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.)

Hart Teammates Reunite After 80 Years Now as WWII Vets, Great-Grandfathers

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

June 7, 2023

Walter “Stretch” Hansen and Harold Tate were good friends and high school basketball and baseball teammates at Hart High School, graduating in 1943.

West MichiganNo one could have guessed that less than two months after graduation (on July 2, 1943), the two friends would head to Fort Custer in Battle Creek, the first stop on their way overseas to fight for their country in World War II.

No one could have imagined how many twists and turns their lives would take over the next 80 years – from the battlefields in the South Pacific, then back to West Michigan where they both were married with children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and now Harold even has a great-great-grandchild.

And, certainly, no one would have believed that the two young boys from Hart – who forged a friendship through high school sports long before the days of computers, microwave ovens and cell phones – would still be alive at the age of 98 for an emotional reunion last month, on May 22, seeing each other for the first time in 80 years and, to cap it off, the reunion took place in their hometown of Hart.

“It was such a great day,” Hansen said about the meeting, which was set up by Muskegon-area World War II historian Richard Mullally.

“We picked right up, talking about sports and the service and everything else.”

The conversation came easy for the two old friends, who played for Hart during a “golden era” at the school – particularly in basketball, as the Pirates won 11 West Michigan Conference basketball titles between 1940 and 1954.

Hansen, left, and Tate reunite for the first time in 80 years on Monday, May 22, 2023, in their hometown of Hart. Perhaps the best team during that time period was Hansen and Tate’s as seniors in 1943. That team lost only once, to rival Scottville (31-25), but more than made up for it with an 80-10 trouncing of the Spartans in the final regular-season game.

Hart then crushed Scottville and Newaygo to win the District championship, only to have Michigan’s prep basketball season stopped abruptly at that point because of World War II.

That 1943 team featured four starters over 6-0, led by the duo of Hansen and Stan Kapulak (both 6-6), Joe Mack (6-2), Lyle Burmeister (6-1) and Stanley Riley (the lone starter under 6-foot at 5-11).

“The newspapers called us ‘The Hart Skyscrapers,’” said Hansen, who will be 99 on Nov. 6. “We were taller than most college teams at that time.”

Hansen and Tate’s friendship continued to blossom on the baseball field, only to have their lives turned upside down shortly after graduation 80 years ago, when all Hart senior boys who had been drafted headed to Battle Creek as a brief staging area on their way to the battlefields of Europe and the South Pacific.

Hansen served in the Army Specialized Training Program and was part of the 52nd Signal Battalion and the 4025th Signal Battalion in the Pacific Theater.

“I had an all-expense paid tour of the South Pacific,” Hansen said with a chuckle. “The Philippines, New Guinea, Okinawa, Hawaii, all over the place.”

Tate did his service in the 24th Infantry Division and the 19th Infantry Regiment, and was stationed in Japan.

During their visit last month, Harold showed off the Japanese Samurai sword and Arisaka rifle which he had sent back from Japan to Hart. The week after their visit, both took part in Memorial Day parades – Hansen in the Lakeside parade in Muskegon and Tate in his 77th Memorial Day service in Hart.

Hansen, who still has a home on a small lake in Holton and lives at a senior care facility in Muskegon, played many years of semi-pro basketball and did some coaching. He worked at GTE and has five children and 10 grandchildren.

Hansen served from 1943 to 1946 as a Sergeant in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Tate served from 1945 to 1946 as a Platoon Sergeant in the Pacific Theater during World War II.“I have been so blessed,” Hansen said, sorting through one of his many scrapbooks. “All five of my kids are great and I have grandkids that are just amazing, everything they are doing. I don’t even know all of their names, but it’s sure been fun watching them.”

Tate returned to Hart after his military service and has been there ever since, at first working as a carpenter with his father and then becoming a rural mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, retiring 26 years ago at the age of 72. He has lived in the same home for 75 years and has three children, six grandchildren, seven great-grandkids and now one great-great-grandchild.

Tate laments the demise of his beloved American Legion post in Hart, a town with just over 2,000 residents, as the number of members has steadily declined.

One topic that brings a smile to both of their faces is the recent resurgence of the Hart High School athletic program, which drew media attention not too many years ago for all the wrong reasons – notably a football program which went 24 years without a winning record.

That string was snapped with a 6-3 mark and the school’s first earned playoff appearance last fall.

But that was just the start.

This winter, Hart’s boys basketball team finished the regular season 22-0, the girls basketball team made it to the Division 3 Semifinals at the Breslin Center, wrestling qualified for the Team Finals for the fourth-straight year and competitive cheer placed fourth in Division 4. This spring, the Hart girls track & field team won its second-straight Division 3 Finals team title, and the boys placed fourth.

“It’s a great place to call home, a great place to live, always has been,” said Hansen of his hometown, which got its name from its central position in the “heart” of Oceana County.

And who would have imagined that these two high school teammates could still come home again for a reunion at the age of 98?

Tom KendraTom 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) Members of the 1943 Hart High School varsity baseball team gather together, preparing for a team photo. Among those are Harold Gayle Tate (far left) and Walter "Stretch" Hansen, at 6-6 the tallest player in the back row. (Middle) Hansen, left, and Tate reunite for the first time in 80 years on Monday, May 22, 2023, in their hometown of Hart. (Below) Hansen served from 1943 to 1946 as a Sergeant in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Tate served from 1945 to 1946 as a Platoon Sergeant in the Pacific Theater during World War II. (Top photo courtesy of Stretch Hansen. Middle and below photos courtesy of Richard Mullally.)