Breslin Bound: Boys A-B Semis Preview

March 19, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Winning an MHSAA championship Saturday will be thrilling enough for whichever teams emerge from eight Class A and B semifinalists heading to the Breslin Center on Friday. 

But the two that finish this weekend as champions will be able to celebrate some additional historical significance. 

Four of those eight teams are seeking their first MHSAA title. The most recent championship among the four that have won before came way back in 1965. 

Below is the schedule for all four Friday Semifinals and Saturday Finals, plus broadcast information and a look at all eight A and B semifinalists. (See Class C and D previews and schedule in a separate post.)

Semifinals - Friday
Class A

Mount Pleasant (22-4) vs. Muskegon (26-0), 1 p.m.
Detroit U-D Jesuit (22-2) vs. Bloomfield Hills (23-3), 2:50 p.m.

Class B
Benton Harbor (16-9) vs. Cadillac (19-6), 6 p.m.
Detroit Douglass (17-9) vs. Milan (23-3), 7:50 p.m.

Finals - Saturday
Class A - Noon
Class B - 6:30 pm
Class C - 4:30 pm 
Class D - 10 am 

Tickets cost $8 per pair of Semifinals and $10 per two-game Finals session. All Semifinals will be streamed live on MHSAA.TV on a pay-per-view basis. All four Finals will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Detroit-PLUS. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on

And now, a look at the Semifinalists in Class A and B.

Class A

23-3, No. 8
League finish: Second in Oakland Activities Association Red
Coach: Duane Graves, first season (23-3) 
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final (first season as a school). 
Best wins: 74-62, 73-57 and 53-52 (Regional Final) over honorable mention Clarkston, 67-60 over Class B No. 7 Milan.
Players to watch: Armand Cartwright, 6-2 sr. G; Yante Maten, 6-8 sr. C. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Neither Bloomfield Hills Lahser nor Andover ever made it to a Quarterfinal, much less the final weekend of the season. But the school created when those two joined last summer has done so immediately under Graves, who coached Lahser before the merger. Cartwright scored his 1,000th career point this season. Maten is an absolute force in the post, and those two led Lahser to a District title last season as well.

Record/rank: 22-2, No. 3
League finish: Tied for first in Detroit Catholic League Central
Coach: Pat Donnelly, sixth season (90-43) 
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final.   
Best wins: 54-53 (Quarterfinal) and 67-57 over No. 6 Romulus,52-51 over No. 10 Detroit Cass Tech in Regional Final, 47-45 over No. 7 Detroit Southeastern in Regional Semifinal, 59-32 over honorable mention Detroit Renaissance in District opener.
Players to watch: Cassius Winston, 6-1 soph. G (18.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 8.7 apg, 4.3 spg); Noah King, 6-4 sr. F (12.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg).
Outlook: Jesuit won its first Regional championship last week after losing during the regular season only to Catholic League rival Warren DeLaSalle and in overtime to Ohio’s Toledo St. John. The starting lineup includes four seniors along with leading scorer Winston, and sophomore guard Billy Thomas is the team’s second-leading scorer with 13.7 points per game off the bench.

Record/rank: 22-4, honorable mention
League finish: Tied for second in Saginaw Valley Association North
Coach: Dan Schell, second season (33-14) 
Championship history: Class B Lower Peninsula champion 1932, three runner-up finishes.  
Best wins: 69-60 over No. 5 Saginaw Arthur Hill, 64-61 over honorable mention Flint Carman-Ainsworth in Regional Final, 64-54 over Cadillac.
Players to watch: Jaleel Hogan, 6-6 sr. F (16.5 ppg, 11.4 rpg); Aaron Leasher, 6-3 sr. G (11.2 ppg, 3.8 apg. 2.9 spg).
Outlook: The Oilers fell just one win shy of tying for the SVA North championship, but did return to the Quarterfinals for the first time since 1982 – and are seeking their first championship game berth since finishing runner-up in 1981. Hogan, who will play next season at the University of Detroit Mercy, is one of eight seniors who have helped the team improve 11 wins from last season.

