A-B Preview: 6 Hopefuls Seek 1st Title

March 23, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The MHSAA Boys Basketball Tournament is more than 90 years old – and yet it’s possible that two first-time champions will be awarded in Class A and B on Saturday at the Breslin Center.

Six of eight semifinalists from those classes are playing this weekend for their first championships in the sport – and a seventh would welcome home a boys hoops champion for the first time in more than 75 years.  

Class A and B Semifinals are scheduled for Friday, and all four Finals will be played Saturday.

Semifinals - Friday
Class A

Detroit U-D Jesuit (26-0) vs. Macomb Dakota (26-0), 1 p.m. 
North Farmington (23-2) vs. Lansing Everett (16-10), 2:50 p.m.

Class B
Detroit Henry Ford (18-6) vs. Williamston (21-3), 6 p.m. 
Big Rapids (23-2) vs. Stevensville Lakeshore (19-7), 7:50 p.m.

Finals - Saturday
Class A - Noon
Class B - 6:30 p.m. 
Class C - 4:30 p.m. 
Class D - 10 a.m. 

Tickets cost $8 per pair of Semifinals and $10 per two-game Finals session. All Semifinals will be streamed live on MHSAA.TV on a pay-per-view basis. All four Finals will be broadcast live on FOX Sports Detroit-PLUS. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on MHSAANetwork.com.

And now, a look at the semifinalists in Class A and B. Click on the name of the school to see that team’s full schedule and results from this season. (Statistics are through teams' Regional Finals.)

Class A

26-0, No. 1
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Central
Coach: Pat Donnelly, eighth season (140-42)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 62-47 over No. 4 Ypsilanti Community in Quarterfinal, 47-39 over honorable mention Detroit Western International in Regional Final, 59-50 over No. 10 Detroit Renaissance in District Final, 92-76 over No. 6 Detroit East English, 66-56 over Class C No. 8 Detroit Allen Academy, 59-48 over Class C No. 2 Flint Beecher.
Players to watch: Cassius Winston, 6-1 sr. G (21.2 ppg, 7.2 apg, 4.9 rpg, 57 3-pointers); Gregory Eboigbodin, 6-9 jr. F (8.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg).
Outlook: After falling in a Semifinal last season to eventual champion Detroit Western International, Jesuit has done just about everything possible to prepare to take this year’s run to the end. The Cubs have remained perfect against a schedule that featured most of the best from the city of Detroit, and they follow the lead of Winston, the Mr. Basketball Award winner who will be playing on his future collegiate home court. Sophomore guard Elijah Collins (6.1 ppg) and junior 6-9 forward Ike Eke (7.0 ppg/8.3 rpg) also provide support.

16-10, unranked
League finish: Tied for third in Capital Area Activities Conference Blue
Coach: Desmond Ferguson, fourth season (51-43)
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2004).
Best wins: 63-54 (2OT) over Hudsonville in Quarterfinal, 54-48 over No. 3 East Lansing in Regional Final, 56-49 over honorable mention Kalamazoo Central in Regional Semifinal.
Players to watch: Jamyrin Jackson, 6-3 sr. G (16.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg); LeAndre Wright, 6-2 sr. G (12.5 ppg, 2.8 apg).
Outlook: Everett will play in its second straight Semifinal, but this one came as much more of a surprise. The Vikings played an impressive slate of teams during the regular season – with losses to No. 3 East Lansing (twice), No. 2 Macomb Dakota and reigning champ Detroit Western International, among others – and those games no doubt helped prepare them for another long run. Jackson and Wright started last season as well, and 6-6 junior forward Diego Robinson also is a significant contributor at 10 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.

26-0, No. 2
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Red
Coach: Paul Tocco, fifth season (84-29)
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 68-66 (Regional Semifinal) and 46-35 over No. 7 Clarkston, 74-68 over Rochester Adams in Regional Final, 57-50 over Saginaw Arthur Hill, 79-70 over Lansing Everett.
Players to watch: Jermaine Jackson, 5-10 jr. G (21 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.9 apg, 3.6 spg, 65 3-pointers); Steven Marshall, 6-1 sr. G (16 ppg, 3.9 apg).
Outlook: This has been Dakota’s longest run and first time playing during the final week of the season. The team has increased its win total each of the last four seasons under Tocco after finishing 9-10 his first. The Cougars are averaging 75 points per game with Jackson the focus but 6-8 sophomore center Thomas Kithier providing balance down low on both ends of the floor with 11.3 points, 10 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game.

