Boys Finals: Points A to B

March 22, 2012

Loaded expectations come with being the favorite for any MHSAA championship. 

But a pair of favorites and two groups of strong contenders make for loaded fields for both the Class A and B Boys Basketball Finals this weekend at Michigan State's Breslin Center.

In Class B, reigning champion Lansing Sexton is a heavy favorite, but 2011 runner-up Muskegon Heights and 2010 champion Detroit Country Day also are in the mix. And in Class A, top-ranked Saginaw and No. 2 Romulus both have reached the final weekend of the MHSAA winter season.

Below is a schedule for Friday's Semifinals and all four Saturday Finals. Tickets cost $8 per session, and parking at Michigan State is $5. All Semifinals will be streamed live at along with the press conferences after each, and the A Final will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Detroit -- with Class B then broadcast on delay at 10:30 p.m. Saturday. Click for scores as they come in, and return to Second Half for coverage of all 12 games this weekend at Breslin.

Friday's Semifinals
Class A

Rockford (21-5) vs. Romulus (22-3) - 1 p.m.
Saginaw (24-2) vs. Macomb L'Anse Creuse North  (22-4) - 2:50 p.m.
Class B

Stevensville Lakeshore (23-2) vs. Muskegon Heights (20-6) - 6 p.m.
Detroit Country Day (21-5) vs. Lansing Sexton (25-1) - 7:50 p.m.

Saturday's Finals
Class A - 4 p.m.
Class B - 8 p.m.
Class C - Noon
Class D - 10 a.m.

Now, a look at this season's Class A and B Semifinalists (Click for previews of the Class C and D Semifinalists.):

Class A

22-4, unranked
League finish:
First in Macomb Area Conference Red
Jay Seletsky, 10th season (140-80)
Championship history:
Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins:
54-52 and 64-59 over Romeo, 51-50 over Fraser (Regional Semifinal), 43-41 over Detroit Denby (Regional Final).
Players to watch:
Tyler Conklin (6-3 jr. G – 12 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.0 apg), Robert Hopkins (6-3 jr. G – 9.5 ppg).
L’Anse Creuse North might be the biggest surprise of this weekend after finishing 10-11 a year ago and posting two sub-.500 records over the last three seasons. But Seletsky has led the team to three league titles in five seasons, and his team knows not only how to win, but how to win close games – eight wins this season were by three or fewer points, and two more were by four points.

21-5, unranked
League finish: Tied for first in O-K Red
Coach: Nick Allen, first season (21-5)
Championship history: One MHSAA title (2003).
Best wins: 62-55 over Class B honorable mention Grand Rapids Christian, 36-35 over Hudsonville, 43-32 over East Kentwood, 55-53 over Okemos (Quarterfinal).
Player to watch: Chad Carlson (5-9 jr. G – 13.2 ppg, 59 3-pointers).
Outlook: After a tough league race that ended with Rockford sharing the championship with both Hudsonville and East Kentwood, Rockford was plenty prepared for the tournament – and came back from 10 down in the second half to win the Quarterfinal. Carlson runs the point and is the player teams focus on most. But four more – 6-1 Alex Durkin, 6-3 Mitch Caywood, 6-1 Chase Fairchild and 6-6 Ivy Johnson – all average 5.5 points per game and help bring a physical edge.

22-3, No. 2
League finish: First in Western Wayne Athletic Conference
Coach: Nate Oats, 10th season (195-50)
Championship history: One MHSAA title (1986), one runner-up finish.
Best wins: 67-62 over No. 5 Detroit Pershing (Quarterfinal), 76-62 over No. 10 Saginaw Arthur Hill, 83-67 over No. 9 Kalamazoo Central, 86-51 over Class B honorable mention Muskegon Heights, 60-59 over Class B No. 3 Detroit Country Day, 69-57 over Class B No. 9 Dearborn Heights Robichaud.
Players to watch: Elbert Matthews (6-4 jr. G – 13.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.3 apg), Raven Lee (6-3 sr. G – 12.7 ppg, 3.0 apg), Wesley Clark (6-0 jr. G – 12.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.3 apg, 2.4 spg, 37 3-pointers).
Outlook: Romulus regularly plays one of the state’s toughest regular-season schedules, and regularly drives deep into the Class A tournament. The Eagles’ run to a runner-up finish in 2005 was the first of five Regional and six District championships in the last eight seasons under Oats. Lee has committed to sign with Eastern Michigan.

