By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
After nearly four months, we’ll know by the end of tonight which 16 Michigan boys basketball teams will be “Breslin Bound” this weekend to play for this season’s championships.
We’re already guaranteed at least two new title winners when Saturday’s Finals are done, and there are plenty of storylines as a number of teams reached tonight’s Quarterfinals for the first time in a long time – or first time in their program’s histories.
Our final “Breslin Bound” report of 2018-19 – powered by MI Student Aid – takes a glance at all 16 Quarterfinals, which tip off at 7 p.m. unless noted. All Quarterfinals will be broadcast and viewable with subscription on MHSAA.tv. Come back Wednesday night for a more in-depth look at our 16 finalists as they head into this weekend.
Saginaw (22-3) vs. Howell (19-6) at Grand Blanc
After a rare down season a year ago, Saginaw is back at the Quarterfinals for the fourth time in eight seasons under coach Julian Taylor. Howell, coming off its first Regional title since 2014, follows talented senior guard Josh Palo (17.7 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.7 assists per game).
Ypsilanti Lincoln (20-4) vs. Detroit Martin Luther King (20-4) at University of Detroit Mercy, 5:30 p.m.
Lincoln freshman Emoni Bates has been perhaps even more exciting than anticipated, with game-winning shots in both of last week’s Regional wins just the latest highlights as he’s led the team to its first Regional title. King rebounded from two losses to end the regular season to win a District title for the second straight season and first Regional title since 2000.
Detroit U-D Jesuit (23-2) vs. Roseville (20-4) at University of Detroit Mercy, 7:30 p.m.
Jesuit will play in a Quarterfinal for the sixth straight season, this team with senior forward Daniel Friday (16.9) leading an attack with four scorers averaging at least 9.6 ppg. Roseville also lost its final two games of the regular season, but has won all five of its postseason matchups by at least 11 points on the way to its first Regional title since 1952.
East Kentwood (16-9) vs. Okemos (22-2) at Caledonia
Led by junior guard Ja’moni Jones (17.6 ppg), East Kentwood has bounced back from four straight losses to end the regular season and defeated a pair of league champions last week in Muskegon and Hudsonville to reach the Quarterfinals for the first time since 1998. Okemos held off DeWitt for the third time this season in their Regional Final to advance to the final week for the first time since 2012. Senior Evan Thomas (17.3 ppg) is the lead scorer.
Ludington (13-10) vs. Alma (19-3) at Mount Pleasant
Alma stunned previously-undefeated Bridgeport in a Regional Semifinal last week and will play its first Quarterfinal since 1999. Senior guard Camden Sutherland (11.1 ppg) is the high scorer for a balanced attack. Ludington, the Class B runner-up two seasons ago, lost five of its last six regular-season games but rebounded by winning a third straight District title. Senior Joshua Laman (15.8 ppg) leads in most statistical categories.
Grand Rapids South Christian (22-3) vs. Hudsonville Unity Christian (23-2) at Calvin College
The Sailors are coming off their first Regional title since winning the Class B championship in 2005, thanks to a two-point win over Grand Rapids Catholic Central on Thursday. The Sailors have their share of 3-point aces, and senior guards Luke Schrotenboer and Peyton Vis both score between 13-14 ppg. South Christian won its Dec. 21 meeting with Unity Christian 63-61, but the Crusaders are riding high after downing 2018 Class B champ Benton Harbor to win their second Regional title in four seasons. Senior TJ VanKoevering (13.8 ppg) is the leading scorer and rebounder.
Haslett (20-5) vs. River Rouge (21-2) at Chelsea
Haslett, in its first Quarterfinal since 2006, beat league champions Williamston and Parma Western on the way to the final week. Senior guard Ty Andrades (14.1 ppg, 65 3-pointers) leads four players averaging double-digit scoring. River Rouge, a Class B semifinalist last season, has wins over Ypsilanti Lincoln and Flint Beecher among others. Senior guard Nigel Colvin (13 ppg) leads three scorers averaging in double figures.
