Breslin Bound: Boys District Preview

March 7, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

A total of 11 boys basketball teams head into the MHSAA Tournament today with perfect records.

But there are plenty of others expected to make strong pushes toward a trip to East Lansing in a little more than two weeks.

Below is a look at four teams from each class that look good to be in the hunt. Follow all of the scores and brackets in real time at, and click for a glance at every team with three or fewer losses heading into the postseason.

Class A

Canton (20-0) – The Chiefs have improved from 15 to 16 to now 20 wins over the last three seasons, and after repeating as Kensington Lakes Activities Association South champions went on to win the league’s overall title with an overtime victory over Walled Lake Western. Canton also put up an incredible 35-point win in early January over Grosse Pointe South, which finished 17-3.

Detroit U-D Jesuit (20-0) – The Cubs might be the favorites after making the Class A Semifinals last season and losing to eventual champion Detroit Western International. Led by Mr. Basketball finalist guard Cassius Winston, U-D Jesuit has beaten an impressive slate including Class C contenders Flint Beecher and Detroit Allen Academy and last week Detroit East English by 16 points.

East Lansing (19-0) – A young Trojans team will have to be careful in a District featuring tough familiar opponents. But led by sophomore Brandon Johns, arguably the best in his class in the state, East Lansing hasn’t had a ton of trouble yet, with only five wins by fewer than 10 points (although that includes two in overtime).

Macomb Dakota (20-0) – The Cougars did go 21-3 before falling in the Regional Final last season, but haven’t been considered this strong of a contender arguably ever. They avenged that postseason loss on Dec. 15 by downing Clarkston by 11, and nonleague wins against Lansing Everett and Saginaw Arthur Hill also provided valuable experience against unfamiliar but solid opponents.

Class B

Lansing Catholic (18-1) – A game against East Lansing last week that would have been telling was canceled because of bad weather, but the Cougars have shown a great combination of post strength and perimeter play while facing most of the rest of the Lansing area’s best. The loss came to rival Williamston by three after Lansing Catholic won the first meeting in overtime by three.

New Haven (18-2) – Unlike last season, New Haven enters the tournament with losses – its first during 2014-15 didn't come until the Quarterfinal. But those defeats this time have come against Class A schools Utica Ford and contender East English (16-4), and the Rockets built their record against a Class A-heavy schedule.

Onsted (19-0) – Mr. Basketball candidate and sizable center Austin Davis gets most of the attention, and with great reason. But he’s also got plenty of help, especially in a veteran backcourt, and it’s paid off in a league with three teams that have won at least 14 games; Hillsdale’s only losses were twice to the Wildcats.

Wyoming Godwin Heights (17-3) – The reigning Class B champion has two more losses heading into the tournament this season than a year ago. But the three defeats came to Class A teams that have won 15, 14 and 19 games, respectively. Tonight’s opponent, Wayland (17-2) provides another tough challenge out of the gate.  

Class C

Detroit Allen Academy (18-2) – Allen has taken a big jump from 11-11 last year playing a schedule that hardly resembles the typical for a Class C team. The Wildcats’ best wins were arguably against Class B River Rouge (17-3) by 11, Class A Saginaw Arthur Hill (14-5) by 20 and Class A Detroit Renaissance (16-4) by four.

Flint Beecher (17-2) – The Class C champion three of the last four seasons prepares by facing a number of larger power programs, and this winter was no different; Beecher beat East English by three but also played and lost to reigning Class A champion Detroit Western International and likely Class A favorite Detroit U-D Jesuit.

Kalamazoo Hackett (20-0) – Hackett earns the mention among four undefeated Class C teams because it saw the toughest competition; four of six other teams in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Valley won at least 10 games, and Kalamazoo Christian’s only losses were twice to the Fighting Irish. All of that said, only Christian once and Schoolcraft twice got within 10 points of Hackett this winter.

Southfield Christian (18-2) – The Eagles are regulars in later rounds of the tournament and fell to Beecher in a Regional Semifinal last season. They’ve again prepped for a long run by facing bigger opponents, with a win over Class A Belleville (16-4) and Southfield and that only loss by a point in overtime in December to Class A West Bloomfield.

Class D

Bellaire (19-1) – Aside from a loss to Class C East Jordan in December, Bellaire has dominated winning a Ski Valley Conference featuring five teams with at least 10 wins including Class C Johannesburg-Lewiston (18-2) and Class D Onaway (16-4). The Eagles won their four games against those two opponents all by double figures.

Frankfort (18-2) – The Panthers have made it to at least the Quarterfinals the last three seasons and the Semifinals in 2014, and there’s little reason not to anticipate a similar run. The losses this winter were in overtime to undefeated Class C contender McBain and also-Class C Traverse City St. Francis, and Frankfort has beaten its share of larger schools too.

Hillman (20-0) – The Tigers have made the Regional Finals three straight seasons and played in a Quarterfinal last year, losing to eventual champion Powers North Central. They opened this winter with a 17-point win against Cedarville and have allowed only one opponent to come closer than 11.

Powers North Central (20-0) – The Jets have won 47 straight games and 72 of their last 73 with junior Jason Whitens again leading a group that includes more teammates from their MHSAA 8-player football champion. North Central handed Crystal Falls Forest Park its only two losses and beat Class B Menominee (16-4); no other opponents came close.

PHOTO: Macomb Dakota defenders surround a Saginaw Arthur Hill player working to get to the hoop during a game earlier this season. (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.)