A-B Preview: Ready to Make History

March 23, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Dating back more than 90 years, the MHSAA Boys Basketball Tournament allows us to conjure up “first time since” statements that truly speak to the event’s lengthy and rich history.

Three of eight Class A and B semifinalists this weekend are playing for first championships – including Clarkston, often one of the best in Michigan but frequently just a few wins short of that first title. But also in this weekend’s field are Grand Rapids Christian, playing for its first title since 1938, and Benton Harbor playing for its first since 1965. Ludington last played in an MHSAA Final in 1953. River Rouge won more recently, in 1999, but is best known for its 12 championships over 19 seasons from 1954-72.

Semifinals for Class A and B are Friday at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center, with all four championship games Saturday.

Semifinals – Friday
Class A

West Bloomfield (17-8) vs. Clarkston (25-1), 1 p.m. 
Grand Rapids Christian (26-0) vs. Romulus (21-4), 2:50 p.m.

Class B
New Haven (25-1) vs. Benton Harbor (22-3), 6 p.m. 
River Rouge (24-1) vs. Ludington (24-2), 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. 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.) The Boys Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.

Class A

CLARKSTON
Record/rank:
25-1, Tied for No. 3
League finish: First in Oakland Activities Association Red
Coach: Dan Fife, 35th season (675-169)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final. 
Best wins: 68-48 over No. 5 Macomb Dakota in the Regional Semifinal, 60-47 over No. 7 Flint Carman-Ainsworth, 57-51 over honorable mention Romulus, 59-48 and 68-61 over West Bloomfield.
Players to watch: Foster Loyer, 6-0 jr. G (25.1 ppg, 6.4 apg); Dylan Alderson, 6-5 sr. F (23.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg).
Outlook: Clarkston is in the Semifinals for the first time since 2009 seeking the first championship game berth of its storied history. Fife entered this season ranked fourth in MHSAA history for coaching wins, and the Wolves have totaled more than 20 in four straight seasons while winning District titles in 23 of the last 24. His leader on the court, Loyer, already has committed to play at Michigan State after high school, and Alderson has signed with Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The lone loss was by four to Southfield Arts & Technology on Feb. 17, and Clarkston has won all but one game since by at least 20 points.

GRAND RAPIDS CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 
26-0, No. 1
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold
Coach: Mark Warners, seventh season (116-45)
Championship history: Class B (Lower Peninsula) champion 1938, Class B (Lower Peninsula) runner-up 1939.
Best wins: 66-46 (Quarterfinal) and 53-51 (OT) over No. 8 Kalamazoo Central, 59-56 (Regional Final) and 57-49 over No. 9 Holland West Ottawa, 64-26 over No. 3 Muskegon in the Regional Semifinal, 71-49 over Class B No. 9 Wayland, 72-58 over Class B No. 1 Wyoming Godwin Heights.
Players to watch: Xavier Tillman, 6-8 sr. F (13.2 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 4.7 apg, 4.1 bpg); Duane Washington, Jr., 6-3 jr. G (11.9 ppg, 4,4 apg, 49 3-pointers).
Outlook: The Eagles have played through one of the toughest paths to get to Breslin, against top-10 teams their last three games, to make their first Semifinal since 2013. As a team, Grand Rapids Christian has outrebounded opponents 37-28 on average and held them to only 42 points per game. Tillman was a Mr. Basketball Award finalist and teams with 6-7 senior James Beck II (12.9 ppg 7.0 rpg); they’re signed to play next at MSU and Oakland, respectively, while Washington is considered one of the state’s top juniors.

ROMULUS
Record/rank: 
21-4, honorable mention
League finish: Tied for first in Western Wayne Athletic Conference Blue
Coach: Jerret Smith, fourth season (78-23)
Championship history: Class A champions 2013 and 1986, runner-up 2005.
Best wins: 66-63 over No. 6 Detroit U-D Jesuit in the Quarterfinal, 71-58 (Regional Semifinal) and 57-56 over Belleville, 73-63 over No. 9 Kalamazoo Central.
Players to watch: Kaevon Merriweather, 6-2 jr. G (19 ppg), Jaren English, 6-4 sr. F (17 ppg).
Outlook: The Eagles have tested themselves against the best this season, avenging earlier defeats against league rival Belleville and reigning Class A champion U-D Jesuit and falling also to Clarkston and River Rouge – both also semifinalists this weekend. Romulus has been a regular during the final week with eight Quarterfinal appearances over the last 13 seasons and Semifinals this decade in 2013 and 2012 as well. Six players average at least eight points a game; senior forward Dylan Price adds 16 and junior center Darius Lundy 10.

