By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
At the end of the week, four teams will finish the 2014-15 MHSAA boys basketball seasons with championship victories.
And of 32 left in the tournament, 23 have a chance to end on a title-clinching win for the first time.
That's just something to keep in mind as Quarterfinals are played Tuesday all over the state. In addition, the reigning MHSAA boys basketball champions in Class A and Class B are alive for repeats, three more 2013-14 semifinalists have a chance to book return trips to Finals weekend, and all three Mr. Basketball finalists will play, two literally against each other.
See below for a glance at all 16 Quarterfinals. All tip off at 7 p.m. unless noted, with winners advancing to Thursday and Friday's Semifinals at Michigan State University.
Lansing Everett (23-2) vs. Muskegon (23-1) at Lansing Eastern's Don Johnson Fieldhouse
This looks like a battle of the state’s elite post players and Mr. Basketball candidates; reigning Class A champion Muskegon with 6-foot-10 Michigan State recruit and Mr. Basketball Deyonta Davis (18.6 points, 15.4 rebounds, 6.7 blocks per game) and Everett with 6-9 Oregon recruit Trevor Manuel (23.5 ppg, 11 rpg, 6.0 bpg). But with those two battling, the other eight on the floor could decide which team moves on – watch for Muskegon 6-5 senior forward Joeviair Kennedy and 6-3 Everett junior guard Jamyrin Jackson.
Walled Lake Central (20-5) vs. Saginaw Arthur Hill (22-3) at Grand Blanc
Guard Eric Davis, headed to Texas next season, finished runner-up for Mr. Basketball and leads an Arthur Hill team on a 10-game winning streak since falling to Detroit U-D Jesuit on Feb. 7. The Lumberjacks have played three teams still alive so they won't be surprised by much this week, and they've won all of their postseason games by double digits. Walled Lake Central is playing its first Quarterfinal since 1993 after emerging from one of Class A’s strongest Districts. Junior guard Walter Kelser leads, scoring 18 points per game.
Detroit U-D Jesuit (21-3) vs. Clarkston (24-0) at University of Detroit Mercy, 5:30 p.m.
U-D Jesuit is seeking a return to the Semifinals after advancing for the first time ever last season, and is led again by talented junior guard Cassius Winston (22.4 points, 5.7 assists per game). Clarkston is seeking its first Semifinal appearance since 2009, playing in its first Quarterfinal since that same season. The Wolves also are keyed by a standout guard – freshman Foster Loyer, who scored 30 and 35 points, respectively, during last week’s Regional.
Ypsilanti Community (19-4) vs. Detroit Western International (23-0), 7 p.m.
This is Community’s first Quarterfinal as a new school, although coach Steve Brooks led the former Ypsilanti High to the final week in 2013 as well. The Grizzlies won the Southeastern Conference White and advanced by defeating another league champion, Romulus, in the Regional Final. Western is playing in its first Quarterfinal since 1974 and has had only two games in single digits this winter – with wins over U-D Jesuit and Arthur Hill among their most impressive. Junior guard Brailen Neely scores 15.9 points per game to lead three averaging double digits.
Otsego (22-3) vs. Milan (23-2) at Marshall, 6:30 p.m.
Milan returns three starters from last season’s Class B championship game, including leading scorers Latin Davis (19.9 ppg) at guard and Nick Perkins (16.8) at center. Its only losses this winter were to Class A U-D Jesuit and Romulus, and it has won 16 straight. Otsego has won more than 20 games for the third time in four seasons under coach Josh Holmes and will play in its first Quarterfinal since 1984. Senior 7-foot center Seth Dugan (19 ppg, 13 rpg) might be one of the most daunting matchups left in the tournament.
Wyoming Godwin Heights (23-1) vs. Spring Lake (18-7) at Rockford
Godwin Heights is back in a Quarterfinal for the third straight season and 12th time dating to its first appearance in 1929. The Wolverines have beaten three teams still playing this week – including Otsego – and their only loss was to Class C quarterfinalist NorthPointe Christian. Senior 6-5 guard Delaney Blaylock leads with 16.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game. Spring Lake won its third straight District title earlier this month and now will play in the Quarterfinals for the first time in its history. Junior 6-3 center Keegan George leads the Lakers in scoring at 14.4 ppg.
