Breslin Bound: 2022-23 Boys District Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 6, 2023

There’s an awesomeness that comes with nearly 100 years of tradition, and one of the MHSAA's originals begins another chapter tonight with the first games of the 2022-23 MHSAA Boys Basketball Tournament.

MI Student Aid

Up first are Districts, often with teams seeing neighbors a second or third time – but this time, it’s win or go home. Then come Regionals, where the opponents are more unfamiliar, but all on equal footing and with some added spring to their steps after hoisting trophies the weekend before. The final week of the tournament is the final week of the winter sports season as well, and everything seems to accelerate as those last 16 teams whittle down to four champions Saturday at the Breslin Center.

Everything you could want to know this week about tickets, brackets and more can be found on the Boys Basketball page. To watch any of several games online, visit the NFHS Network.

“Breslin Bound” is powered by MI Student Aid and based on results and schedules posted for each school at

Week in Review

The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:

1. Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 66, Detroit Cass Tech 65 (OT) The annual Operation Friendship meeting of Detroit league champions was unforgettable as Rice (21-1) handed Cass Tech (21-1) its lone loss on a final-seconds 3-pointer.

2. North Farmington 73, Ferndale 54 The Division 1 highly-regarded Raiders (19-1) completed an outright Oakland Activities Association Red title run by finishing a sweep of Division 2 contender Ferndale (14-8)

3. River Rouge 57, Ann Arbor Huron 54 The Panthers (16-5) capped an impressive six-win surge to finish the regular season with a close one over the River Rats (19-2).

4. Muskegon 67, Kalamazoo Central 60 The Big Reds (20-2) entered the postseason with a big win as the Maroon Giants (18-3) also have bigtime playoff potential.

5. Napoleon 63, Jonesville 61 The annual Big 8/Cascades conference crossover of champions went the Pirates’ way as Napoleon (21-1) bounced back from its lone loss two days earlier to edge the Comets (17-5).

Grand Blanc's Donnie Huddleston (2) gets a hand up as Flint Beecher's Damarcus Burke Jr. launches a jumper during the Bobcats 57-43 win on Thursday.

Districts at a Glance

These could be among our most competitive brackets. Host sites are in bold:


Bloomfield Hills
No. 1 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (21-1), No. 2 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (9-10), West Bloomfield (15-6), Birmingham Groves (16-6), Bloomfield Hills (15-7), Birmingham Seaholm (12-10).

Topped by an overall Division 1 favorite in Brother Rice, this might be the strongest District in the state regardless of division. The Warriors have seen many of the rest of the best in Michigan and defeated them all including Grand Blanc, River Rouge, East Kentwood, Kalamazoo Central, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (twice) and Cass Tech (see above) just a few days ago. The lone loss came to reigning Division 1 champion Warren De La Salle Collegiate, and Brother Rice avenged that three weeks later. St. Mary’s hasn’t played an opponent with a losing record this season, and its most recent loss to Rice on Feb. 7 was by just five points – while the Eaglets have their share of strong wins as well. West Bloomfield and Groves shared the OAA White championship, and Seaholm won the OAA Blue.

No. 1 Muskegon (20-2), No. 2 Grand Haven (17-5), Grand Rapids Union (14-7), Muskegon Reeths-Puffer (13-9), Coopersville (14-8), Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills (8-14), Muskegon Mona Shores (5-17).

The Big Reds are a top contender in Division 1 this month and have seen some of the rest including Kalamazoo Central (see above), North Farmington and Grand Blanc – the latter two delivering Muskegon’s losses. But they’ll still have to be careful this first week with some familiar opponents pursuing an upset. Union finished second to Muskegon in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green, while Reeths-Puffer tied for third in that league – although Muskegon won its four combined games against them all by at least 25 points. But on the other side of the bracket, Coopersville tied for second in O-K Blue, and Grand Haven tied for third in a highly-competitive O-K Red and defeated Muskegon in a 2021 District matchup, the last time they met.

No. 1 Okemos (18-4), No. 2 Mason (20-2), Jackson (17-5), Holt (13-9), Jackson Northwest (13-9), Lansing Everett (2-20).

