C-D Preview: All Eyes on Thursday

March 22, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

It's rare that Michigan's smallest schools are the headliners of the MHSAA's Boys Basketball Finals. 

But as the final weekend of the tournament gets underway Thursday, the evening session's first game arguably is the most intriguing matchup of the entire event. 

Two-time reigning Class D champion Powers North Central will try to extend the longest active winning streak in the country against a recent three-time champion in Southfield Christian that played in Class C the last two seasons. The Jets have won 81 straight games, breaking the MHSAA record with their 66th straight victory earlier this winter. 

That's just one of what should be an entertaining collection of games in Class C and D this weekend. All four Class C and D Semifinals will be played Thursday, with all four championship games Saturday. 

Semifinals - Thursday
Class C

Detroit Edison PSA (14-11) vs. Flint Beecher (21-5), 1 p.m. 
Grand Rapids Covenant Christian (20-5) vs. Manton (21-4), 2:50 p.m.

Class D
Powers North Central (26-0) vs. Southfield Christian (21-5), 6 p.m. 
Lansing Christian (19-6) vs. Buckley (25-0), 7:50 p.m.

Finals - Saturday
Class A - Noon
Class B - 6:30 p.m.
Class C - 4:30 p.m. 
Class D - 10 a.m.

Tickets cost $8 per pair of Semifinals and $10 per two-game Finals session. All Semifinals will be streamed live on MHSAA.tv on a pay-per-view basis. All four Finals will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Detroit. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on MHSAANetwork.com.

And now, a look at the semifinalists in Class C and D. Click on the name of the school to see that team’s full schedule and results from this season. (Statistics are through teams' Regional Finals.) The Boys Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.

Class C

14-11, unranked
League finish: Third in Detroit Public School League East Division 1
Coach: Brandon Neely, fourth season (56-33) 
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 61-48 over No. 2 Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in the Quarterfinal, 66-60 over Detroit Cornerstone Health & Technology in the Regional Final, 57-51 over Detroit Martin Luther King, 99-81 over Class A honorable mention Detroit East English, 68-67 over Detroit Osborn. 
Players to watch: Pierre Mitchell, Jr., 6-0 jr G; Gary Solomon, 6-5 jr. G (Statistics not submitted).
Outlook: Edison won its first Regional title to advance to this week and will now try to follow the example of its girls team, which won the Class C championship last weekend. The Pioneers joined the PSL this season and split with Class A King and East English and Class B quarterfinalist Osborn – and also avenged an earlier 26-point loss to Cornerstone by winning the Regional Final. Solomon made the all-state first team, and Mitchell earned an honorable mention.

21-5, Tied for No. 4
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference Red
Coach: Mike Williams, 13th season (250-76)
Championship history: Seven MHSAA titles (most recent 2016), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 59-57 over Class A No. 6 Detroit U-D Jesuit, 72-57 and 88-63 over Lake Fenton, 63-54, 77-73 and 80-64 (District Quarterfinal) over Flint Hamady. 
Players to watch: Malik Ellison, 5-7 sr. G (23.8 ppg, 64 3-pointers); Jordan Roland, 5-11 sr. G (12.6 ppg); Levane Blake, 6-7 sr. C (7.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 3.7 bpg).
Outlook: Beecher has won the last two Class C championships and four of the last five, and enters with the Class C Player of the Year from The Associated Press in Ellison – who with Blake and Roland started in last season’s championship game (Ellison and Blake also started in the 2015 Final). Blake and Roland both earned all-state honorable mentions this season to go with Ellison’s top honor. The losses were all to Class A and B teams, including B semifinalist New Haven (in triple overtime) and reigning champion Detroit Henry Ford

