Breslin Bound: Boys District Preview

March 9, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The reigning Class D champion is playing in Class C this season. Last year’s Class A and B champions have only three losses between them. And there are four undefeated teams in Class D – with next week’s Regional the earliest two can meet up.

We’ve got a chance to see some familiar faces for the MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals in three weeks, and likely a higher probability of seeing a few teams that have yet to lose this winter. But to determine who makes the trip, a ton of basketball must yet be played – beginning tonight.

To kick off Districts, this week's Breslin Bound report looks at five teams in each class that have made some of the biggest waves throughout this winter. Click to “track the tournament,” with results as we receive them and interactive brackets.

Class A

Clarkston (20-0) – The Wolves equaled last season’s win total by going undefeated during the regular season and now will be charged with surpassing last year’s Regional Final appearance. Clarkston won all but three games by double figures, including over Macomb Dakota (18-2) and Auburn Hills Avondale (17-3) during December and twice over North Farmington and Mr. Basketball candidate Jeron Rogers.

Detroit Western International (19-0)  The Cowboys posted big wins early, including 69-57 over Saginaw Arthur Hill (17-3), then rolled through the Detroit Public School League to win that championship for the first time since 1922. A 58-49 win over Detroit U-D Jesuit (17-3) in last week’s Operation Friendship game further cemented Western as a likely favorite.

East Kentwood (20-0) – The Falcons handed reigning Class A champion Muskegon its only loss, 58-57 on Dec. 30, and also beat a solid Birmingham Brother Rice team in December before storming through the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red to win that league title by three games. East Kentwood had finished second in the league and 13-8 overall a year ago.

Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (20-0) – The Rangers repeated as champions in the O-K White, this season by four games, and own a 59-55 win over O-K Bronze champion Grand Rapids Northview (17-3), which ended Forest Hill Central’s 2013-14 season in the District Final. The Rangers twice beat Grand Rapids Christian, led by Mr. Basketball candidate DeLeon Brown.

Muskegon (19-1) – The Big Reds have more than made up for their first loss (see East Kentwood above) since 2012-13. Muskegon edged Saginaw Arthur Hill by two in mid-December, then beat Romulus (14-5) by 10 in mid-January and River Rouge (15-5) in the regular-season finale – in addition to winning the O-K Black by three games. Center Deyonta Davis is a favorite, perhaps the favorite, for the Mr. Basketball Award.

Class B

Flint Northwestern (15-3) – The Wildcats had a few stumbles through the middle and end of February, but still won the Saginaw Valley Association South by three games, losing only to third-place Flint Powers Catholic, Class A power Arthur Hill and Class C contender Flint Beecher. Northwestern opened this winter with a 10-game winning streak after finishing 6-13 only a season ago.

Milan (18-2) – The reigning Class B champion is revved for another run with 11 straight wins and another Huron League title that included a pair of victories over second-place Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (17-3). Milan's losses were to Class A contenders Romulus and Detroit U-D Jesuit, and all 18 wins came by double-digit points.

New Haven (20-0) – The Rockets launched from 12-9 a year ago to return to a form more similar to their 19-4 team of 2012-13. They won the Macomb Area Conference Gold championship by three games, but the tournament will be an interesting test – New Haven moved up this school year from Class C. A 51-43 win over MAC Blue champion Mount Clemens on Feb. 27, however, is a good sign.

Wayland (17-3) – Although the Wildcats finished behind Class A Ottawa Hills in the O-K Gold standings, they lost only to Class A teams this season – twice to Ottawa Hills and once to Middleville Thornapple Kellogg – and posted a 17-point win on Otsego (17-3). Lacey James is a Mr. Basketball candidate and could carry Wayland far if it can get past Godwin Heights this week.

Wyoming Godwin Heights (19-1) – The Wolverines came back from a January loss to Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian to avenge two weeks later and finish as champion again in the O-K Silver. Godwin Heights is 44-2 over the last two seasons, having fallen in the 2014 Quarterfinals, and looks lined up for another run with February wins against North Farmington (17-3), Otsego and then Grand Rapids Christian on Tuesday.

Class C

Beaverton (20-0) – The Beavers have won at least 20 games three straight seasons and earned the Jack Pine Conference title. They won by fewer than double digits only three times – including twice over league-runner-up Clare (15-5). Beaverton also won a pair over Class D Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (14-5) and by 16 over Vestaburg (17-2).

Flint Beecher (18-1) – The Buccaneers should be back in championship contention after falling by a point in last year’s Quarterfinals. They again won the Genesee Area Conference Red, this time by two games over Class B Goodrich (18-2), and also posted impressive victories over Saginaw (14-6), Flint Northwestern, River Rouge and reigning Class C champion Detroit Consortium (12-5).

Jackson Lumen Christi (18-2) – The Titans should be scary in Class C after making the Regional Finals in Class B last season and then finishing atop an Interstate 8 Athletic Conference filled with larger schools. Lumen Christi won the league title by a game over Class B Battle Creek Harper Creek (18-2) and also owns impressive wins over Hanover-Horton (19-1) and Flint Powers Catholic (14-6).

Hillsdale (20-0) – The Hornets have won at least 20 games four straight seasons and are looking to improve on last year’s Quarterfinal run. Hillsdale capped the regular season with a 53-50 win last week over Vandercook Lake (15-5), opened with a win over Adrian Madison (15-5) and also twice beat Onsted (16-4) to win the Lenawee County Athletic Association championship.

Southfield Christian (17-3) – The back-to-back-to-back Class D champion is up a class and continued to play a number of larger opponents, losing to North Farmington and Detroit Pershing during the season’s first two weeks. The Eagles came back to win the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue with a pair of victories over rival Allen Park Inter-City Baptist (16-4).

Class D

Cedarville (20-0) – The Trojans haven’t slowed a bit since reaching last season’s Semifinals, cruising to another Eastern U.P. Athletic Conference championship while reaching 20 wins for the third straight season. Cedarville fit in a couple of downstate opponents in early January and beat Boyne City (15-5) last week, to go with domination of its local opponents including a 100-86 win in mid-February over Rudyard (15-5).

Hillman (19-1) – The Tigers just edged Lawrence as the only non-undefeated team on this list after winning the North Star League Big Dipper with a pair of wins over Mio (17-2). Hillman also put up a 10-point nonleague win early over Rudyard (15-5) and hasn’t lost since falling to Cedarville on opening night – after also losing to Cedarville in last season’s Regional Final.

Lake Linden-Hubbell (20-0) – The Lakes have climbed from three to 16 to 19 to 20 wins over the last four seasons. They won the Copper Country Conference title by two games over runner-up Republic-Michigamme (16-4). Lake Linden-Hubbell won all but one of its games by double digits.

Powers North Central (20-0) – The high-scoring Jets have shined again, putting up more than 90 points twice and more than 80 five more times. They dominated the Skyline Central Conference West with a pair of wins over Crystal Falls Forest Park (16-4) and earned another over SCC East champ Munising (18-1). North Central is 45-1 over the last two seasons, with the only loss to Cedarville in last year’s Quarterfinal.

Waterford Our Lady (20-0) – The Lakers also have made great strides, from 11 to 12 to 17 to 20 wins over the last four seasons. They won the Detroit Catholic League Intersectional #1 title by four games and added to an impressive run with wins over Southfield Bradford (14-6), Harbor Beach (15-4) and Burton St. Thomas More Academy (15-2). 

PHOTO: Muskegon's Deyonta Davis (21) goes for a blocked shot during a January game against Saginaw Arthur Hill. (Click to see more at

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.)