Bingham's Game Grows with Size, Skills

December 20, 2017

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.) 

Championship Experience from Coach's Point of View Unimaginable, Unforgettable

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

April 4, 2024

WYOMING – As the final buzzer sounded, it was all I could’ve imagined – and more.

West Michigan

In the weeks leading up to March 16 and the Division 4 championship game, I experienced every emotion possible as I envisioned what it would feel like to be an assistant coach on the bench at Michigan State’s Breslin Center as the Wyoming Tri-unity Christian boys basketball team achieved its ultimate goal.

In my first year as the junior varsity coach at Tri-unity, I had been on the varsity bench for a majority of the season, assisting legendary coach Mark Keeler and fellow assistants Brent Voorhees, Bob Przybysz and Mike Kaman.

I was there encouraging, motivating and supporting the varsity team. It was a role I embraced, and had become accustomed to over my almost 30 years coaching high school basketball.

I started coaching in 1995 as Jim Ringold gave me my first opportunity as the freshmen girls coach at Wyoming Kelloggsville High School. I would then coach Kelloggsville’s freshmen boys team for eight seasons, while also coaching the freshmen girls at Grandville High School. I would also coach the junior varsity teams at both schools.

I love coaching. I have a passion for it. I’ve always enjoyed getting the most out of my players while creating a bond between player and coach.

When girls basketball season moved from fall to winter joining the boys in 2007-08, I stayed at Grandville. I spent 21 seasons there before stepping down.

I still wanted to coach, and I heard that the Tri-unity junior varsity position was available. I had always respected and liked Keeler and was excited for the prospect of joining a perennial powerhouse.

I didn’t really know about Tri-unity growing up in the Wyoming Park school district. But as a young kid, I would rush home and eagerly await the afternoon delivery of the Grand Rapids Press. I would quickly find the sports page and read it from front to back, hoping one day to see my byline.

I began writing for the Press’ sports department in 1997. It was my dream job. And that’s also when I first started covering Tri-unity boys basketball.

I remember watching eventual NBA all-star Chris Kaman, along with Bryan Foltice and others play for this little Christian school and have unbridled success under Keeler.

MHSAA Tournament runs became the norm for the Defenders. They won their first Finals title in 1996, and they would claim four more over the next 26 years. They also had six runner-up finishes.

Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action.I was sitting on media row writing for in 2022 when Brady Titus led Tri-unity to its fifth state championship.

I never thought that two years later I would be on the coaching staff as the Defenders pursued another one. But there I was.

I knew this year’s team had the potential to be special.

Tri-unity had returned four of its five starters from a year ago, after suffering a heart-breaking two-point loss to Munising in the Division 4 Final.

Eight seniors were on the roster. The team had a mix of talented guard play, senior leadership, size and depth. We had shooters and we played great defense, a trademark of Keeler’s teams.

This was the year, and that heaped lofty expectations on Keeler and the team. It was basically “state championship or bust.” Anything less would be considered a disappointment.

Keeler wanted it badly, and I knew the players did as well. I think they felt the pressure at times of living up to the expectations that had been set.

We had several lopsided wins, but also had a few tough losses to Division 2 and Division 3 teams – Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Wyoming Lee, Grandville Covenant Christian and Schoolcraft – all talented teams that I think made us better despite falling short.

As the postseason started, there was anxiety and excitement.

We were one of the favorites, but it wouldn’t be easy. We would have to earn each of the seven victories needed to win it all.

First came a District title, but then we had to play a quality Fowler team in its home gym in the Regional Semifinal. This was a game we knew would be a challenge – and it was.

We led by only one at halftime after a 7-0 run to end the second quarter. The score was tied 33-33 in the fourth quarter before senior Lincoln Eerdmans made a key 3-pointer to spark our victory.

As we went through the handshake line, several Fowler players said, “Good luck in the Finals.”

Our defense played extremely well in the Regional Final and state Quarterfinal to secure our team another trip to the Breslin.

St. Ignace was our opponent in the Semifinal, and we had to face a senior guard who could do it all – Jonny Ingalls. He lived up to the hype. He was good, and we didn’t have any answer for him in the first half. We trailed by one, only to fall behind by seven late in the third quarter.

Was this the end? Were we going to fall one game short of our goal?

Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. We were down by five points in the fourth quarter, but junior guard Keaton Blanker, and others, rose to the occasion. We rallied to win a tight one, and now we were one win away from a Division 4 title.

The night before the championship game, we stayed at a hotel in East Lansing as we had the first game of the day at 10 a.m. We had a team dinner, and the players seemed relaxed and eager to close out the season the way they had intended.

There was one thing that worried me. We were playing Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. A team we had played in the second game of the season and defeated by 30 points.

Would we be overconfident? I had no idea. They were a different team now, but so were we. Anything could happen.

Keeler gave a spirited and emotional pregame speech. In last year’s loss to Munising, he felt like the team played not to lose, and this season his big thing was “I want to win.” He said it to every starter that Saturday morning during the final moments in the locker room before tipoff, asking all five individually to say it back – which they did, the first one quietly but followed by teammates replying louder and louder as everyone got fired up and “I want to win” rang through the locker room. I think it inspired all of us.

After a competitive first quarter, we started to find our rhythm and expanded the lead. We were ahead by double-digits at the half, and a state title was within our grasp. Senior Wesley Kaman buried a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the third quarter to give us a 20-point cushion. It was at that point I knew we were going to win.

All five starters reached double-figure scoring, led by Jordan VanKlompenberg with 19 points and Owen Rosendall with 14. That balance was intentional and a successful sign for our team all season.

The exhilaration of winning was intoxicating. I loved watching the boys celebrate something they had worked so hard to accomplish. I will never forget their faces. I looked to my right from my seat on the bench and watched them running onto the court, just wearing their joy. They were just elated.

I was so happy for Keeler, a devout Christian who is respected by so many people in high school basketball circles. I learned so much from him this season. The way he approaches each game, his competitiveness. He instills his strong faith in his players and understands that the game of basketball is a bridge to a higher purpose.

Keeler is the fourth-winningest coach in state boys basketball history with a record of 694-216, and will be the winningest active coach next winter as all-time leader Roy Johnston retired from Beaverton at the end of this season.

The tournament run was one of the best coaching experiences I have had, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of a state championship season.

Dean HolzwarthDean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) The Wyoming Tri-unity Christian bench, including the author (far right) and head coach Mark Keeler (middle), celebrate a 3-pointer late in the Defenders’ Division 4 championship win over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. (Middle) Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action. (Below) Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)