WEST BLOOMFIELD
Record/rank: 
17-8, unranked
League finish: Tied for third in the OAA Red
Coach: Jeremy Denha, seventh season (84-66)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 80-43 (Quarterfinal) and 64-61 over Troy, 63-58 (OT) over North Farmington, 57-55 over Southfield Arts & Technology.
Players to watch: Kevin McAdoo, 6-2 sr. G (24.1 ppg, 4.1 apg, 3.0 spg, 53 3-pointers); Tre Harvey, 6-2 jr. G (15.4 ppg, 56 3-pointers).
Outlook: West Bloomfield has gotten hot at the best time to make its first Semifinal since 2003 after losing three of its final four games during the regular season. The Lakers’ league does include Clarkston (above) and reigning Class A runner-up North Farmington, which no doubt helped prepare West Bloomfield to make a run. McAdoo and Harvey can put points on the board – McAdoo has a high game of 40 – and sophomore Tre Mosley also finds the basket from long range with 44 3-pointers entering the week.

Class B

BENTON HARBOR
Record/rank: 
22-3, No. 5
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Corey Sterling, fifth season (86-35)
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 1965), seven runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 46-44 over Spring Lake in the Quarterfinal, 60-57 over No. 9 Wayland in the Regional Final, 49-44 (OT) over Stevensville Lakeshore, 55-45 over Battle Creek Central.
Players to watch: Carlos Johnson, 6-6 fr. C (14.2 ppg, 14.1 rpg, 3.3 bpg); Roy Anderson, 6-2 sr. G (13.5 ppg, 5.2 apg, 3.6 spg).
Outlook: Benton Harbor was Class B runner-up in 2014 and is back at the Breslin for the second time in four seasons after bouncing back from two losses over its final three games. All three defeats this winter were to Class A teams, and by a combined nine points. Johnson and Anderson are just two of the standouts; junior forward Shawn Hopkins adds another 13.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, and junior guard Elijah Baxter averages 10.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.1 steals.

LUDINGTON
Record/rank: 
24-2, No. 8
League finish: Tied for first in Lakes 8 Activities Conference
Coach: Thad Shank, 15th season (235-115) 
Championship history: Class B runner-up 1953.
Best wins: 63-49 (District Quarterfinal) and 70-38 over honorable mention Big Rapids, 59-56 over Traverse City West, 60-44 over Muskegon Heights Academy.
Players to watch: Calvin Hackert, 6-0 sr. G (13.3 ppg, 3.1 apg, 45 3-pointers); Sam LaDuke, 6-3 sr. G (10.5 ppg, 30 3-pointers).
Outlook: Ludington is making the trip for its first Semifinal since 1971. The Orioles were 9-13 only two seasons ago before Shank returned after three years away from the program – he coached the girls team during that time, and both teams last winter before coaching just the boys this season. All five of his starters plus two subs average at least five points per game, and five of those seven are seniors looking to continue this finish on a high note.

NEW HAVEN
Record/rank: 
25-1, No. 3
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Blue
Coach: Tedaro France II, ninth season (157-57)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 73-66 over Detroit Osborn in the Quarterfinal, 108-104 (3OT) over Class C No. 4 Flint Beecher, 84-56 over St. Clair Shores Lake Shore, 79-50 over Warren Michigan Collegiate.
Players to watch: Eric Williams, Jr., 6-5 sr. G (20.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4.1 apg, 3.8 spg); Romeo Weems, 6-6 soph. F (18.1 ppg, 12.6 rpg, 3.6 apg, 3.9 spg, 3.2 bpg).
Outlook: New Haven played in its third straight Quarterfinal on Tuesday and broke through to make the Semifinals for the first time. And the time couldn’t be more right for the Rockets; Williams is a star finishing off his career alongside Weems, arguably the top sophomore in the state. Junior 6-7 forward Ashton Sherrell adds another 11.7 points and seven rebounds per game, and total six players average at least 6.4 ppg. And of those six, four should be back next season as well.

RIVER ROUGE
Record/rank: 
24-1, No. 2
League finish: First in Michigan Metro Athletic Conference
Coach: Mark White, first season (24-1)
Championship history: 14 MHSAA titles (most recent 1999), five runner-up finishes. 
Best wins: 54-51 over Williamston in the Quarterfinal, 78-72 over Class A honorable mention Romulus, 57-52 over West Bloomfield, 71-47 over Warren Michigan Collegiate, 62-47 over Class D No. 2 Southfield Christian.
Players to watch: Darian Owens-White, 6-1 soph. G; DreQuan Bell, 6-3 sr. G (Statistics not submitted.).
Outlook: River Rouge is one of the most storied programs in MHSAA history, and has arguably its best shot at a championship since last winning in 1999. White took over the program after formerly coaching Detroit Renaissance and Southeastern and the last eight seasons as head coach at Adrian College. This will be the program’s first Semifinal since 1999; it advanced by avenging last season’s Quarterfinal loss to Williamston.

PHOTO: River Rouge's Darian Owens-White works to get up a shot during Tuesday's Quarterfinal win over Williamston. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

'Invaluable' Hancock Nearing Half-Century of Service to Cheboygan Athletics

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

December 2, 2022

When Cheboygan hosts Ogemaw Heights next week to kick off a new boys basketball season, those attending will see something special.

And really, for Cheboygan and its opponents, it’s nothing new. It’s been going on for five decades.

The special part? Scott Hancock, junior varsity coach and assistant varsity coach, is starting his 47th year coaching at the school. Forty-five of those years have been in the same role he has this season.