Mason and Jackson are coming off league championships, the Bulldogs outright in the Capital Area Activities Conference Red and the Vikings sharing the Southeastern Conference White. But the top seed is Okemos, which finished second in the CAAC Blue – which saw six of its seven teams finish 12-9 or better during the regular season – and two of the Wolves’ losses came in league play in overtime. Okemos could see Jackson in a District Semifinal, and the Vikings have made a notable jump from 8-13 a season ago but also open tonight against Holt, which defeated them 67-60 on Dec. 20. Mason’s jump has been just as impressive – from 10-11 last season – but there’s another note of interest there too as possible Wednesday opponent Northwest defeated the Bulldogs in their season opener 64-55.


Big Rapids
1. Hart (22-0), 2. Cadillac (18-4), Big Rapids (19-2), Ludington (20-2), Reed City (13-9), Remus Chippewa Hills (10-11).

Hart has made history over and over again this season with a first league title in 60 years and one of the first 22-0 regular-season finishes in MHSAA history. But how strong is this District? Counting the two weeks since seeding into MPR, Hart would’ve ranked fourth with Cadillac, Big Rapids and Ludington all moving up a spot. Big Rapids won the Central State Activities Association and Ludington shared the West Michigan Conference Lakes title, and they lead things off tonight – with the winner set to meet Hart on Wednesday, and Hart having defeated Big Rapids 92-84 on Dec. 15. On the other side, Cadillac shared the Big North Conference title and suffered three of its losses by a combined four points.

New Boston Huron
1. Flat Rock (17-5), 2. Romulus Summit Academy North (20-2), Riverview (19-3), Grosse Ile (14-8), New Boston Huron (8-14).

Summit is seeking a third-straight District title with its only losses this season to teams that are a combined 39-3 – Detroit Loyola and Warren Michigan Collegiate. The Dragons start Wednesday against Grosse Ile, which finished third in the Huron League behind co-champions Flat Rock and Riverview. Those two also could face off Wednesday, although New Boston Huron will attempt to play spoiler tonight against the Pirates. Riverview and Flat Rock split their meetings this season, Flat Rock winning 58-52 on Jan. 2s4 and the Pirates avenging 44-41 on Feb. 17.

Wyoming Godwin Heights
1. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (16-6), 2. Wyoming Lee (19-1), Wyoming Godwin Heights (12-7), Hudsonville Unity Christian (13-9), Wyoming Kelloggsville (2-20), Allendale (2-20).

The Cougars, last season’s Division 2 runners-up, have won nine of their last 11 and shared the O-K Gold championship with another Division 2 contender in Grand Rapids South Christian. GRCC could run into a familiar opponent Wednesday in Unity Christian, which tied for second in the O-K Blue but has won seven of its last nine. Those two have met the last two postseasons (and were set to meet in 2020 before COVID-19 halted the playoffs), with the Cougars winning both matchups. On the other side, Lee has had one of the biggest turnarounds in the state this season after going 5-16 a year ago. The Legends won the Alliance League but could have one of their toughest matchups of the season Wednesday if host Godwin Heights gets by Kelloggsville in an opener.


Cass City
1. Cass City (19-2), 2. Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker (16-5), Bad Axe (16-4), Sandusky (14-7), Harbor Beach (7-11), Unionville-Sebewaing (0-21).

Cass City and its late-game heroics have been one of the most fun stories this season, and they head into this District as the top seed but having been eliminated by either Laker or Bad Axe the last three playoffs (not counting 2020). Those two also own the only wins over Cass City this season, with the Red Hawks and Lakers sharing the Greater Thumb Conference West title after splitting their regular-season meetings. They’re lined up on opposite sides of the bracket as the top seeds, but Bad Axe – which defeated Cass City 50-41 on Jan. 6 – will attempt to play spoiler against Cass City on Wednesday if it gets by Harbor Beach tonight. Sandusky could make a major impact as well; the GTC East runner-up has USA tonight but would see Laker on Wednesday after winning last Thursday’s meeting with EBPB 67-49.

Lake City
1. Traverse City St. Francis (18-4), 2. Maple City Glen Lake (18-4), Benzie Central (11-11), Manton (8-14), LeRoy Pine River (8-14), Lake City (3-18).

