Broken Wrist Doesn't Break Season

March 29, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Never has a basketball player looked forward this much to shooting an airball.

That’s what Carson Vincent is expecting two months from now, when he gets to fire with his right hand again, just like he has most of his life – until breaking a bone in his right wrist during a 7 on 7 football drill at the end of last summer.

It’s incredible how much would’ve been lost if the Ovid-Elsie senior hadn’t been unknowingly tough and uncommonly flexible.

Vincent played a full season of football not knowing how badly he’d injured his wrist. Once he learned of the break in late November, he decided to play on – learning to shoot with his left hand and finishing his career as the Marauders’ second-leading score all-time while leading them to their best season in 25 years.

And the 6-foot-5 forward saw a clear parallel in the shared team and individual successes.

“It’s the same answer for both,” Vincent said. “Individually I wasn’t doing it for me; I was doing it for the team. I knew they wanted me out there, my family wanted me to be out there, and I wanted to be part of everything.

“The reason the team did well is we all wanted each other to be successful, to win a championship, to see each other happy.”

Ovid-Elsie finished 18-5 this winter, first in the Tri-Valley Conference West and as a Class B District champion. The league title was the program’s first since 1984, and the District its first since 1994.

Individually, Vincent began the winter coming off an all-state season as a junior, when he averaged 17.7 points and eight rebounds per game and set a school record for field goal percentage at 60.8.

With only 20 percent mobility in his dominant right hand, he was forced to become ambidextrous. “Amazingly” – to agree with coach Josh Latz’ description – Vincent upped his scoring to 20.4 points per game, grabbed 7.7 rebounds and added 2.1 assists, a block and a steal per game – and broke his school record by making 62 percent of his shots from the floor.

Vincent learned to shoot free throws left handed and became a better ball handler as well. Despite being able to throw up only an occasional floater right-handed, he became the third 1,000-point scorer in school history and finished with 1,026 points, 441 rebounds, 86 blocks, 74 assists and 60 steals over a three-year varsity career.

“Carson's toughness and resiliency this season was incredible. To be able to accomplish the things he did individually, with the hand he was dealt is remarkable,” Latz said.

“His biggest growth was as a teammate with his unselfishness to put teammates and team success ahead of his health and well-being. That being said, the successes we had as a team were in direct correlation with Carson's leadership and the example of physical and mental toughness he set for us.”

Vincent knew exactly when he was injured. He caught a touchdown pass  running backward during that 7 on 7 about a week before the start of practice at the end of summer, and he fell – catching himself by falling directly on the wrist.

Despite some pain, he started football practice and did all the drills. A receiver and cornerback, he noticed when he dropped some passes he’d otherwise pull in – but he still helped the football team to a 7-3 playoff season.

On the day of the basketball team’s preseason scrimmage, he had the wrist checked out by a doctor who helps out with the Marauders. Diagnosis: broken and shifted bones. But Vincent already had made it through football season and decided to put off surgery until he could no longer manage the pain. He played in the scrimmage that day, although he couldn’t bend the wrist. He tried taping for a while, but gave up on that quickly because it just didn’t feel right.

And the difficulties didn’t come just at practice. Writing was doable but made his arm tired. Eating, even out of a bowl with a spoon, was not as easy as it would seem. Driving was a challenge for a bit. Sometimes he couldn’t open a door. He couldn’t shake people’s hands.

“Sometimes I’d get down on myself. Sometimes it’s frustrating,” Vincent said. “Before I went to the doctor’s office, I knew something was wrong with it – I wasn’t numb to the fact. Once I got told, obviously it was upsetting. All the what-ifs happen – what happens if I fall on it, will I be able to play, what if the pain is too much one day? It was really sad, but I got through it. I took it one day at a time. I wasn’t thinking about a week from now. I just got through what I could.”

He did sit out some parts of practice. Latz would pull him out of games to be cautious, but Vincent would ask right back in. A few opponents knew because they were Vincent’s friends, but mostly the team kept the injury an internal secret.

The Marauders’ season ended in a Regional Semifinal loss to Bridgeport on March 12, and three days later Vincent had surgery that included inserting bone from elsewhere in his arm and putting in a screw to hold everything together.

He’s wearing a cast now, and will switch to a splint in four weeks. He’s missing his track team’s first three meets, but will return after spring break next week – he runs the 200, 400 and on the 800 and 1,600 relays.

He’s planning to play college basketball. He has Division III opportunities and could also play at the junior college level to start out. Wherever he ends up, he’ll bring a much more well-rounded game – a lot of good that came out of what could’ve been a sad situation.

“First of all, (even without hurting) my wrist, if someone would’ve asked me if my team would do this, I would’ve told them I honestly don’t know,” Vincent said. “That alone surprised me. … It’s all shocking to me, to be able to do as good as a team, and I was able to do good individually also.

“Before this I was good left-handed, but I easily could say right-handed I was better. Now, honestly, my left hand is better than my right hand. I’ve learned new moves, I can do right and left hand now. Obviously I wish I hadn’t broken my wrist. But there were a lot of benefits to my game. I’ll take the good things and move on from it.”

Geoff Kimmerly joined the MHSAA as its Media & Content Coordinator in Sept. 2011 after 12 years as Prep Sports Editor of the Lansing State Journal. He has served as Editor of Second Half since its creation in Jan. 2012. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Barry, Eaton, Ingham, Livingston, Ionia, Clinton, Shiawassee, Gratiot, Isabella, Clare and Montcalm counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Carson Vincent chases down a loose ball against Bridgeport this season. (Middle) Vincent throws down a dunk against Ithaca. (Photos courtesy of the Ovid-Elsie boys basketball program.)

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.)