20-5, unranked
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Tyler Schimmel, third season (48-20)
Championship history: Class D champion in 1994, 1993 and 1973. 
Best wins: 51-50 over Muskegon Heights Academy in the Regional Final, 56-52 (2OT) over No. 7 Pewamo-Westphalia in the Regional Semifinal, 80-67 over Class D No. 8 Lansing Christian, 61-47 over Spring Lake. 
Players to watch: Carson Meulenberg, 6-6 jr. F (13.4 ppg, 6.5 rpg); Benji Kuiper, 6-0 sr. G (10.6 ppg, 49 3-pointers, 5.1 apg).
Outlook: Covenant Christian is back at the Semifinals for the first time since 1994 and for the first time ever as a Class C school. The Chargers played a regular-season schedule filled with larger schools, making their streak of 13 wins over their last 14 games especially impressive. Kuiper earned an all-state honorable mention and distributes to a starting lineup with four juniors. In addition to Kuiper’s sharp-shooting, teammate Tyler Cammenga had 64 3-pointers entering the week; he and forward Trenton Koole both add 9.1 ppg.

21-4, unranked
League finish: Second in Highland Conference
Coach: Ryan Hiller, 11th season (123-119)
Championship history: Class C (Lower Peninsula) champion 1946, Class C runner-up 1996.  
Best wins: 51-49 (OT) over Negaunee in the Quarterfinal, 54-48 over No. 1 McBain in the Regional Final, 58-32 over Beaverton, 52-48 over Petoskey, 76-72 over Traverse City West. 
Players to watch: Jayden Perry, 5-7 jr. G (16 ppg, 53 3-pointers); Hunter Ruell, 5-8 jr. G (12.7 ppg, 3.6 apg, 50 3-pointers). 
Outlook: Manton’s only two losses over its last 17 games were to undefeated Buckley and McBain, which Manton then upset during the tournament. The Rangers have increased their win total for four straight seasons. Perry earned an all-state honorable mention and has the most attempts among a trip of sharp shooters – in addition to Perry and Ruell, sophomore guard Trevor Salani also had 48-pointers entering the week and averages 11 points per game.

Class D

25-0, No. 4
League finish: First in Northwest Conference
Coach: Blair Moss, fourth season (53-36)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 48-37 over Wyoming Tri-unity Christian in the Quarterfinal, 50-38 and 56-41 over No. 8 Frankfort, 77-73 over Manton, 78-39 and 63-60 over Maple City Glen Lake.
Players to watch: Denver Cade, 6-2 jr. G (21 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.6 apg); Austin Harris, 6-3 jr. C (18.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 5.5 apg, 2.4 bpg).
Outlook: Buckley has advanced to its first Semifinals with only two wins by fewer than 10 points this season and without a senior in the starting lineup. The Bears set the tone with a District title in 2016, and have simply dominated led by Cade, an all-state first-team selection, and honorable mention pick Harris. Those two also had combined for 103 3-pointers heading into this week, both making more than half their attempts from behind the arc. Junior guard Joe Weber adds another 10.9 points and 3.5 assists per game.

19-6, Tied for No. 8
League finish: Tied for first in Greater Lansing Activities Conference
Coach: Chris Mustaine, first season (19-6) 
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.  
Best wins: 63-36 over Webberville in the District Semifinal, 74-63 over Olivet, 54-39 over Wyoming Tri-unity Christian, 56-42 over Leslie.
Players to watch: Matt Havey, 6-1 sr. G (17.9 ppg, 58 3-pointers); Preston Granger, 6-4 sr. C (15.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg).
Outlook: Lansing Christian is back at the Breslin Center for the first time since 2013 and after bouncing back from a brief lull at the end of the regular season. The Pilgrims dropped three of their final four games before the playoffs, but stormed back to win all of their tournament games by at least 10 points. Havey is an impressive shooter; the all-state first-teamer was hitting 42 percent of his 3-point tries entering the week. Granger also earned an all-state honorable mention, and senior guard Forrest Bouyer adds 10 points, 6.2 assists and 3.9 steals per game.

