By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
EAST LANSING — Monte Morris of Flint Beecher made a pact with freshman teammate Aquavius Burks after winning Michigan's 2013 Mr. Basketball Award.
"At practice before the Quarterfinal game when he got his Mr. Basketball trophy, he told me he's going to pass it down to me," Burks recalls. "I said, 'I accept it.'"
As it turns out, Burks wasn't among the candidates for the top individual award in the Michigan high school ranks, but he has absolutely no complaints with the way his career at Beecher played out.
Of all the great players who have built and maintained the tradition of Beecher basketball, only Burks can say he's played on three MHSAA championship teams. He put the finishing touch on a brilliant career by scoring 15 points and playing all 32 minutes in Beecher's 63-61 victory over Grandville Calvin Christian in the Class C title game Saturday at the Breslin Center.
It was the fourth Class C championship in the last five years for Beecher, which won Class B crowns in 1976, 1985 and 1987 prior to this run. Burks has started on the last three championship teams, scoring nine points as a freshman in 2013 as Beecher beat Laingsburg, 40-39, in the title game.
"All season long, coach Mike (Williams) preached to me about how I can make history," Burks said. "Back-to-back, that's history also, but three state championships has never been done. This was my chance to leave my legacy and be part of our history at Beecher."
And what about that Mr. Basketball conversation three years ago?
"I didn't win it, but he gave me the encouragement to know I'm able to move on and be great just like him," said Burks, who had a 99-7 record at Beecher. "That's what I really wanted to do was impress him."
Burks was immersed in the tradition of Beecher basketball before he ever entered high school. His brother, Antuan, played four years for the Buccaneers, winning the 2012 MHSAA Class C championship. Like a lot of little brothers, Aquavius tended to hang around with his older brother and his friends.
"We knew he would be ready for varsity as a freshman,” Williams said. “What were we going to get out of him? We didn't know."
By the end of Burks' freshman year, he earned enough trust from Williams to be put on the floor with the Class C championship on the line against Laingsburg. It took a steal with 2.4 seconds left to preserve the second of Beecher's four championships in five years.
It was with a feeling of deja vu that Burks prepared for one final push from Calvin Christian on Saturday.
Trailing 63-61 with 15.3 seconds left, the Squires called timeout to plan a game-tying or game-winning possession. They got off three shots, the first a 15-footer by Tony DeWitte from the right wing. Nate Knee got the rebound in the paint and put up a shot that was blocked by Levane Blake.
"At the end, I just knew I had to get the block for us to win," said Blake, who had three for the game. "But I was scared when I blocked it, because I thought the ref was going to call a foul, but I just knew I had to go for it. I didn't foul him, but they were calling fouls the whole game. I went for it — all ball."
For Williams, it was a fitting conclusion to another championship run by the Buccaneers.
"It was similar to our 2013 state championship where we had to get a stop to win, but that's the identity of our program," Williams said. "That's what we hang our hat on is our defense. Offense will fill up the stands. It will make the crowd jump up and down. But defense wins championships."
Beecher held two seven-point leads in the third quarter, the largest lead either team enjoyed, but the Squires fought back to take a 61-60 lead on a three-point play by DeWitte with 1:14 remaining in the game.
Malik Ellison, whose 3-pointer at the buzzer on Thursday put Beecher in the championship game, passed the ball down low to Blake for a basket and a foul with 55.8 seconds to go. Blake missed the free throw, leaving the Buccaneers with a 62-61 lead.
Calvin Christian's Braden Stevens was fouled and sent to the line for a one-and-one with 37.9 seconds left, but missed the shot. Beecher worked the clock down to 15.3 seconds when Blake was fouled. Blake missed the first shot and made the second, setting up the final possession by the Squires (21-5).
They wanted to get the ball into the hands of DeWitte, who had 31 points in the Semifinal and 15 against Beecher.
"We told him to try to create for somebody," Calvin Christian coach Ryan Stevens said. "He got a 15-footer, and he's made that shot a lot before. I'm proud that the rest of the guys didn't watch. They went and got a rebound. Nate Knee actually got a rebound and got a good shot up."
Although Beecher has dominated Class C in recent years, this was far from a romp through the postseason for the Buccaneers. They trailed in the second half in four games, including a 13-point third-quarter deficit to Southfield Christian in the Regional Finals. They were also down by two points to Flint Hamady in the final minute of the District opener. Then, of course, there was Ellison's epic 3-pointer that rescued the Buccaneers from elimination against Detroit Loyola in the Semifinal.