Although they missed each other last season, St. Francis and Glen Lake have met in District play most of the last decade (and were scheduled to play in 2020), with Glen Lake winning their 2021 postseason matchup and St. Francis winning the next most-recent meeting in 2019. St. Francis shared the Lake Michigan Conference title this season with Boyne City and also had the benefit of facing Division 1 Cass Tech and Grand Haven, no doubt gaining some valuable experience in defeats. Glen Lake won the Northwest Conference and has wins over Division 1 Wayne Memorial and also the third and fourth-place teams from the LMC as a bit of a measuring stick. The Lakers also swept Benzie, which tied for second in the Northwest and would see St. Francis on Wednesday with a win tonight.

1. Watervliet (19-3), 2. Niles Brandywine (20-2), Cassopolis (17-4), Bridgman (11-11), Coloma (2-20).

Watervliet won the Southwestern Athletic Conference Lakeshore title and Cassopolis won the Southwest 10 Conference South, and Brandywine finished second in the Lakeland Conference but to Division 2 contender Benton Harbor – which handed the Bobcats their only losses of the season, and the second only 58-56 on Feb. 17. Brandywine also has a 61-35 win over Cassopolis from Jan. 31 but is on the other side of the bracket facing Bridgman on Wednesday. The Rangers have won their last seven and open with Coloma tonight, with Watervliet awaiting the winner and having enjoyed big wins this season over Blanchard Montabella (20-2) and reigning Division 3 champion Schoolcraft (15-7) and also having lost by only three to Benton Harbor.


1. McBain Northern Michigan Christian (16-6), 2. Mesick (17-5), Marion (15-7), Buckley (14-8), Fife Lake Forest Area (0-19).

NMC finished third in the Highland Conference to Division 3 McBain and Beal City and carries the top seed into this week having won six of its last seven games – but after also falling to Buckley 62-58 on Thursday. Host Mesick is on the other side of the bracket after finishing second in the West Michigan D League and with 10 wins over its last 11 games, but opens Wednesday with Buckley – which tied for second in the Northwest Conference to Glen Lake and has won 10 of its last 11 as well. Marion – 7-12 just a season ago – finished third in the WMDL and opens with Forest Area with hopes of getting past NMC after that and perhaps seeing Mesick a third time after they split their regular-season matchups.

1. Mio (18-1), 2. Hillman (18-4), Hale (10-11), Fairview (4-14), Atlanta (1-15), Au Gres-Sims (1-21).

Hillman and Mio met in last season’s District Final, won by the Tigers 53-36, and Hillman also claimed their meeting just a few weeks ago – 66-41 on Feb. 13. Both were on their way to North Star League titles, Mio in the Big Dipper and Hillman in the Little Dipper. That was the Thunderbolts’ only loss as they move into District week the top seed and coming off an overtime 44-36 win over Big Dipper runner-up Alcona. Hillman has actually lost two straight and three of its last five – but likely gained some valuable experience with those defeats to Division 1 Gaylord, Division 2 Ogemaw Heights and Division 3 Tawas. The Tigers on Wednesday will see either Hale or Fairview, both familiar after finishing third and fourth, respectively, in the Little Dipper.

1. Onaway (19-3), 2. Indian River Inland Lakes (16-6), Posen (16-6), Burt Lake Northern Michigan Christian (11-9), Rogers City (3-19), Wolverine (5-12).

Onaway and Inland Lakes were part of a three-team shared Ski Valley Conference championship (with Gaylord St. Mary), and they could meet again with Inland Lakes winning their most recent meeting 66-43 on Feb. 17. Onaway has claimed two straight District titles, however, but first Wednesday will see either Posen or Northern Michigan Christian. Posen was the runner-up in the North Star League Little Dipper and has won eight of its last nine – although Onaway did take their Dec. 21 matchup 49-48. Inland Lakes has doubled its success from just a season ago, when it finished 8-13, and has won eight of its last nine games.'s weekly “Breslin Bound” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.

PHOTOS (Top) Detroit Cass Tech's Travon Cooper II sets up for a free throw during the Detroit Public School League Tournament championship game at Calihan Hall. (Middle) Grand Blanc's Donnie Huddleston (2) gets a hand up as Flint Beecher's Damarcus Burke Jr. (13) launches a jumper during the Bobcats' 57-43 win on Thursday. (Photos by Olivia B. Photography and Terry Lyons, respectively.) 

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.)