to East Lansing was nothing.

But it did cause a pretty big change to some other travel plans.

Tyler and his family were scheduled to fly to Florida on Friday for spring break. That flight had to be canceled, though, and instead, the family made the drive down later.

“There were some jokes about just leaving me and letting me find my own way down there,” Jamison said.

While they joke, there’s nowhere the Jamisons would have rather been Saturday than at the Breslin. As a true basketball family – Tyler’s dad Brian is also the coach at Northern, and his brother Alex was a standout freshman for the Huskies – they have a great appreciation for the Mr. Basketball Award and its significance.

“I had said a while ago, ‘Hey, if we’re still in the tournament, we’ll be playing Friday,” Brian Jamison said. “I even mentioned that it would be a miracle, but Tyler could win Mr. Basketball. Now we’re eating plane tickets and driving down to Florida. But it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we’re not missing this.”

Jamison was the overwhelming winner of the award, which is named after Hal Schram and given out by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan. He received 3,058 points in the vote to become its 43rd winner. Curtis Williams of Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (2,004 points), Kaden Brown of Grand Rapids Catholic Central (1,918), Sonny Wilson of Detroit U-D Jesuit (1,883) and Ryan Hurst of North Farmington (1,811) were the other finalists.

“It was just insane,” Tyler Jamison said. “I can’t even really put into words how I felt – it was just a dream come true, a culmination of all the hard work that’s been put in over the years. My mom was in the other room (when his dad called to tell him), and I just hugged her and we were kind of screaming. The dog was getting riled up. It was fun. There were a few tears shed.”

Jamison throws down a dunk.Jamison, who signed with Fairleigh Dickinson in December, finished the season averaging 26.7 points, 11.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.3 steals per game. He was named the Macomb Area Conference White division MVP after leading Northern to the league title and a 20-4 overall record.

Even with all that, winning the most prestigious individual basketball award in the state didn’t seem like a reality.

“We purposely try to play a tough schedule, and we purposely got into some showcases because we wanted people to see, not only him play, but us play,” Brian Jamison said. “We had beaten Skyline and Hamtramck, and went up to Croswell-Lexington and won up there, and I thought, ‘OK, now he’s done it against some of the better teams.’ Up to that point, when we played those tougher teams, he’s always showed out well, but it’s different when you’re not winning them. But at that point, I thought he had a chance. Really, I was just hoping he would get on the list. To win it was kind of above and beyond what I had hoped for.”

On the court, Tyler’s impact on the program was pretty obvious and immediate.

He’s the program’s all-time leading scorer – a record he set as a junior – with 1,763 career points. He also holds Northern records for career rebounds (825), points in a game (59), rebounds in a game (28), career field goals made (638) and career free throws made (439). As a junior, he was named MAC Blue MVP.

Northern did not lose a league game in either of the past two seasons.

But Northern is likely to see future success because of Tyler’s non-statistical impact.

Leading a young team, including a group of star freshmen – his brother Alex, Cam Harju and Amir Morelan – was a major part of Tyler’s job this season.

Northern’s home games were must-see events this winter, as the Huskies were one of Division 1’s top teams, and Tyler was providing nightly highlights and must-see performances. Even in his final game, a loss against Macomb Dakota in the District Final, Jamison treated the standing-room crowd with a 46-point performance and a halfcourt shot at the third-quarter buzzer in a valiant effort.

“That’s the big thing, you want the students and the school community to support you, and they did an amazing job,” Tyler Jamison said. “We also had people from the community that wanted to support us and watch us play. Port Huron High had a really good season, too, and I think both schools in the city had that public support. That’s huge. It makes you feel like you’re playing for more than yourself.”

Among those crowds were the next generation of Huskies, some of whom were coached by Tyler in youth basketball. As he’s the first Mr. Basketball winner from St. Clair County, those kids now have a hometown example of someone who has reached the highest heights.

“I think interest gets sparked when the little kids come to the gym, like, ‘Hey, I want to do that,’” Brian Jamison said. “They want to play for Northern or (Port Huron) High. And with him winning Mr. Basketball, I think it gives kids a little bit of ‘Hey, why not me?’ I do think it helps motivate younger people. We’ve had great crowds at our games. I think the area is excited about basketball. It really is a great basketball area.”

With all of that excitement surrounding him, Tyler had one more challenge after the season – keeping the secret that he had won. He found out six days before the award was announced.

“It was terrible – especially when it’s something of that magnitude,” he said. “You want to tell everyone. You want to tell your friends and family. It was hard to be like, ‘No, I don’t know.’”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Tyler Jamison, second from left, with his parents and brother, stands with his newly-received Mr. Basketball Award trophy during the ceremony at the Detroit Free Press. (Middle) Jamison throws down a dunk. (Photos courtesy of the Jamison family.)