By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS – Standing 6-foot-10, Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Marcus Bingham, Jr., has a rare combination of size, length and skill.
However, another asset in his overall game has come to the surface during the early weeks of this season.
“He’s leading our team in 3-point percentage,” Catholic Central coach TJ Meerman said.
For Bingham, who has averaged 27 points and 16 rebounds during the Cougars’ 3-0 start, the improved range has come through his time in the gym.
“It all ties in with the work I’ve put in on my shot,” Bingham said. “And I’m just going to keep getting better and better, so why not? I can shoot, so why not use it, and Coach likes it when I shoot it.”
Meerman has no qualms about Bingham hoisting up 3-pointers, especially when he makes the commitment away from practice.
“He loves to be in the gym, and on our days off he’s still in the gym working on his handles, working on his shot,” Meerman said. “You don’t get to shoot it that well without putting in a lot of time outside of practice time, and he does that. It’s exciting for me, and it’s exciting I’m sure for Coach (Tom) Izzo and the Michigan State staff as well.”
Bingham, who recently signed with the Spartans, also possesses abilities that sets him apart from other high school players.
“He handles it well, he passes well and then he has a seven-foot reach to go with that height,” Meerman said. “With his skill and length, he’s capable of doing things that not a lot of people can do in basketball.”
It’s been an incredible rise. Bingham didn’t play high school basketball at all as a freshman. He played only half a season last year after transferring to Catholic Central, but averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds per game. That was followed by a successful AAU season, and the Division I college offers began rolling in.
A growth spurt didn’t hurt either. He sprouted up eight inches over the past two years.
“I’ve grown, but I’ve also gotten a lot stronger and bigger,” Bingham said. “I’ve just been working, and being bigger I can do things easier. It has been a blessing.”
Meerman has seen a big difference in Bingham from a year ago, and admitted that the end of a frenzied recruiting process also has helped.
“I think he’s more comfortable playing structured basketball,” Meerman said. “He hadn’t played a lot of basketball in his life outside of his sophomore year, and the distraction with the mass recruiting wave that came his way toward the end of the season is gone. It has been a nice relief for him to just focus on school and ball.”
Bingham also added 12 pounds of muscle to his frame.
“He has a ways to go with that, but you can see the difference in his play and with his pace of play,” Meerman said. “He’s understanding the system and the way we want to play, and becoming a senior he understands he has to play at a higher level that he did last year.”
The Cougars claimed conference and District titles a year ago, but are striving for more with a talented nucleus surrounding Bingham.
Senior Jacob Polakovich, along with junior guards Austin Braun and Darrell Belcher, and sophomore guard Devon Boyd are main contributors, too.
“We have a great group of guys, and they like to share the ball,” Meerman said. “I like how dynamic we are, and we have good guard play and very good bigs.”
Catholic Central recorded 25 assists in its season-opening win over Detroit Country Day – a positive early sign.
“We’ve been playing good and sharing the ball more than we did last year,” Bingham said. “We’re just working hard as a team to do what we have to do to get wins.”
Meerman scheduled an early-season gauntlet of the top teams to help measure where the Cougars stand.
Three of their first five games included or will include teams that competed in last year’s MHSAA Finals, and the first two were on the road. Catholic Central downed reigning Class A runner-up Grand Rapids Christian 73-49 on Dec. 12, reigning Class C runner-up Grand Rapids Covenant Christian 62-58 on Friday, and hosts reigning Class B runner-up Ludington on Dec. 29 as part of its invitational.
“We wanted to find out right away who we are and what we need to work on,” Meerman said. “That’s what we’re working on right now, and we have our last early test on the road against one of the best teams in the state.”
Catholic Central will travel to Wyoming Godwin Heights tonight for a highly-anticipated showdown between elite teams.
The undefeated Wolverines feature Division I recruits Lamar Norman and Markeese Hastings.
Tickets sold out Monday afternoon.
“It’s going to be exciting to be a part of that, and gyms don’t sell out like that unless players have put in a lot of time in the gym,” Meerman said. “It’s an opportunity for us to compete against the best and see where we’re at, and it’s going to be fun. It will be a game and crowd they will remember their whole lives.”
Bingham is looking forward to matching skills against Hastings, who has committed to Butler, and Norman, who recently reopened his recruitment after previously committing to Texas-El Paso.
“I’m really excited just knowing that everyone is going to be there to see Catholic Central and Godwin play,” he said. “Godwin is a good team, and we’re just going to go out and fight and do what we have to do to win.”
Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Catholic Central's Marcus Bingham (30) defends in the post against Spring Lake last season. (Top photo courtesy of the Grand Haven Tribune; middle photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Catholic Central boys basketball program.)
