Breslin Bound: Boys Quarterfinal Preview

March 21, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The final week of the 2015-16 boys basketball season finds five undefeated teams among the 32 set to play Quarterfinals on Tuesday. 

And they're joined by a number of others playing in this final week for the first time, or at least the first time in a long time. 

See below for a glance at all 16 Quarterfinals and come back to Second Half all week for team-by-team previews of the semifinalists and coverage of all 12 games plus video highlights from the Breslin Center this weekend. 

All games Tuesday tip off at 7 p.m. unless noted. 

Class A

Ypsilanti Community (22-1) vs. Detroit U-D Jesuit (25-0) at University of Detroit Mercy (5 p.m.)

This might be the spotlight game statewide on this night with a pair of elite seniors facing off – recently-crowned Mr. Basketball Cassius Winston of U-D Jesuit and award finalist Corey Allen of Ypsilanti Community. Allen is averaging just above 23 points per game, while Winston leads the Cubs with 21.2 and 7.2 assists per game. 

Macomb Dakota (25-0) vs. Midland (17-6) at Grand Blanc

Both programs will take significant strides just by stepping on the floor. Dakota, long seen as a Class A contender this winter, will play in its first Quarterfinal, while surprise Midland will make its first appearance since 1979. Junior Jermaine Jackson paces the Cougars at 21 points per game, while senior Payton DeWildt scores 16.7 to lead the Chemics.

North Farmington (22-2) vs. Sterling Heights Stevenson (20-3) at University of Detroit Mercy

North Farmington also is making its first Quarterfinal appearance, also led by a standout guard, senior Billy Thomas at 21 points per game. Stevenson is back in the final week for the first time since 1983, led by a trio of seniors averaging between 11-13 ppg: Mylon Weathers, Vince Ramaci and Luke Lamoreaux.

Lansing Everett (15-10) vs. Hudsonville (19-5) at Lansing Eastern

This Quarterfinal pits two of the biggest upset producers of the Regional Finals – Lansing Everett, which downed undefeated East Lansing after falling to the Trojans twice during the regular season, and Hudsonville, which upended annual power Muskegon. Both are anchored by senior guards, the Eagles by 6-foot-5 Riley Costen (17 ppg) and the Vikings by 6-3 Jamyrin Jackson (16.8 ppg). 

Class B

Detroit Henry Ford (17-6) vs. New Haven (22-2) at St. Clair Shores Lake Shore

Last season’s Class B runner-up, Ford has won 12 of its last 14 games with senior guard James Towns leading the way at 23 points and 5.7 assists per game. New Haven lost to Ford 61-55 in a Quarterfinal a year ago but has a difficult trio to stop in 6-11 senior Innocent Nwoko (10.6 ppg, 10 rpg), 6-4 junior Eric Williams, Jr. (17.5 ppg), and 6-6 freshman Romeo Weems (15.5 ppg, 10.8 ppg, 4.6 apg).

Williamston (20-3) vs. River Rouge (22-3) at Charlotte

Williamston is playing with one of the state’s leading scorers in senior guard Riley Lewis (28.6 ppg) and some added inspiration after coach Jason Bauer left the team recently to undergo cancer treatments. River Rouge has one of the most storied programs in MHSAA history and is seeking to return to the Semifinals for the first time since 1999 and follow up the football team’s runner-up finish in the fall.

Essexville Garber (17-8) vs. Big Rapids (22-2) at Bay City Central

Garber has won Regional titles both seasons under second-year coach Chris Watz, who took over after two seasons as an assistant at Olivet College. Junior forward Demetri Martin (19.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg) leads a Big Rapids team that has won Regional titles three of the last four seasons.

Stevensville Lakeshore (18-7) vs. Hudsonville Unity Christian (16-8) at Vicksburg

Lakeshore is back in its first Quarterfinal since 2013 led by 6-11 senior center Braden Burke, who averages 15.9 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. Unity Christian is playing in its first Quarterfinal since 2008, also keyed by a post player, 6-4 senior forward Mitchel Takens (15.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg). 

Class C

Kalamazoo Hackett (24-0) vs. Grandville Calvin Christian (19-4) at Bangor

Hackett has rarely been tested with only two games in single digits on the way to its first Quarterfinal since 1969. Senior guard Dane Preston leads a solid group of scorers at 18.6 ppg. Calvin Christian is making its deepest run since 2010 and can top 20 wins for the fourth time in eight seasons if senior Tony DeWitte (18.2) and teammates can lock up one more.

McBain (25-0) vs. Ishpeming Westwood (12-12) at Petoskey

McBain has had a number of fantastic runs under 22-year coach Bruce Koopman, but none that’s seen the Ramblers undefeated this late. Craig Sterk, Cole Powell and Logan Eling all score between 14-15 points per game. Westwood’s surprise run has it playing its first Quarterfinal since 2003 while riding the hot hands of an all-senior lineup.

Flint Beecher (22-2) vs. Ithaca (23-2) at Troy Athens

Reigning Class C champion Flint Beecher is playing for its fourth championship in five seasons and riding a 16-game winning streak. Ithaca, meanwhile, is playing in its first Quarterfinal since 1956 – but won’t be intimidated led in part by three starters who played prominent roles on the Division 6 championship football team.  

Hanover-Horton (23-2) vs. Detroit Loyola (20-5) at Tecumseh

Hanover-Horton has won 15 straight District titles and returned to the Quarterfinals last season, advancing all the way to a Semifinal against Beecher. Loyola is known much more for football as a regular finalist at Ford Field, but will make its first Quarterfinal appearance in hoops after downing 18-win Detroit Allen Academy and Riverview Gabriel Richard and 21-win Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central along the way. 

Class D

Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (19-5) vs. Adrian Lenawee Christian (17-7) at Coldwater

Wyoming Tri-unity Christian has been a near-regular during the final week, but is seeking to advance to the Semifinals for the first time since 2013. Senior guard Willie Otole leads at 15.1 ppg. After finishing Class D runner-up in 2014, Lenawee Christian fell to .500 last winter, but is back in contention led by sophomore 3-point ace Trey Helinski (14 ppg).

Waterford Our Lady (20-4) vs. Marine City Cardinal Mooney (17-7) at West Bloomfield

Our Lady brings back three starters this week from the team that missed the Class D Final a year ago by a point – including senior guard Andrew Kline (18.5 ppg). Cardinal Mooney will make its second Quarterfinal appearance and first since 2010, led by sophomore guard Daniel Everhart at 17.2 ppg.

Fulton (18-6) vs. Bellaire (24-1) at Traverse City West, 6 p.m.

The Pirates will play in their second straight Quarterfinal and are led by senior guard Colton Antes, who is set the graduate as one of the top 3-point shooters in MHSAA history. Bellaire’s only loss this season was to eventual 20-win Class C East Jordan. The Eagles start four seniors and rely on three more off the bench.

Onaway (21-4) vs. Powers North Central (25-0) at Sault Ste. Marie

Onaway has put together an impressive rise, adding to its win total the last five seasons under coach Eddy Szymoniak after the team went 1-20 in 2011 in his debut. The Cardinals could add their biggest highlight yet by taking down reigning champion North Central, which hasn’t lost since 2015. 

PHOTO: Ypsilanti Community takes on Macomb Dakota in one of the state's most anticipated Quarterfinals on Tuesday. (Photo by Betsy Howell.)

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.)