“It really just means I’m getting old, but I feel very fortunate to be able to do something that I love for this long,” Hancock, himself a Cheboygan product of 1976, reflected on his tenure. “To be honest, I never really thought about how long I would do it. It’s just something I love doing, so I never really put a number on how long I would do it.”

As the campaign starts, though, he has thoughts of coaching high school basketball for six and possibly seven decades before he hangs it up. He has coached his sons — Nick, who owns the Cheboygan career steals record; and Brian, the leader in career made 3-pointers — and now he’s looking forward to the possibility of coaching his two grandchildren, Landon Gahn and Lincoln Hancock.

“Well, all I can say is I have a grandson that is 3 years old, and I would love to hang around coaching until he graduates,” Hancock said of how long he thinks he’ll stay in coaching. “I have loved every year. 

“I have coached with a lot of great coaches who are all great friends to this day.”

Included among those coaches are his two sons, who served as assistants for Cheboygan, and Jason Friday, the current varsity coach who also played for Hancock during the early 1990s – a time when Hancock briefly stepped in to fill a varsity coaching vacancy after the sudden departure of the previous head coach.

Friday, who also serves as the school’s athletic director, is not at all surprised his former coach is still in the game. It became a factor in Friday’s decision to take over the boys program three years ago.

“If you're a boy who grew up in Cheboygan, there's a good chance that Scott coached you in something,” Friday said. “He has a grandson who is in eighth grade, and he wants to coach him.

“So yes, I knew he was going to be around for several more years.”

And next week, Friday will be thrilled to have Hancock alongside him on the court as Cheboygan opens up with the Falcons.

“Today, I don't look at Scott as one of my former varsity coaches — he's a friend,” Friday said. “We're friends more than anything, and that makes coaching even more fun for me.   

“Most importantly, having someone on the bench that you can trust is invaluable.”

Hancock, second from left, confers last season with assistant Matt Mylnarchek, head coach Jason Friday and player Dylan Balazovic. Hancock, who was helping with the boys program when Friday was coaching the Cheboygan girls team, began expecting to coach with his former player some time ago.

“I was very fortunate to have both my sons be assistant coaches for our varsity program,” said Hancock, who also has served decades coaching baseball and keeping stats for the football program. “But as far as being head coach, I always thought Jason would take over at some time.

“It’s awesome to have a former player running our program, but it is no surprise,” he continued. “Jason has always been a student of the game and is very detailed, and what he does, our program is in great hands.”

The mutual trust the coaches share has really benefited the Cheboygan student-athletes.

“I think it is important to have a JV coach who the head coach can trust that he has bought in to all of the beliefs of the head coach’s program,” Hancock noted. “Being loyal to your varsity coach and doing what’s best for your program is the most important aspect of JV coaching.

“And, getting kids to buy in to what it takes to play the game the right way.”

That’s one of the strengths Hancock brings to the basketball program, Friday singled out.

“Coach Hancock does a tremendous job teaching the fundamentals, but also does a great job communicating with the boys, making each one feel valued, even those who don't play as much,” Friday said. “He's at every practice.

“If there's an emergency and I need to step out for a minute and put my AD hat on, he can run practice and we don't miss a beat,” Friday continued. “He has a tremendous knowledge of the game and is a coach anyone would love on their bench.”

Hancock, who assists another former player, Kevin Baller, coaching the baseball team, has no thoughts of getting back into a varsity coaching position.

“I have no plans to coach at the varsity level, and the reason is because I have the best of both worlds by coaching JV,” said Hancock, who sees the 3-point shot as the biggest change in the game during his tenure. “Every coach that I have worked for lets me be involved with the varsity, so really I get to be involved in both.”

Friday recalls wishing as a player that Hancock had stayed at the helm when he took over temporarily. But, he loves having him coach with him today.

“After our junior season, we were told he was going back to JV,” Friday said.  “We tried to convince him to stay for one more year, but he wanted to go back.

“There's no way I could be varsity basketball coach and athletic director without having a JV coach like Scotty.”

Off the court successes in life are just as importance as athletic endeavors, Hancock indicated. In fact, those give him the most pride.

“Probably helping kids with off-the-court issues makes me feel better than anything,” he said. “Also hearing from the kids that I’ve coached after they graduate and how much they enjoyed their JV year.”

There aren’t many – if any – parent, player or community member names on a complaint list from Hancock’s first five decades, and there’s not likely to be any more in however many years are ahead.

“When you’ve coached in the same small town for nearly 50 years, you’d expect to have a few people upset with you, but not Scotty,” said Friday. “You can’t find a person who says something bad about him. 

“He’s extremely well-respected,” he continued. “You absorb his passion and love of the game just by being around him, and all of Cheboygan should be thankful (for) how much he's done for our community.”

Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at tomspencer@chartermi.net with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Cheboygan assistant boys basketball coach Scott Hancock offers some pointers during a scrimmage last week. (Middle) Hancock, second from left, confers last season with assistant Matt Mylnarchek, head coach Jason Friday and player Dylan Balazovic. (Photos courtesy of Jared Greenleaf/Cheboygan Daily Tribune.)