A review of Harbor Light Christian’s boys basketball rosters over the last couple of decades would show a lot of familiar names.
That would be especially true of the coaching slots.
Or are the players now coaches?
The coaches’ names are extremely familiar, and nothing much has changed – except some of the former players are now coaches, and the head coaches have returned to assist the program.
Today, the head coach is Jason Roussin. He’s in his 12th season at the helm of the Swordsmen. Jeff Jakeway, who was the head coach during Roussin’s junior and senior seasons at Harbor Light, is back on the Swordsmen’s staff as an assistant coach. Roussin is also assisted by long-time coach William Henagan and previous head coach Clark Hewitt.
Hewitt also serves as the Harbor Light junior varsity coach. The JV squad went 19-1 this season and 18-2 the year before.
“In 38 years, really there’s been three consistent coaches and then Pat Collins who had done one year when the program started, and now we’re all back on the sidelines working together,” Roussin said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
The facilities Collins, Hewitt and Jakeway coached in are nothing like the Swordsmen have today – the newly-built Solid Rock Center in Harbor Springs. In fact, they used to play on a cement floor. A year ago, the Swordsmen played their first game in their new home.
A walk around the facility, five years in the making, provides the feeling of more like a small college program’s setup. Along with the new gym, the Solid Rock Center was equipped with a cafe and concession area, locker rooms, a film lounge and hangout area for the players, an upper-level full track around the gym, and three classrooms for art, music, science and more.
Jakeway served as project manager on the building — fully funded and debt-free through community support. He was the head coach of the Harbor Light girls basketball team when the facility opened.
Harbor Light’s boys suffered a 76-74 loss to hot-shooting Pellston in the facility’s first game Jan. 20, 2023, but haven’t been doing much losing since. The Swordsmen started this season 2-2, and after a heart-breaking loss to Traverse City Christian on Dec. 8 went on to share the Northern Lights Conference title with Alanson and have built that record to 20-4 heading into tonight’s District Final against St. Ignace.
The title game will be played at the Solid Rock Center. Another Jakeway, Jeff Jakeway’s son and freshman point guard Landon, will be getting his second chance to lead the Swordsmen to a District championship. He was the point guard as a seventh grader when Harbor Light won the District title two years ago. (Small schools like Harbor Light may request, for most sports, an MHSAA Executive Committee waiver to play eighth-grade students if the school’s enrollment is less than 125 and seventh-graders if the enrollment is less than 75. Harbor Light’s enrollment count for this school year is 61.)
Landon Jakeway is the team’s leading scorer, contributing 15 points per game. He scored 25 to lead the Swordsmen to a 67-31 win over Mackinaw City in Wednesday’s District Semifinal. That was Harbor Light’s third win this season over its league rival, allowing the Swordsmen to keep the Mack Light Ball, which goes to the winning team’s school after each victory in the rivalry. Wins over Mackinaw have been hard to come by in previous seasons.
David Chamberlin, at 13 points per game, and Corin Palus, scoring nine per contest, are the other leading scorers. Jakeway adds seven assists and four steals per game. Chamberlin kicks in seven rebounds per game, and Jackson Mesner and Kirk Rose contribute eight and five rebounds, respectively.
Chamberlin, Paulis, Mesner and Rose are all seniors.
“The team goal was really to ‘put the team before me’ mentality,” Roussin said. “We were going to work as a team, be loyal, be committed to one another and battle together.”
The Swordsmen also entered the season with their eyes on the Mack Light Ball, a conference championship and a long postseason run.
“We wanted to chase the conference and to battle for a District,” Roussin noted. “Obviously, we knew St. Ignace is in there and they are the favorite team.”
Senior leadership has been one of the keys to Harbor Light’s finishing atop the conference for the first time in more than a decade.
“We want to show up and play the best basketball you can to make your team the best they can,” Roussin said. “That’s what has been awesome with the leadership we’ve had on this team.
“Through all the guys is ‘it is not about me,’” Roussin continued. “It is about ‘what can I do to make the team better?’”
St. Ignace brings a 16-6 record into the Solid Rock Center. The Saints will have a chance to view some NBA history in addition to playing the final.
Above the main gym resides a mini court containing the Detroit Pistons floor from the Pontiac Silverdome. Before moving to The Palace of Auburn Hills, and most recently Little Caesars Arena, the Pistons played at the Silverdome from 1978-88.
Jeff Jakeway was able to get the court to Northern Michigan through connections in Novi.
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 [email protected] 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) Harbor Light’s Vaughn Henagan (23) gets to the basket during a 59-39 win over Kinross Maplewood Baptist on Dec. 21. (Middle) David Chamberlin (22) elevates over a Pellston defender as the Swordsmen work toward a 75-20 victory Jan. 19. (Photos by Billy Mac Photos.)