Essexville Garber (21-4) vs. Cadillac (17-8) at Mount Pleasant
Garber emerged from third in the Tri-Valley Conference East to reach its first Quarterfinal after beating 22-win Goodrich in the Regional Final. Senior 6-4 forward C.J. Glaza leads three scoring in double digits, averaging 16.1 points while grabbing 10.4 rebounds per game. Cadillac got off to a 5-6 start on the way to its fifth straight Quarterfinal, although seven of its losses this season were to Class A teams. The Vikings have advanced to the Semifinals the last two years. Guard Andrew Emington (12.8 ppg) leads a balanced offense and is one of eight seniors.
Detroit Henry Ford (19-5) vs. New Haven (25-0) at Marysville
Henry Ford has gone from 10 to 11 to 19 wins over the last three seasons and has a pair of potent scorers in senior small forward Joshua Davis (17 ppg) and junior point guard James Towns (16.5 ppg). The Trojans will be playing in their first Quarterfinal since 1984. New Haven made the Quarterfinals in 2012 but in two trips has never advanced to the final weekend of the season. Senior 6-6 forward Joshua Harris averages 20.5 points per game and has been key during the perfect run, which included a 22-point win over 21-win Yale in the Regional Semifinal.
McBain (22-2) vs. Boyne City (20-5) at Gaylord
McBain is back in the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2011 but fourth time in seven seasons. Sophomore 6-6 center Craig Sterk leads four scoring in double digits, averaging 16.5 points per game while grabbing 8.8 rebounds per. Boyne City is headed to the Quarterfinals for the first time since 1990 and after winning a competitive Lake Michigan Conference. Senior forward Corey Redman is the leading scorer at 16.4 ppg.
Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (19-5) vs. Shelby (23-1) at Zeeland East
NorthPointe Christian rebounded from three losses over its final four regular-season games and will play its second Quarterfinal and first since 2007. Senior guard Preston Huckaby scores 15 points per game to lead four averaging in double digits for the only team to beat Class B contender Godwin Heights this winter. Shelby suffered only one loss, by three to Muskegon Heights in the regular-season finale. But the Tigers beat eventual Class B quarterfinalist Spring Lake by 22 the week before, and eliminated 21-win Laingsburg in the Regional Final.
Hanover-Horton (23-1) vs. Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (22-3) at Ann Arbor Huron
Hanover-Horton has won 20 or more games 10 times and made five Quarterfinals under 17-season coach Chad Mortimer, and is seeking its first Semifinal berth since 2003. Senior guard Stefan Young averages 13.2 ppg as the lead scorer. St. Mary joins Class B’s Milan from the Huron League and will play in its third Quarterfinal in five seasons, hoping for its second Semifinal berth and led by a pair of standout scorers – senior guard Bryce Windham averages 20.4 ppg and junior forward Stephan Umfress adds 18.6.
Millington (19-5) vs. Flint Beecher (23-1) at Burton Bendle
Millington finished second in the TVC East that produced Class B quarterfinalist Essexville Garber, and the Cardinals are seeking their first Semifinal berth. They’re led by a talented backcourt of junior point guard Shawn Pardee (25.6 ppg) and senior shooting guard Austin LeVan (20.9). Beecher, meanwhile, is playing in its eighth straight Quarterfinal and seeking to return to the Semifinals after missing last season for the first time since 2009. Senior guard Cedric Moten leads three averaging double-digit points at 15.1 ppg.
Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (14-10) vs. Morenci (22-2) at Kalamazoo Loy Norrix
Tri-unity Christian has navigated a tough schedule to return to the Quarterfinals for the third time in five years. Three players average nine points or more per game, led by senior 6-8 center Chris Osantowski at 11 ppg. Morenci has played only one Quarterfinal – in 1954 in Class C – but improved steadily from eight to 13 to 22 wins over the last three seasons and has won its last seven games by 12 or more points. Senior guard Austin Sandusky runs the show, averaging 14.1 points and four assists per game.
Waterford Our Lady (24-0) vs. Genesee Christian (17-6) at West Bloomfield
Our Lady will play in its first Quarterfinal since 1993. The team is a combined 41-6 in two seasons under coach Paul Robak and led by a pair for sharp-shooting 6-4 guards – senior Nick Robak averages 23.6 points per game and has made 63 3-pointers, and junior Andrew Kline averages 13.2 points and 6.6 assists per game and has 42 treys. Genesee Christian has played in one other Quarterfinal, in 2006. The Soldiers should be ready for another tough opponent after facing a number of larger schools this season playing as an independent. Seniors Travis Rose and Logan Mowry key a productive frontcourt; Rose averages 14.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 3.9 steals per game, with Mowry at 14.8 points and 7.2 rpg.