Record/rank: 26-0, No. 1
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Black
Coach: Keith Guy, second season (45-7) 
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 1937), two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 88-78 over No. 5 Saginaw Arthur Hill, 65-50 over honorable mention Westland John Glenn, 68-59 over Class C No. 1 Mount Clemens, 73-55 over Benton Harbor.
Players to watch: Deshaun Thrower, 6-0 sr. G (18.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 7.0 apg, 3.0 spg); Deyonta Davis, 6-9 jr. F/C (14.2 ppg, 13.6 rpg, 7.0 bpg); Joeviair Kennedy, 6-3 jr. F (12.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg).
Outlook: Muskegon is back in the Semifinals for the first time since 1947 and has made this undefeated run with only four seniors. But one is Mr. Basketball and standout football quarterback Thrower, and Davis is likely the Mr. Basketball favorite for 2014-15. Guy formerly led Muskegon Heights to a number of successful seasons during the 2000s.  

Class B

Record/rank: 16-9, unranked
League finish: Tied for third in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West
Coach: Corey Sterling, second season (34-16) 
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 1965), six runner-up finishes.  
Best wins: 68-61 over No. 1 Wyoming Godwin Heights in Semifinal, 78-73 over T-No. 5 Otsego in Regional Final, 72-63 over Class A No. 9 Battle Creek Central.
Players to watch: Cortez Moore, 6-6 sr. F (21 ppg, 12 rpg, 4.0 apg, 4.0 spg, 3.0 bpg); Jaton Gunn, 6-2 soph. F/G (18 ppg, 3.0 apg, 3.0 spg).
Outlook: Given Benton Harbor’s strong hoops reputation, it’s hard to believe this is the team’s first Semifinal run since 1993. And it came with consecutive upsets of top-five teams, including handing Godwin Heights its only loss this winter. Sterling was a member of that 1993 Class A runner-up team playing for longtime coach Paul Wilhite. Sophomore point guard Curtis Dawson runs the show adding 11 points, seven assists and six steals per game.

Record/rank: 19-6, unranked
League finish: Tied for second in Big North Conference
Coach: Jeff McDonald, 20th season (322-131) 
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 55-49 OT over Big Rapids in Quarterfinal, 46-42 over Mason County Central in Regional Final, 55-52 over Escanaba in Regional Semifinal, 50-42 over Petoskey.
Players to watch: Jalen Brooks, 6-4 sr. F (17.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg); Justin Liptak, 6-5 sr. C (9.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg).  
Outlook: Cadillac has won its last four games by six or fewer points to return to the Semifinals for the second straight season. A win Friday would give the Vikings at least 20 in four straight seasons, along with four straight District and Regionals titles. Junior guard Andrew Emington adds another 9.2 points per game from the backcourt.

Record/rank: 17-9, honorable mention
League finish: Third in Detroit Public School League East Division 1 
Coach: Nkwane Young, 10th season (154-72) 
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 41-39 over No. 10 Ferndale University in District Final, 69-56 over No. 9 Detroit Country Day in Regional Final, 48-45 over Class A No. 7 Detroit Southeastern, 49-46 and 62-26 over Class A honorable mention Detroit Renaissance.
Player to watch: Darrell Davis, 6-5 sr. G (24.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.2 apg, 2.0 spg). 
Outlook: Douglass has taken the next step after winning its fifth straight District title and second Regional championship during that string. Davis, who will play at University of Dayton next season, was a Mr. Basketball finalist and plays both guard spots. He’s also one of seven seniors, with forward DeShawn Sanders and point guard Terrell Hales also starters.

Record/rank: 23-3, No. 7
League finish: First in Huron League
Coach: Josh Tropea, fifth season (90-27) 
Championship history: Class C champion 1948.
Best wins: 62-53 over honorable mention Wayland in Quarterfinal, 55-40 over honorable mention Detroit Community in Regional Final, 42-40 (District Semifinal), 57-37 and 59-50 over honorable mention Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, 57-54 over Class A No. 9 Battle Creek Central.
Players to watch: Latin Davis, 5-9 jr. G (15.9 ppg, 3.8 apg); Nick Perkins, 6-7 jr. F (15 ppg, 9.1 rpg).  
Outlook: Milan upped its winning streak to 18 by winning its first Quarterfinal appearance since 1948. The Big Reds lost to a couple of strong Class A schools in Saginaw and Bloomfield Hills during the regular season, which no doubt helped prepare for a competitive string of Class B opponents the last three weeks. The team has only three seniors, with 6-3 guard Donovan Verges adding 9.4 ppg. 

PHOTO: Detroit Douglass' Darrell Davis looks for an open teammate during Tuesday's Quarterfinal win over Goodrich. (Photo courtesy of Detroit Public School League.)

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.)