23-2, No. 5
League finish: Tied for first in Oakland Activities Association Red
Coach: Todd Negoshian, fifth season (87-27)
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 70-57 over Sterling Heights Stevenson in Quarterfinal, 58-53 over No. 7 Clarkston, 61-56 and 69-48 over Rochester Adams, 67-49 over Detroit Henry Ford, 58-53 over Class C honorable mention Detroit Loyola.
Players to watch: Billy Thomas, 6-1 sr. G (19.1 ppg, 63 3-pointers); Amauri Hardy, 6-3 jr. G (14.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.2 apg).
Outlook: North Farmington has climbed from 13 to 22 to 23 wins and counting over the last three seasons, with this its first trip to the Semifinals. The Raiders have won 16 straight since falling to Clarkston in their first meeting, and the other loss came early as well to Detroit Western International. Senior guard Jacob Joubert rounds out a talented backcourt with 8.8 points and 4.1 assists per game, and senior guard Josh Hogans comes off the bench and had 36 3-pointers heading into this week. Senior forward Alex Darden is the main force in the frontcourt at 7.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. 

Class B

23-2, unranked
League finish: First in Central State Activities Association Gold
Coach: Kent Ingles, 13th season (185-104)
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 42-23 over Essexville Garber in Quarterfinal, 54-45 over Benzonia Benzie Central in Regional Semifinal, 55-44 over Reed City in District Final.  
Players to watch: Demetri Martin, 6-3 jr. G (19.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg); Kenny Davis, 6-1 sr. G (13.2 ppg, 68 3-pointers).
Outlook: Big Rapids has transformed under Ingles and played in its third Quarterfinal Tuesday in four seasons – finally breaking through to the Semifinals for the first time in program history. The Cardinals’ only losses were to undefeated McBain and 19-win Alma, and they’ve won 13 straight. Junior 6-4 forward Christian Hector adds another 8.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.   

18-6, unranked
League finish: Third in Detroit Public School League West Division 1
Coach: Kenneth Flowers, ninth season (128-67)
Championship history: Class B runner-up 2015.
Best wins: 62-40 over No. 4 New Haven in Quarterfinal, 66-52 over Detroit Martin Luther King, 72-66 over Lowell.
Players to watch: James Towns, 5-10 sr. G (23 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 5.7 apg); Jeremy Crawley, 6-1 sr. G (10.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg).
Outlook: Henry Ford skated a little under the radar again despite finishing runner-up in Class B last season, likely because of its losses although they were against strong competition: ranked Class A teams North Farmington, Detroit Renaissance, Detroit East English twice and reigning A champion Detroit Western International, and to 15-win Detroit Edison Public School Academy. Towns and 6-4 senior Alston Hunter (7.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg) started last season’s championship game, and 6-0 junior Devontaye Webb (9.3 ppg) and 6-4 senior Kavon Bey (8.0 ppg, 9.2 rpg) are significant contributors this time.

19-7, unranked
League finish: Fourth in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West
Coach: Sean Schroeder, 14th season (236-94)
Championship history: Class B runner-up 2012.
Best wins: 42-40 over South Haven in Regional Final, 64-57 over Marshall in Regional Semifinal, 50-49 over Dowagiac in District Final, 63-60 over Battle Creek Central.
Players to watch: Braden Burke, 6-11 sr. C (15.9 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 3.2 bpg); Logan Steffes, 6-0 sr. G (11 ppg, 4.9 apg).
Outlook: Lakeshore hit its stride late with 10 straight wins including two over Portage Northern and Portage Central, avenging earlier league defeats. The Lancers also had their share of solid losses, including a pair to honorable mention Benton Harbor and another to No. 5 Wayland. Burke is joined in the post by 6-7 junior Max Gaishin (7.8 ppg) and senior Gibson Archer adds another 7.9 points per game, while senior Jake Bushu fills out the starting lineup averaging 4.5 assists.

21-3, No. 10
League finish: Tied for first in CAAC White
Coach: Jason Bauer, fifth season (79-31); interim Tom Lewis
Championship history: Lower Peninsula Class C champion 1940.
Best wins: 57-55 (OT) over No. 2 Wyoming Godwin Heights in Regional Semifinal, 70-60 (District Final) and 45-42 over No. 3 Lansing Catholic, 53-46 over No. 6 River Rouge in Quarterfinal, 82-77 over Lansing Everett, 64-51 over Stockbridge in Regional Final.  
Players to watch: Riley Lewis, 6-0 sr. G (28.6 ppg, 6.0 apg, 3.1 spg, 82 3-pointers); Kurtis Kodet, 6-2 sr. C (13.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg).
Outlook: The Hornets have established themselves as favorites by beating reigning champion Godwin Heights and three top-six teams total on the way to Breslin for their first Semifinal since 1993. Lewis continues to find ways to score despite being the focus of every team Williamston faces, but in addition to Kodet he also has plenty of scoring help from emerging 6-6 freshman forward Sean Cobb (9.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg) and sophomore guard Cole Kleiver (10 ppg, 3.2 apg). The Hornets are playing with added inspiration only a few weeks after coach Jason Bauer was forced to take on a much smaller role while undergoing cancer treatments.

The Boys Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.

PHOTO: Macomb Dakota's Tavin Allison goes for a steal earlier this season against Saginaw Arthur Hill. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

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.)