Fulton (20-4) vs. Frankfort (22-2) at Cadillac
Fulton is back in the Quarterfinals for the first time since finishing Class D runner-up in 2011, and similar to that season can cause damage from behind the 3-point arc. The Pirates have made 209 3-pointers, with junior guard Colton Antes drilling 74 and senior Gregg Jones, the team’s leading scorer (16.9 ppg), connecting on another 54. Frankfort is playing in its third straight Quarterfinal and is led by the standout from last season’s Semifinal run. Senior 6-3 center David Loney sets the pace at 18.8 points and 8.9 rebounds per game for the Northwest Conference champ.
Hillman (23-1) vs. Powers North Central (24-0) at Sault Ste. Marie
Hillman has won at least 21 games the last two seasons and three of the last seven, but will play in its first Quarterfinal having lost this season only to Cedarville in the opener Dec. 9. Three players combine to average 50 points per game, led by senior guard Mason VanPamel at 25 ppg. Powers North Central will play in its third straight Quarterfinal and again is a high-powered scoring force – the Jets have put up at least 80 points seven times and more than 70 in 15 games. Sophomore guard Jason Whitens leads four averaging 9.9 ppg or more with 16.4.
PHOTO: Detroit Henry Ford guard James Towns, here against Detroit East English earlier this season, has played a big part in his team’s first Quarterfinal run since 1984. (Photo courtesy of the Detroit Public School League.)
HOWARDSVILLE - There is a sign that hangs inside Howardsville Christian School's tiny gymnasium that accurately depicts the mission for the Eagles during the 2023-24 boys basketball season.
It reads "In Jesus' name we play."
Ken Sparks and the eight players on his varsity basketball roster have challenged themselves to help one another understand what it means to give their season to God.
"My goal is to help these boys find gratitude in playing for a greater power than themselves," said Sparks, a varsity standout himself at Howardsville from 1996-2000, member of the 1,000-point club and an honorable mention all-stater his senior year.
Nestled on the border between St. Joseph and Cass counties along Bent Road, Howardsville Christian, a Division 4 school for its sports with fewer than 80 students, has enjoyed a rich tradition of spiritual learning both in the classroom and on the court and playing fields.
The contribution of many talented athletes from several families has been instrumental in Howardsville's athletic success for years, especially this school year.
Howardsville won District titles this fall in boys soccer and girls volleyball. Now the Eagles hope to carry that momentum over to the basketball court.
With four starters returning, Sparks is looking for Howardsville’s boys team to battle for supremacy in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph League and improve on a 13-10 record from last season. The Eagles finished 7-7 in the league last winter and endured a disappointing District Semifinal loss to Marcellus. Howardsville Christian had won its District the season in 2021.
"We competed well with all the teams on our schedule and lost to some teams we shouldn't have," Sparks said. "There are eight teams in our conference, and this season we need to beat Benton Harbor Countryside to be the top team. It's been a good league for us."
Senior twin brothers Colin and Dylan Muldoon return for Howardsville, along with junior cousin Kaden Sparks, son of the head coach, and junior John Paul Rose.
The Muldoon brothers both are beginning their third year as varsity starters.
"Working together as a team is something we really want to do well. A lot of teams set a goal of winning Districts. The last two years we've fallen short of that goal. It's definitely something we want to achieve this year," Colin Muldoon said.
Dylan Muldoon echoed that sentiment.
"Our success in soccer makes us want to attain the same goals in basketball. We know we are capable of reaching those, so I think it makes us want to pull things together," Dylan Muldoon said. "There's a lot of long-distance running in soccer, but there's also a lot of quickness and turning in basketball, especially when you're guarding or driving around someone. You just have to be quick."
Kaden Sparks, another three-year starter, will be Howardsville's best shooting guard.
"Winning Districts is achievable. We have to learn to work together. I played summer ball, and the biggest takeaway is that it taught me that I have to always give 100-percent effort out there. We had a great soccer season, and It’s taught us a lot about accountability," Kaden Sparks said.
Rose will be Howardsville Christian's starting point guard. He has been a starter since his freshman year, along with Kaden Sparks.
"The team chemistry and communication we had in soccer easily transfers over to basketball. As our point guard, it's important for me to try to get the ball to other guys who have open looks," Rose said. "I want to be more aggressive defensively, push the ball up the floor more and increase my scoring."