"It shows the poise and composure and resiliency of our team," Williams said. "These weren't just basketball games. These were life lessons the kids went through as far as getting knocked down and being able to get back up, going through adversity and understanding how to keep their poise and playing to the final buzzer. To come here and finish it off says the world about our kids, and not just our kids. We want to represent the Flint area and what we're going through. We're fighters in the end. We're going to come out with a win. We just want to make sure everybody knows it's not just about us winning; we want to represent our area and do the things young men are supposed to do to be successful."
One of the factors the Buccaneers had to overcome was the surprise 3-point-shooting performance of 6-foot-9 sophomore center Blake Verbeek. Verbeek was 5 for 6 from 3-point range, finishing with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Verbeek had only 11 3-pointers coming into the game.
"It was mostly my teammates giving me the ball when I was hot," Verbeek said. "They just went down tonight."
Beecher's only two losses in a 25-2 season came against the last two Class A champions, 2015 winner Detroit Western International and newly-crowned champion Detroit U-D Jesuit.
"These kids really deserve everything they got," Williams said. "Regardless of class, this is one of the top teams in the state."
There were three ties and five lead changes in the first quarter until the Buccaneers closed the period with a 6-0 run to take a 17-11 lead after eight minutes.
After going scoreless over the final 3:34 of the first quarter, Calvin Christian would charge right back by scoring the first 10 points of the second quarter. The run was punctuated by a 3-pointer from DeWitte with 4:51 left in the second quarter, giving the Squires a 21-17 lead.
The next run belonged to Beecher, which responded with eight straight points to go ahead 25-21 on a basket by Jermaine Shumpert with 1:59 left in the first half. The teams went into halftime tied, 26-26, as Jake Bouma closed the first-half scoring by hitting a 3-pointer with 55 seconds left in the second quarter.
Ellison finished with 21 points for Beecher. Jordan Roland had 12.
The Boys Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.
PHOTOS: (Top) Flint Beecher’s Malik Ellison (10) lets out a shout of joy as his teammates celebrate another Class C championship. (Middle) Beecher’s Aquavius Burks (23) works to get into the lane as Calvin Christian’s Nate Knee (30) attempts to slow him.
Foster Loyer’s four-season career at Clarkston from 2014-15 through 2017-18 certainly must be considered among the most accomplished in state history as he led the Wolves to back-to-back Class A championships in 2017 and 2018 and is listed in the record book 25 times.
Among Loyer’s most notable entries were 2,325 career points (12th most), 272 career 3-pointers (tied for ninth), records of 119 consecutive free throws and 634 career free throws, a .921 free-throw percentage as a junior (tied for fourth) and .900 career percentage (second), 589 career assists (sixth), 278 career steals (15th) and 102 games played (tied for sixth).
Loyer went on to play at Michigan State and then Davidson.
See below for more recent record book entries for boys basketball.
Four Onaway standouts were added for single-season and/or career records. Jager Mix, who graduated in 2022, was added for 92 steals last season and 225 over his four-season career. Kevin Pearson, a 2021 grad, was added for 81 steals as a senior and 247 over his career. Joe Sigsby, a 2016 grad, was added for 127 steals, and Jadin Mix was added for 124 in 2021-22. Their totals rank ninth and tied for 10th, respectively, on that all-time list. Jager Mix also was added for 967 career rebounds, and Onaway as a team was added for tying the record for most points in a quarter with 49 during the first quarter of a win over Fife Lake Forest Area on Feb. 3, 2022. Jager Mix is playing at Alpena Community College, and Jadin Mix is a senior this school year.
Uchenna Amene was added for 11 steals in a March 7, 2022, game against West Bloomfield Frankel Jewish Academy and for 97 steals total over 25 games. He was a sophomore at Southfield Christian that season and now is a senior at Detroit Catholic Central.
Owen Franklin graduated from Oscoda in 2021 as the school’s all-time leading scorer, and nearly 44 percent of those 1,477 points came on 3-pointers. Franklin made the state career 3-pointers list with 216 over four seasons. He’s playing baseball at Northwood.
Traverse City Christian sophomore Reece Broderick became one of the state’s most accomplished long-distance shooters in just his second year of high school this past winter, drilling 104 3-pointers – good for third-most for one season all-time – over 23 games. He connected on 42 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
A pair of Rudyard four-year varsity standouts entered the record book after their graduations in 2022. Tate Besteman made the career rebounds list with 762 over 89 games, and EJ Suggitt made the career 3-pointers list with 215 over the same 89 contests. Besteman played this past season for Mid Michigan College, and Suggitt is playing baseball at Spring Arbor.