26-0, No. 1
League finish: First in Skyline Central Conference West
Coach: Adam Mercier, 11th season (186-78)
Championship history: Class D champions 2016, 2015 and 1984.
Best wins: 74-61 over No. 3 Hillman in the Quarterfinal, 75-73 over Dollar Bay in the Regional Semifinal, 76-29, 84-52 and 79-60 (District Final) over No. 7 Bark River-Harris.
Players to watch: Jason Whitens, 6-5 sr. G (22.6 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 6.1 apg, 3.1 spg); Dawson Bilski, 6-3 sr. G (19.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 4.0 apg).
Outlook: North Central has now won 81 straight games, including through two straight Class D title runs. Whitens was named Class D co-Player of the Year by The Associated Press and was a Mr. Basketball Award finalist, and Bilski also made the all-state first team. They’ve both started on all three Breslin teams, while senior guard Bobby Kleiman (10.6 ppg) was a main sub the last two seasons and senior guard Marcus Krachinski (10.6 ppg) played a big role off the bench during last season’s run. A number of players also were part of the last two 8-player football MHSAA champions. Bilski will continue next season at Michigan Tech, and Whitens is choosing from a number of college options.

21-5, No. 2
League finish: First in Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue
Coach: Josh Baker, sixth season (110-18)
Championship history: Class D champions 2014, 2013 and 2012.
Best wins: 64-42 over No. 10 Fowler in the Quarterfinal, 72-65 over North Farmington, 87-77 over West Bloomfield, 73-55 over Detroit Cornerstone Health & Technology.
Players to watch: Bryce Washington, 6-3 jr. G (18.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg); Brock Washington, 6-4 sr. G (13.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg).
Outlook: Southfield Christian played in Class C the last two seasons and won two District titles, and returns to Class D with plenty of star power again. Washington was named co-Player of the Year with Whitens, and Brock Washington also made the all-state first team. Sophomore guards Harlond Beverly (12.4 ppg) and Caleb Hunter (11.6) also offer scoring punch, and all four had at least 22 3-pointers this season entering this week. Three losses came to Class A teams, and the other two came to teams in Class B including one to semifinalist River Rouge. 

PHOTO: Powers North Central's Bobby Kleiman (21) drives around a Bark River-Harris defender during their first matchup this season. (Photo by Paul Gerard)

'Invaluable' Hancock Nearing Half-Century of Service to Cheboygan Athletics

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

December 2, 2022

When Cheboygan hosts Ogemaw Heights next week to kick off a new boys basketball season, those attending will see something special.

And really, for Cheboygan and its opponents, it’s nothing new. It’s been going on for five decades.

The special part? Scott Hancock, junior varsity coach and assistant varsity coach, is starting his 47th year coaching at the school. Forty-five of those years have been in the same role he has this season.

“It really just means I’m getting old, but I feel very fortunate to be able to do something that I love for this long,” Hancock, himself a Cheboygan product of 1976, reflected on his tenure. “To be honest, I never really thought about how long I would do it. It’s just something I love doing, so I never really put a number on how long I would do it.”

As the campaign starts, though, he has thoughts of coaching high school basketball for six and possibly seven decades before he hangs it up. He has coached his sons — Nick, who owns the Cheboygan career steals record; and Brian, the leader in career made 3-pointers — and now he’s looking forward to the possibility of coaching his two grandchildren, Landon Gahn and Lincoln Hancock.

“Well, all I can say is I have a grandson that is 3 years old, and I would love to hang around coaching until he graduates,” Hancock said of how long he thinks he’ll stay in coaching. “I have loved every year. 

“I have coached with a lot of great coaches who are all great friends to this day.”

Included among those coaches are his two sons, who served as assistants for Cheboygan, and Jason Friday, the current varsity coach who also played for Hancock during the early 1990s – a time when Hancock briefly stepped in to fill a varsity coaching vacancy after the sudden departure of the previous head coach.

Friday, who also serves as the school’s athletic director, is not at all surprised his former coach is still in the game. It became a factor in Friday’s decision to take over the boys program three years ago.