Harper Woods Chandler Park (20-0) vs. New Haven (24-1) at Ortonville Brandon
Newly-awarded Mr. Basketball Romeo Weems (27.9 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 4.1 apg, 4.2 spg) is looking to lead New Haven to its third straight Semifinal and second title in three seasons as the Rockets won Class B in 2017. Senior guard Ronald Jeffery III (21.9) also is a major contributor. Chandler Park can claim impressive wins over Detroit Edison, Macomb Dakota, Detroit Henry Ford and Ferndale as it moves from its first Regional title into the final week.
Iron Mountain (25-0) vs. Sanford Meridian (23-1) at Petoskey, 6 p.m.
Iron Mountain won a Regional title for the second straight season and is now a combined 48-2 over the last two. Junior guard Marcus Johnson and sophomore guard Foster Wonders are both scoring just above 23 points per game. Meridian is also playing in a Quarterfinal for the second straight season, entering tonight a combined 44-5 over the last two winters after handing previously-unbeaten Oscoda a 21-point defeat in the Regional Final.
Detroit Edison (18-7) vs. Flint Beecher (23-2) at St. Clair County Community College
This Quarterfinal pits the Class C champions of the last two seasons, both with similar success this season. Reigning champ Edison has wins over Benton Harbor and Canton and is led by senior forward Brian Taylor (16.6 ppg). Beecher has beaten Detroit Renaissance, Grand Blanc and Flint Carman-Ainsworth among others, keyed by junior guard Jalen Terry, and is seeking its fourth MHSAA title in five seasons.
Hanover-Horton (23-1) vs. Erie-Mason (22-2) at Tecumseh
Hanover-Horton will play in its third Quarterfinal over the last five seasons and first since 2016, with its only defeat this winter to Ohio’s Toledo St. Francis de Sales. Junior Luc Laketa scores 14 ppg to lead five averaging at least 9.3. Erie Mason won its first Regional title since 1973 and has wins over league champs Detroit Loyola and Petersburg Summerfield over the last two weeks. Junior guard Joe Liedel pours in 28 points with 5.1 assists per game.
Pewamo-Westphalia (25-0) vs. Cassopolis (23-1) at Richland Gull Lake
P-W has emerged from winning a league that produced three District champs and then defeated league champions Morley Stanwood and Carson City-Crystal during these playoffs. Senior Andre Smith has helped the Pirates reach the final week for the first time since 2014 by averaging a team-high 14.1 ppg. After going 24-1 a season ago but falling in the Regional Final, Cassopolis has broken through to make its first Quarterfinal since 1989. Senior guard Tyrese Hunt-Thompson scores 22 points per game, and sophomore forward Brayden Saxton adds 18 ppg.
Dollar Bay (20-4) vs. Pellston (23-2) at Escanaba
Dollar Bay finished second in its league but has won 13 of its last 14 games and defeated that league champion, Chassell, on the way to reaching the Quarterfinals again after making the Semifinals in 2018. Junior forward Ashton Janke (16.4) leads three scorers at 12 ppg or higher. Pellston won its first Regional title since 2012, downing previously-unbeaten Brimley in last week’s Regional Semifinal. Senior guard Tanner Byard scores 25.9 ppg and junior guard Blake Cassidy adds 23.
Southfield Christian (18-6) vs. Burton Genesee Christian (18-7) at West Bloomfield, 6 p.m.
Southfield Christian is the reigning Class D champion and has won 16 of its last 17 games. Senior guard Jon Sanders and junior guard Da’Jion Humphrey both average 16.5 points per game. Genesee Christian is coming off its first Regional title since 2005 and is 17-3 after a slow start in December.
