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.)
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.)