“If you're a boy who grew up in Cheboygan, there's a good chance that Scott coached you in something,” Friday said. “He has a grandson who is in eighth grade, and he wants to coach him.

“So yes, I knew he was going to be around for several more years.”

And next week, Friday will be thrilled to have Hancock alongside him on the court as Cheboygan opens up with the Falcons.

“Today, I don't look at Scott as one of my former varsity coaches — he's a friend,” Friday said. “We're friends more than anything, and that makes coaching even more fun for me.   

“Most importantly, having someone on the bench that you can trust is invaluable.”

Hancock, second from left, confers last season with assistant Matt Mylnarchek, head coach Jason Friday and player Dylan Balazovic. Hancock, who was helping with the boys program when Friday was coaching the Cheboygan girls team, began expecting to coach with his former player some time ago.

“I was very fortunate to have both my sons be assistant coaches for our varsity program,” said Hancock, who also has served decades coaching baseball and keeping stats for the football program. “But as far as being head coach, I always thought Jason would take over at some time.

“It’s awesome to have a former player running our program, but it is no surprise,” he continued. “Jason has always been a student of the game and is very detailed, and what he does, our program is in great hands.”

The mutual trust the coaches share has really benefited the Cheboygan student-athletes.

“I think it is important to have a JV coach who the head coach can trust that he has bought in to all of the beliefs of the head coach’s program,” Hancock noted. “Being loyal to your varsity coach and doing what’s best for your program is the most important aspect of JV coaching.

“And, getting kids to buy in to what it takes to play the game the right way.”

That’s one of the strengths Hancock brings to the basketball program, Friday singled out.

“Coach Hancock does a tremendous job teaching the fundamentals, but also does a great job communicating with the boys, making each one feel valued, even those who don't play as much,” Friday said. “He's at every practice.

“If there's an emergency and I need to step out for a minute and put my AD hat on, he can run practice and we don't miss a beat,” Friday continued. “He has a tremendous knowledge of the game and is a coach anyone would love on their bench.”

Hancock, who assists another former player, Kevin Baller, coaching the baseball team, has no thoughts of getting back into a varsity coaching position.

“I have no plans to coach at the varsity level, and the reason is because I have the best of both worlds by coaching JV,” said Hancock, who sees the 3-point shot as the biggest change in the game during his tenure. “Every coach that I have worked for lets me be involved with the varsity, so really I get to be involved in both.”

Friday recalls wishing as a player that Hancock had stayed at the helm when he took over temporarily. But, he loves having him coach with him today.

“After our junior season, we were told he was going back to JV,” Friday said.  “We tried to convince him to stay for one more year, but he wanted to go back.

“There's no way I could be varsity basketball coach and athletic director without having a JV coach like Scotty.”

Off the court successes in life are just as importance as athletic endeavors, Hancock indicated. In fact, those give him the most pride.

“Probably helping kids with off-the-court issues makes me feel better than anything,” he said. “Also hearing from the kids that I’ve coached after they graduate and how much they enjoyed their JV year.”

There aren’t many – if any – parent, player or community member names on a complaint list from Hancock’s first five decades, and there’s not likely to be any more in however many years are ahead.

“When you’ve coached in the same small town for nearly 50 years, you’d expect to have a few people upset with you, but not Scotty,” said Friday. “You can’t find a person who says something bad about him. 

“He’s extremely well-respected,” he continued. “You absorb his passion and love of the game just by being around him, and all of Cheboygan should be thankful (for) how much he's done for our community.”

Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at tomspencer@chartermi.net with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Cheboygan assistant boys basketball coach Scott Hancock offers some pointers during a scrimmage last week. (Middle) Hancock, second from left, confers last season with assistant Matt Mylnarchek, head coach Jason Friday and player Dylan Balazovic. (Photos courtesy of Jared Greenleaf/Cheboygan Daily Tribune.)