Frankfort (19-5) vs. Big Rapids Crossroads (23-1) at Cadillac
Frankfort fell in its regular-season finale and then won its District opener by just two points in overtime, but has surged ahead to claim its first Regional title since 2015. Senior guard Will Newbold and sophomore guard Jack Stefanski both average 14 points per game. Crossroads won its first Regional title last week, with its only defeat of the season all the way back on Dec. 5 to Manistee Catholic Central. Senior guard Britton Angell leads at 26 ppg.
Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (21-3) vs. Bellevue (24-1) at Charlotte
In its third straight season with at least 22 wins, Bellevue has reached the final week for the first time after claiming its first Regional title. Senior guard Wyatt Waterbury scored 16.4 ppg to lead the way. Tri-unity is a regular at this stage but also back after missing out on the Quarterfinals last season after three straight appearances. Senior forward Bennett Sinner and freshman guard Brady Titus both score 12 ppg to lead a balanced effort.
Second Half’s weekly “Breslin Bound” reports are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Student Financial Services Bureau located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information, including various student financial assistance programs to help make college more affordable for Michigan students. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 savings programs (MET/MESP) and eight additional aid programs within its Student Scholarships and Grants division. Click for more information and connect with MI Student Aid on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
PHOTO: Okemos junior Noah Pruitt gets to the basket during the Chiefs’ Regional Final win over DeWitt last week at Holt. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)
GRAND RAPIDS – Bob Schichtel always pauses when he comes across the ancient black and white photo long enough to ponder whatever became of the two youngsters adorned in Grand Rapids Union basketball uniforms.
The posed shot shows two players facing each other in a local gymnasium in a photo apparently taken four days after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 that launched the country into World War II. Only a handful of fans today would recognize the players' striped, ultra-short shots and simple sleeveless shirts with "Union" emblazed across the front as recognizable basketball uniforms. One holds a battered-looking basketball, while the other looks on. The two players, whose uniform numbers are "4" and "9," aren't really smiling, but still seem as close as any teammates, whether 81 years ago or today.
In fact, it's the look the youngsters share that intrigues Schichtel, whose thankless, pro bono job it is to identify the two players.
"Once you start," said Schichtel, a former longtime Grand Rapids basketball coach, "it's like looking down a deep rabbit hole."
Schichtel works as a volunteer for the Grand Rapids Public Library trying to identify mostly former Grand Rapids City League basketball players from approximately 1938 through the early fifties. The online photos are mostly from the Robinson Photo Studio Collection taken in conjunction with the Grand Rapids Herald newspaper. The library says the unique collection spans some 950 basketball negatives from the entire Robinson/Herald collection that totals well over 900,000 Grand Rapids photos.
While the work – which amounts to a ton of patience combined with a detective ability – can be exhausting, it's still what Schichtel describes as a labor of love. For example, there's the shot of the two still-unidentified Union players. Schichtel looks at the photo and can't help but wonder whatever happened to the kids. Were they exceptional athletes? Did they leave their marks on Grand Rapids history, whether it was in education, politics, business, industry, the arts or another field? He doesn't even know, as in many photos from this era, whether the two entered the military and thus even survived World War II.
Schichtel has searched everywhere for the answers, but has come up short. Too many times, in fact.
Which isn't to say he'll quit looking or chalk up his research as inconsequential. Schichtel said the foremost reason he spends hours on the project is that many of the athletes he identifies deserve the recognition for achievements far beyond basketball. In many cases former City League basketball, football, baseball, track and tennis athletes became the foundation on which Grand Rapids was built. If Schichtel can uncover an old photo which depicts these youngsters during their high school careers, so much the better, he said.
"It's important to recognize Grand Rapids sports history, and I don't know if we've given enough attention to their past," Schichtel said. "They are what got us here, and I'm a firm believer they need to be recognized for it."
Figuring out that history, however, ranges from, at the least, extremely time consuming to – in too many frustrating cases – virtually impossible. The City League was formed in the late 1920s and featured original schools Grand Rapids Central, Creston, South, Union, Ottawa Hills, Catholic Central and Davis Tech. The league was eventually folded into the Ottawa-Kent Conference in 2008.
