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
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.
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.)
DETROIT U-D JESUIT
Record/rank: 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.
Record/rank: 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.
Record/rank: 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.
Record/rank: 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.
Record/rank: 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.
DETROIT HENRY FORD
Record/rank: 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.
Record/rank: 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.
Record/rank: 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.)
HOWARDSVILLE - There is a sign that hangs inside Howardsville Christian School's tiny gymnasium that accurately depicts the mission for the Eagles during the 2023-24 boys basketball season.
It reads "In Jesus' name we play."
Ken Sparks and the eight players on his varsity basketball roster have challenged themselves to help one another understand what it means to give their season to God.
"My goal is to help these boys find gratitude in playing for a greater power than themselves," said Sparks, a varsity standout himself at Howardsville from 1996-2000, member of the 1,000-point club and an honorable mention all-stater his senior year.
Nestled on the border between St. Joseph and Cass counties along Bent Road, Howardsville Christian, a Division 4 school for its sports with fewer than 80 students, has enjoyed a rich tradition of spiritual learning both in the classroom and on the court and playing fields.
The contribution of many talented athletes from several families has been instrumental in Howardsville's athletic success for years, especially this school year.
Howardsville won District titles this fall in boys soccer and girls volleyball. Now the Eagles hope to carry that momentum over to the basketball court.
With four starters returning, Sparks is looking for Howardsville’s boys team to battle for supremacy in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph League and improve on a 13-10 record from last season. The Eagles finished 7-7 in the league last winter and endured a disappointing District Semifinal loss to Marcellus. Howardsville Christian had won its District the season in 2021.
"We competed well with all the teams on our schedule and lost to some teams we shouldn't have," Sparks said. "There are eight teams in our conference, and this season we need to beat Benton Harbor Countryside to be the top team. It's been a good league for us."
Senior twin brothers Colin and Dylan Muldoon return for Howardsville, along with junior cousin Kaden Sparks, son of the head coach, and junior John Paul Rose.
The Muldoon brothers both are beginning their third year as varsity starters.
"Working together as a team is something we really want to do well. A lot of teams set a goal of winning Districts. The last two years we've fallen short of that goal. It's definitely something we want to achieve this year," Colin Muldoon said.
Dylan Muldoon echoed that sentiment.
"Our success in soccer makes us want to attain the same goals in basketball. We know we are capable of reaching those, so I think it makes us want to pull things together," Dylan Muldoon said. "There's a lot of long-distance running in soccer, but there's also a lot of quickness and turning in basketball, especially when you're guarding or driving around someone. You just have to be quick."
Kaden Sparks, another three-year starter, will be Howardsville's best shooting guard.
"Winning Districts is achievable. We have to learn to work together. I played summer ball, and the biggest takeaway is that it taught me that I have to always give 100-percent effort out there. We had a great soccer season, and It’s taught us a lot about accountability," Kaden Sparks said.
Rose will be Howardsville Christian's starting point guard. He has been a starter since his freshman year, along with Kaden Sparks.
"The team chemistry and communication we had in soccer easily transfers over to basketball. As our point guard, it's important for me to try to get the ball to other guys who have open looks," Rose said. "I want to be more aggressive defensively, push the ball up the floor more and increase my scoring."
In addition, Ken Sparks believes the physicality a majority of his team learned from soccer will be a big benefit on the basketball floor.
"You build up your physicality from playing soccer with having to always body up. Watching them play sometimes hurts me, but that's what I want them to do in basketball. It helps them to want to draw contact and be physical on the floor," Ken Sparks said.
The lack of upperclassmen on Howardsville's varsity the last couple of years gave Rose and Kaden Sparks an immediate opportunity to play as freshmen.
"The fact John Paul and Kaden had that early chance at the varsity level is really paying off now,” Ken Sparks added. “Kaden is an excellent shooter. I want him to get the confidence that I had when I was in high school. He tends to be a little more passive on the floor than I like, but he's finally getting that aggressive nature that you need offensively.”
Kaden, Colin Muldoon and Rose all averaged double-digit scoring last season, while Dylan Muldoon is the Eagles' best defensive player. The Muldoon brothers will serve as Howardsville's team captains.
"Kaden is very self-motivated to become a better basketball player. His goal is to be the best player that he can be," Ken Sparks said. "John Paul is explosive and has really refined his jump shot to where he can be a scoring threat. He sees the floor very well and can really push the ball up the floor without turning it over. We're going to see big strides from him because of his determination and drive.
"Colin is a great overall player. He's a threat from the outside and can score inside with his height as well. If we're going to be successful, he and Dylan have to bring the same drive that John Paul and Kaden bring to the court.”
"I've coached all of the guys on our team for the last three seasons except one,” Sparks added. “We talk about being well-rounded. These guys are the best academically and spiritual leaders in our school."
Howardsville Christian’s most well-known alumni is Dylan Jergens, the third-leading scorer in state history with 2,782 career points.
During the fall soccer season, the Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose helped Howardsville win a second-straight District title. The Eagles then lost 5-0 in the Regional Semifinal to eventual Division 4 champion Muskegon Western Michigan Christian. Both Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose were named to the first-team all-BCS and District soccer squads.
The Muldoons were the two main catalysts in the Eagles' soccer run, along with Lukas Krueger. Dylan Muldoon had 28 goals and nine assists, while Colin Muldoon posted 14 goals and eight assists. Krueger added 19 goals to go with 16 assists. Kaden Sparks had five goals and four assists, and Rose added three goals and three assists.
Steve Muldoon, Colin and Dylan's father and Howardsville's head boys soccer coach, sees many correlations between soccer and basketball that will bring the Eagles success in hoops this winter.
"Communication is key. A team that doesn't talk on the field/court isn't going to win. They learn how to correct and encourage one another to deal with problems without getting too negative," Steve Muldoon said. "Individually, they learn how to anticipate. There isn't much difference between anticipating a pass and stepping in front of it in soccer or basketball or making a hard run down the court/field to get open for a layup/counterattack. They learn how to react and make the correct decision under pressure. The skills needed to do it in soccer and basketball are different, but most of it is mental and that carries over."
Determination was another big factor for Howardsville's soccer success this fall.
"We beat Lansing Christian this fall in a weekend soccer tournament and they are a much bigger and physical team than us, but we managed to beat them," Colin Muldoon said. "That win gave us a lot of confidence for the remainder of the season that we could beat anyone."
The family dynamic doesn't stop with Howardsville's boys basketball team.
Senior Kyla Sparks, Ken's daughter and Kaden's older sister, is one of three cousins on the roster for a Howardsville girls team that finished 12-11 last year. All five starters are back for that Eagles team as well.
"As a team, we want to improve on last year's record. With all our starters back, we feel we have a good shot to finish at the top of both our conference and District. Most of our basketball team also played volleyball this fall, and we view us all as family," Kyla Sparks said. "Being able to play with my two cousins makes good lifelong memories."
Kyla Sparks, who averaged 12 points per game her junior year, starts with sophomore cousins Kelsie Muldoon and Kate Evans. Those three also started on the varsity volleyball team that captured its first District title since 1997.
Coincidently, the mothers of Kyla, Kelsie and Kate were all on the 1997 District champion volleyball team.
Scott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Colin Muldoon drives to the basket against his twin brother Dylan Muldoon during recent Howardsville Christian boys basketball practice. (Middle) Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. (Below) The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (Top and middle photos by Scott Hassinger. District championship photos courtesy of Howardsville Christian School.)