Record/rank: 24-2, No. 1
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley League
Coach: Julian Taylor, first season (24-2)
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recently 2008), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 88-76 and 66-62 (District Final) over No. 10 Saginaw Arthur Hill, 71-62 over No. 2 Romulus, 73-59 over Bay City Western.
Players to watch: Travontis Richardson (6-2 sr. G – 15 ppg), Julian Henderson (6-2 jr. F – 12 ppg).
Outlook: Like Romulus, Saginaw annually plays a strong regular-season schedule featuring not only tough competition from the Saginaw Valley, but also many of the best from the Detroit area and beyond. Those two losses this season were by five to Arthur Hill – a loss which Saginaw later avenged – and late, by a point, to No. 9 Kalamazoo Central. Five other players average at least eight points per game behind solid backcourt duo Richardson and Henderson.

Class B

21-5, No. 3
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Kurt Keener, 34th season (653-176)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA titles (most recently 2010), one runner-up finish.
Best wins: 89-52 over Harper Woods Chandler Park (Regional Final), 110-75 over Class D No. 7 Southfield Christian, 65-55 over Class A No. 10 Saginaw Arthur Hill.
Players to watch: Robert Puleikis (6-9 sr. C – 12.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg), Jodan Price (6-7 sr. F – 11.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.1 apg), Austin Price (6-3 jr. G – 10.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.9 apg).
Outlook: All eight of Country Day’s championships have come under Keener, and the Yellowjackets face a familiar opponent to start this potential run – Sexton, which Country Day beat in the 2010 Final and lost to in a 2011 Semifinal. Puleikis earned an all-state honorable mention this week and is one of a number of sizable Yellowjackets – the team also brings 6-6 and 6-3 players off the bench.  

25-1, No. 1
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Blue
Coach: Carlton Valentine, sixth season (122-25)
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recently 2011), two runner-up finishes.
Best wins:  56-37 over No. 9 Dearborn Heights Robichaud (Quarterfinal), 66-56 over No. 4 Lansing Catholic (District Final), 80-71 over Class A No. 9 Kalamazoo Central, 70-57 and 93-80 over Class A honorable mention East Lansing, 72-60 and 75-58 over Class A No. 3 Lansing Eastern,
Players to watch: Bryn Forbes (6-3 sr. G – 18 ppg, 44 3-pointers), Anthony Clemmons (6-1 sr. G – 15 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.1 apg), Denzel Valentine (6-6 sr. G – 14.2 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 8.4 apg), Jalen Hayes (6-7 jr. F – 12.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg).
Outlook: Despite a one-point loss to Detroit Pershing during the season’s first half, it’s fair to argue Sexton is the state’s top squad, regardless of class. Four starters are back from last season, and all will play at the Division I college level – Valentine was named Associated Press Class B Player of the Year this week and has signed with Michigan State, while Clemmons has signed with Iowa, Forbes with Cleveland State and Hayes has a number of offers. The team’s top two guards off the bench last season also are back, and 6-9 freshman Trevor Manuel mans the middle.

20-6, honorable mention
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Keith Guy, ninth season (189-39)
Championship history: Six MHSAA titles (most recently 1979), eight runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 51-44 over No. 8 Cadillac (Quarterfinal), 64-51 over Rockford, 84-78 over Class A honorable mention Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills, 67-54 over Class C No. 7 Shelby
Players to watch: Juwon Martin (6-5 jr. F – 15.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg), Deshaun Thrower (6-0 soph. G – 11 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.4 apg), Mike Davis (6-4 soph. F – 10.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg).
Outlook: Although Muskegon Heights is seeking its first championship in more than three decades, few teams are more regular guests at Breslin Center. The Tigers are reigning runners-up and also finished runners-up in 2005. They’ve won their District every season under Guy, and also five Regionals including their last three. And this could be just the start on that next championship – the team has just three seniors, but six sophomores including two who start and Davis, a big contributor off the bench.

23-2, No. 7
League finish: First in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference
Coach: Sean Schroeder, 10th season (164-70)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 44-35 over Sturgis (Regional Semifinal), 65-55 over No. 10 Otsego (Regional Final), 58-48 over honorable mention Grand Rapids Christian (Quarterfinal), 69-63 over Class A No. 9 Kalamazoo Central.
Players to watch: Austin Kaiser (sr. G – 10.1 ppg, 36 3-pointers), Loren Johnson (sr. G – 10 ppg, 3.4 apg).
Outlook: Lakeshore has won 16 straight and lost only to Kalamazoo Central and Niles this season. The Lancers won their second Regional title and third District and league titles in six seasons. Balance is key – seven players average between six and 10 points per game, with senior Ryan Avery also among three at 10 ppg.

PHOTO: Lansing Sexton senior guard Anthony Clemmons (right) is back trying to lead the Big Reds to a second-straight Class B championship.

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.)