By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
Jermayne Golidy emerged as the “go-to” player on Saturday in Muskegon’s first real test of this young basketball season.
But the smooth, 6-foot-4 senior wasn’t even in the starting lineup on the previous night in a lopsided win at cross-town rival Muskegon Mona Shores.
“That’s the kind of team we are – you never know who will be the leading scorer,” said Golidy, who finished with 28 points, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots as Muskegon rallied from a halftime deficit to post an impressive 68-55 win over visiting powerhouse Chicago Whitney Young in the final game of the Muskegon Showcase tournament at Redmond-Potter Gymnasium. “I came out a little shaky and nervous, but I knew I had to start playing if we were going to win.”
Defense has always been paramount for Muskegon basketball, but fifth-year head coach Keith Guy knows that in order for the Big Reds to get back and compete for another Class A championship after winning it all in 2015, it will take three other Ds:
Diversity on offense, depth and good decisions.
“We don’t have one guy on this team; we have 10 guys who can put it on the floor and score,” said Guy, whose team is off to a 6-0 start. “We have to use all of our weapons and we have to make good decisions with the ball. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
It’s a change from recent Muskegon teams which featured a marquee player surrounded by a supporting cast. DeShaun Thrower (2014) and Deyonta Davis (2015) were back-to-back Mr. Basketball Award winners, and last year’s team relied on the senior backcourt duo of Michael Littlejohn and Linwood Lee at crunch time.
This year’s team may not have any five-star college recruits, but the sum of its parts may be better than any other team in the state.
Golidy was one of those supporting cast members the past two seasons who is still trying to adjust his mindset in his senior year.
He started off the season with a game-high 20 points in a victory at Rockford, then was relatively quiet over the next three games, seemingly slipping back into his understudy role.
So his coach benched him.
“We thought we could get more out of him,” explained Guy, who has a 96-13 record at Muskegon, where he is assisted by Maurice Sain, Louis Murray and Josh Wall. “He had a rough week of practice, so he did not start against (Mona) Shores. We put him back out there, and he responded.”
After playing just 13 minutes and scoring eight points in the win over Shores, Golidy came out with renewed purpose against Chicago Whitney Young, an elite magnet public school which boasts such distinguished alumni as Michelle Obama and Jahlil Okafor of the Philadelphia 76ers. Golidy basically never left the floor, playing 30 of 32 minutes.
Muskegon trailed 23-21 at halftime, but it was a 3-pointer early in the third quarter which put the Big Reds ahead to stay. When defenders came out on him, Golidy drove his lean frame to the basket, while also scoring on offensive rebounds and putbacks. Golidy finished 10 of 15 from the floor (with two 3-pointers) and 6 of 8 from the free-throw line.
“I feel like I can play all-around,” said Golidy, who helped the Big Reds to the Class A Regional Finals last year, where they were upset by Hudsonville. “Each game might be different. If we are getting out-rebounded, I’ll go down in the paint. If we need a 3, I’ll take that.”
The problem for Muskegon opponents is that Golidy is just one of four extremely versatile seniors in the Big Reds’ starting lineup who all measure between 6-4 and 6-6 and can play both inside and outside, thereby creating a matchup nightmare.
Markell Jackson (6-6) is the tallest and thinnest of the four, with a massive wingspan that has allowed him to grab a team-high 9.4 rebounds per game. Anthony Bethea III (6-5) is the strongest and most natural post player, and has a nice left-handed shooting stroke. Sam Cornett Jr. (6-5), who joined the Big Reds after formerly playing for his dad Sam at Grandville, supplies speed and ball-handling skills of a guard.
One of the biggest challenges for Guy is keeping those seniors engaged and challenged throughout the long season.
Muskegon, frankly, has not been tested much in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Black since Guy came over from Muskegon Heights in 2012. Therefore, he has made it a point to seek out the best nonconference opponents he can find, often in early-season tournaments.
Already this winter, Muskegon has knocked off East Kentwood in the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame Classic over Christmas break and Chicago Whitney Young at the Muskegon Showcase last weekend. Next up is a tussle with host school Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills in Saturday’s fourth and final game at the annual Floyd Mayweather Basketball Classic.
“We love these big games; that’s where we play our best,” said Golidy. “We’re trying to go 28-0, get a ring and get a state championship. Those are our goals.”
Tom 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) Muskegon senior Jermayne Golidy looks to make a move during the Big Reds' 68-45 win over East Kentwood in the Meijer Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame Classic on Dec. 28 at Muskegon Reeths-Puffer High School. (Middle) Muskegon coach Keith Guy and his bench look on during the Big Reds' win over East Kentwood. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)
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.)