"It was a long, evolving league," Schichtel said.
The identification tools available to Schichtel are actually more numerous than most would suspect. For starters, he's formed an impressive database of information by pouring through old City League yearbooks and programs, photos from other collections and microfilm of old newspapers, And then there's also the knowledge gathered by Schichtel himself, a 1968 Grand Rapids Catholic Central graduate. After playing in many old City League gymnasiums, Schichtel went on to compile a 389-197 record in 27 years as the Cougars girls basketball coach. He uses countless City League contacts as both a player and coach to identify athletes. In all, Schichtel taught in the Grand Rapids school system for 34 years.
He also uses the game itself to identify the photos. For instance, he can pinpoint some photos simply by the styles of the uniforms worn by players. He also figures out who is who by other clues such as what the players are doing in the photo. If a player is taking a set shot in the photo, it's likely pre-World War II. The beginnings of the jump shot, or what Schichtel calls "elevation while shooting," is probably mid-1940s. In addition, Schichtel can identify photos through pure basketball athleticism. Players can look a bit awkward in shots from the thirties as compared to players from the late 1940s who were beginning to play with a more obvious flare.
Put all the information together and Schichtel, who has uncovered more than two dozen personal connections to subjects in the photos, believes he has a reasonable shot at identifying them.
Since he signed on with the project, Schichtel figures he's identified about 10 percent of the photos he's viewed. Among the City League athletes he's found shots of Central's John Lavan, who was born in 1890 and played Major League Baseball during the Babe Ruth era and became a military hero who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery; Creston basketball player Roger Wilkins, an assistant United States attorney general during the Watergate hearings; Art Spoelstra of Godwin, a former NBA player and member of the Grand Rapids Hall of Fame; and Grand Rapids native Bill Cutler, who turned a chance post-World War II meeting with then-American League president Will Harridge into a position as commissioner of the Pacific Coast League,
Schichtel said gaining information through photos on the people who became the bedrock of Grand Rapids should be celebrated.
"I think it's a great approach for the community; they shouldn't be forgotten," Schichtel said. "Who else is going to do this? Why do I do it? I see a certain, for lack of a better word, a nobility. These kids played for the love of game, and they became the “Greatest Generation.” These kids did great things. It's not just, 'Well, there's No. 58,’ in a photo.
"You want to know more about them. That's the real intrigue for me."
Tim Gloege of the Grand Rapids Public Library said the collection of photos – and their identification – is continually growing. As more people log onto the library's website, more people want to either add to the collection or have information that leads to an identification. The library estimates about 1,200 photos are searched monthly. But as time grows, many of the original photos are disintegrating. The library is in a constant state of preservation, Gloege said.
"It's a massive project, and we're working to get as many photos online as possible," he said. "The numbers (of photos) we have are rising pretty significantly as people post them on social media.
"When you think of the past and now, you need to realize these are people, kids who used to play basketball and did other things. The work is hard and very time-intensive, but it brings a whole new dimension to history."
Schichtel said he's "kind of picked the low-hanging fruit" on many of the easy photos to identify. But the work will continue.
"Yes, it can be frustrating," he said. "There are limitations if you want it to be accurate. Sometimes you look at a photo and you know it's not going to happen, and you move on. But this a chance to learn about people who made Grand Rapids what it is. That's important to me."
PHOTOS (Top) Two Grand Rapids Union basketball players stand for a photo taken Dec. 12, 1941. (2) Longtime area coach Bob Schichtel researches hundreds of photos that are part of the Grand Rapids Public Library archive. (3) Schichtel has identified these 1941 Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills basketball players as James Horn (left) and Chuch Reynier. (4) Schichtel identified Grand Rapids South High’s “Fireman Five” of, from left, Fred Esslair, Lee Morrow, Jack Carroll, Bob Youngberg and Bruce Bigford. (Historic photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Library.)