Success from 3-point range played a significant role in Mesick finishing 21-1 in 2021-22, as the team made 195 of its 578 attempts – with game highs of 15 twice in wins over Baldwin and Pentwater.
Then-senior Tristan McFolley earned the first listing under single-game rebounds since 2013 with 30 in Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy’s game with Hope of Detroit Academy on Dec. 8, 2022.
Tawas found its groove from long range Jan. 10 against Oscoda, drilling 22 3-pointers in an 86-31 win. The total tied for fifth-most in one game.
Although Norway felt just short, 40-37, in its District loss to Crystal Falls Forest Park on March 8, Alex Ortman kept the Knights close scoring 20 of his team-high 25 points in the fourth quarter to make the single-quarter scoring list. He’s now a senior.
Kobe Clark has listings in two MHSAA record books, with three for boys basketball joining those he earned for football during his Schoolcraft career. He was added in hoops for 531 career assists and 290 career steals over 94 games from 2016-17 through 2019-20, and also for 82 steals as a senior. Tyler DeGroote also was added to the record book, for scoring 20 points during the first quarter against Delton Kellogg during Schoolcraft’s Jan. 11, 2022, victory. Clark began at Saginaw Valley State for football and now plays basketball and Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and DeGroote is continuing at Rockhurst (Mo.).
Past Detroit Cooley star Larry Fogle has added a seventh record book listing a half-century later. Fogle grabbed 33 rebounds on Jan. 18, 1972, during a win over Detroit Mackenzie. He went on to play at Louisiana and Canisius, and then briefly with the New York Knicks.
Trevon Gunter scored 42 points in Kalamazoo Central’s 84-56 win over Richland Gull Lake on Jan. 17, 2020, including 31 during the third quarter – second-most and just one shy of the record for points during one period. A senior that season, Gunter plays currently at Grand Valley State.
Mark Wittbrodt held the record for consecutive free throws at 70 until 2008, and that entry in the record book has been joined by several others from the Bay City Western star. He was added for his 192 3-pointers, 436 free throws, .842 free-throw percentage and 266 career steals over three seasons from 1991-93, as well as for six single-season accomplishments. He went on to play at Michigan Tech.
Ellsworth’s Jacob Jenuwine tied for 12th on the single-game 3-pointers list when he connected on 11 as part of scoring 39 points total in his team’s Feb. 14 win over Alanson. Jenuwine graduated this spring.
Bellevue senior Dawson Wing capped his three-season varsity career last winter with three entries in the record. He was added for 12 blocked shots in a 2021-22 game against Colon, 107 for the season last winter and 203 blocks over his career. Teammate Caleb Betz, a senior this fall, was added for 12 steals in a game against Athens.
Logan Mansfield capped his Morenci career in a big way last winter. The senior drilled 90 3-pointers over 24 games to earn his school’s first individual record book entry in boys hoops since the 1987-88 season, when John Craig had 132 blocked shots that would have been the second-most recorded at that time. They currently rank 13th.
New Haven earned a pair of record book entries during its March 10 win over Memphis. The Rockets bested their previous single-quarter school record with 41 points during the opening period, and they also made the statewide single-game 3-pointers list with 16.
Whitehall’s Camden Thompson, a junior this fall, earned his first record book entry last winter – and the first for his school in boys basketball. He grabbed 303 rebounds over 21 games.
Grand Rapids Wellspring Prep junior Zeekeal Jackson earned his school's first boys basketball record book entry this past season as well. He made the single-season steals list with 106, over 22 games, and just missed the single-game list with a high of 10.
Jonesville’s Brady Wright was among his team’s leading scorers during his three varsity seasons ending this past winter, but he also was a major contributor defensively. He made the records with a season-high 101 steals over 25 games as a senior, and made the career list with 232 steals over 61 games.
Sophomore Christopher McLavish Jr. made a memorable impact last season with a pair of record book entries. He made the single-quarter points list with 20 in a Feb. 21 game against Flint Powers Catholic, but even more memorable were his 97 3-pointers over 25 games for the season – tying him for 11th all-time on that list.
PHOTO Foster Loyer directs Clarkston's offense during its 2018 Class A Semifinal.