In addition, Ken Sparks believes the physicality a majority of his team learned from soccer will be a big benefit on the basketball floor.
"You build up your physicality from playing soccer with having to always body up. Watching them play sometimes hurts me, but that's what I want them to do in basketball. It helps them to want to draw contact and be physical on the floor," Ken Sparks said.
The lack of upperclassmen on Howardsville's varsity the last couple of years gave Rose and Kaden Sparks an immediate opportunity to play as freshmen.
"The fact John Paul and Kaden had that early chance at the varsity level is really paying off now,” Ken Sparks added. “Kaden is an excellent shooter. I want him to get the confidence that I had when I was in high school. He tends to be a little more passive on the floor than I like, but he's finally getting that aggressive nature that you need offensively.”
Kaden, Colin Muldoon and Rose all averaged double-digit scoring last season, while Dylan Muldoon is the Eagles' best defensive player. The Muldoon brothers will serve as Howardsville's team captains.
"Kaden is very self-motivated to become a better basketball player. His goal is to be the best player that he can be," Ken Sparks said. "John Paul is explosive and has really refined his jump shot to where he can be a scoring threat. He sees the floor very well and can really push the ball up the floor without turning it over. We're going to see big strides from him because of his determination and drive.
"Colin is a great overall player. He's a threat from the outside and can score inside with his height as well. If we're going to be successful, he and Dylan have to bring the same drive that John Paul and Kaden bring to the court.”
"I've coached all of the guys on our team for the last three seasons except one,” Sparks added. “We talk about being well-rounded. These guys are the best academically and spiritual leaders in our school."
Howardsville Christian’s most well-known alumni is Dylan Jergens, the third-leading scorer in state history with 2,782 career points.
During the fall soccer season, the Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose helped Howardsville win a second-straight District title. The Eagles then lost 5-0 in the Regional Semifinal to eventual Division 4 champion Muskegon Western Michigan Christian. Both Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose were named to the first-team all-BCS and District soccer squads.
The Muldoons were the two main catalysts in the Eagles' soccer run, along with Lukas Krueger. Dylan Muldoon had 28 goals and nine assists, while Colin Muldoon posted 14 goals and eight assists. Krueger added 19 goals to go with 16 assists. Kaden Sparks had five goals and four assists, and Rose added three goals and three assists.
Steve Muldoon, Colin and Dylan's father and Howardsville's head boys soccer coach, sees many correlations between soccer and basketball that will bring the Eagles success in hoops this winter.
"Communication is key. A team that doesn't talk on the field/court isn't going to win. They learn how to correct and encourage one another to deal with problems without getting too negative," Steve Muldoon said. "Individually, they learn how to anticipate. There isn't much difference between anticipating a pass and stepping in front of it in soccer or basketball or making a hard run down the court/field to get open for a layup/counterattack. They learn how to react and make the correct decision under pressure. The skills needed to do it in soccer and basketball are different, but most of it is mental and that carries over."
Determination was another big factor for Howardsville's soccer success this fall.
"We beat Lansing Christian this fall in a weekend soccer tournament and they are a much bigger and physical team than us, but we managed to beat them," Colin Muldoon said. "That win gave us a lot of confidence for the remainder of the season that we could beat anyone."
The family dynamic doesn't stop with Howardsville's boys basketball team.
Senior Kyla Sparks, Ken's daughter and Kaden's older sister, is one of three cousins on the roster for a Howardsville girls team that finished 12-11 last year. All five starters are back for that Eagles team as well.
"As a team, we want to improve on last year's record. With all our starters back, we feel we have a good shot to finish at the top of both our conference and District. Most of our basketball team also played volleyball this fall, and we view us all as family," Kyla Sparks said. "Being able to play with my two cousins makes good lifelong memories."
Kyla Sparks, who averaged 12 points per game her junior year, starts with sophomore cousins Kelsie Muldoon and Kate Evans. Those three also started on the varsity volleyball team that captured its first District title since 1997.
Coincidently, the mothers of Kyla, Kelsie and Kate were all on the 1997 District champion volleyball team.
Scott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Colin Muldoon drives to the basket against his twin brother Dylan Muldoon during recent Howardsville Christian boys basketball practice. (Middle) Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. (Below) The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (Top and middle photos by Scott Hassinger. District championship photos courtesy of Howardsville Christian School.)