By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Who would I pick to coach a Lansing area boys basketball Dream Team? Sportswriters get a lot of questions like that, from radio hosts or fans, or roommates who grew up nearby.
To not offend the other coaching friends I’d made in my decade-plus in Lansing, I kept that answer within the roommate circle for a long time – until I decided Okemos' Dan Stolz and Lansing Everett's Johnny Jones were so incredible their colleagues would understand my choice.
I could’ve never picked between them. Their styles different, the results were the same. Both had stars over their decades, but I also saw both do more with less and in ways that regularly went unmatched during the 13 years I was a twice-weekly watcher of high school hoops for the Lansing State Journal.
It’s only a coincidence that both decided to retire from coaching during this same summer. But it’s certainly a double loss for mid-Michigan specifically and the statewide basketball community as a whole.
So why were these guys my Dream Team combo?
- Of course, they won a lot.
According to a report from local HOMTV, Stolz finished with a record of 428-99 at Williamston and then Okemos, where he took over for his father Stan in 1994-95. That win total is only eight more than Dad's, giving the family 828 wins over roughly four decades.
Tracking down Jones’ record wasn’t as easy. But based on the paper trail I’ve been running since I got my start in Lansing, he had 334 wins after the 2003-04 season, which likely means he too finished right around 400 – with a few hundred more leading the Vikings girls.
And they were the kind of standout high school players too whose stories had become legend – Jones for Battle Creek Central once taking down a top-ranked team by himself, while it was said Stolz could still dunk into his 40s after playing for his dad and the Chieftains back in his day.
- They won at the highest levels.
Jones is one of only a handful who has won MHSAA championships with both girls and boys teams – his girls teams won Class A in 2000 and 2001 and his boys won Class A in 2004. Everett’s girls program, by the way, was near-winless just a few years before Jones took over and led it to its first run to a Final in 1999.
Stolz never got his MHSAA title, his Chieftains falling to Saginaw Arthur Hill 85-84 in the 2006 Class A Final – the only MHSAA boys title game ever to go two extra periods. But against what many locals considered long odds, Stolz led Okemos from the cozy Class B-dominated Capital Circuit into the highest division of the Capital Area Activities Conference, where the Chieftains continued to win against the likes of Everett, Lansing Sexton, Lansing Eastern, Holt, Grand Ledge, East Lansing and Jackson in what is arguably the toughest league in the state.
Another interesting “by the way:” Stolz did lead Okemos’ softball (1999) and girls tennis teams (1993) to MHSAA championships.
- They won by doing the things others weren’t.
Jones’ girls teams were loaded with talent – a number of players went on to major college programs – but they were unstoppable because of a fullcourt press that handcuffed opponents and set a trend that others like Lansing Waverly and East Lansing also used to win Class A titles. Jones' best boys teams had an all-state post combo of Derick Nelson and Goran Suton, but still had to contend with Grand Ledge’s Al Horford (now of the Atlanta Hawks) two and three times a season.
And, it must be noted that Jones was one of fewer than 20 coaches who continued coaching both the boys and girls teams even after the girls season was moved from fall to winter for 2007-08.
Stolz similarly had his share of good players – Johnathon Jones maybe the best of all. But again, playing in a league with a number of other similarly-talented players (and in the postseason against Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Kalin Lucas and others), Stolz was unmatched in Greater Lansing when it came to gameday strategy. His teams always had a plan, and frequently made it work when the odds seemed stacked against -- which made apparent upsets hardly surprises at all.
Stolz has been replaced by Jeff Wonch, who led Bath to the MHSAA Class C title in 2007. He most recently coached at Potterville. Jones' replacement is former Everett star Desmond Ferguson, who played briefly in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers and was a volunteer assistant for the Vikings last season.
We've got a long way to go before the stories of this season conclude with four MHSAA boys basketball champions crowned March 15 at Michigan State University's Breslin Center.
But the first week of the 2023-24 regular season gave us plenty to fill our first installment of “Breslin Bound” – our official tip-off to following more than 700 boys basketball teams through those final buzzers in East Lansing.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Flint Carman-Ainsworth 46, Flint Beecher 44 This was their first meeting since January 2022 and it provided a memorable start as the Cavaliers downed the reigning Division 3 champion.
2. Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 75, Ferndale 66 These two both have several new contributors, but big things will be expected again as well as Brother Rice regularly contends in Division 1 and Ferndale is the reigning Division 2 champion.
3. Lansing Waverly 58, Detroit Martin Luther King 57 Waverly took major strides last season doubling its win total from 2021-22 and could be on the verge of more coming off this impressive victory at the Detroit Douglass Tip-Off Classic.
4. Norway 49, Munising 48 After the Knights gave Munising a tough final regular-season test last season, the Mustangs went on to claim the Division 4 championship. Norway will attempt to build off back-to-back 15-7 seasons starting with this win.
5. Wyoming Tri-unity Christian 64, Grandville Calvin Christian 44 These two combined to finish 46-9 a season ago, when Calvin defeated Tri-unity 63-42 in the regular-season finale (although the Defenders rebounded to finish Division 4 runners-up).
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Rochester Adams (2-0) The Highlanders provided one of the best late-breaking stories of last season, reaching the Division 1 Quarterfinals after finishing fourth of five teams in a strong Oakland Activities Association Red that also featured North Farmington and Ferndale. The momentum started rolling again with wins last week over Milford 52-48 and Macomb L’Anse Creuse North 74-59.
Utica (2-0) Last season’s co-champion in the Macomb Area Conference Blue defeated MAC White reigning champion Port Huron Northern 68-49 in their opener and then Utica Eisenhower 56-41 at the MAC Champions of Champions event at Center Line. Utica improved to 15-7 last season after finishing 7-14 in 2021-22.
Dundee (2-0) After holding its own last season in a strong Lenawee County Athletic Association and finishing 13-12 overall, Dundee is hoping to turn a fast start last week into a climb up the standings with league play starting Friday. The Vikings doubled up East Jackson 52-26 and downed Milan 67-37 to start things off.
Goodrich (1-0) A 22-5 finish last season included a shared championship in the Flint Metro League Stars and a run to the Division 2 Quarterfinals, where the Martians fell by only five to eventual champion Ferndale. The second-to-last of those five losses came to Flint Beecher, 70-55, but Goodrich avenged it Friday with a 58-55 win over the Bucs.
Hillsdale (2-0) The Hornets finished just 4-19 last season, their second sub-.500 in a row. But the turnaround may be starting. Hillsdale is halfway toward last year’s win total after defeating Union City 53-45 and Jonesville 50-40 – and after losing to Union City 52-36 and Jonesville 39-23 last season, with Jonesville going on to finish 19-6.
Royal Oak Shrine Catholic (2-0) This is another team well on its way to bettering last season’s success by Jan. 1. After going 3-19 last winter, Shrine defeated Bloomfield Hills Roeper 48-30 and Utica Ford 55-52 in overtime last week. Ford had defeated the Knights 63-50 last season, and the 55 points Shrine scored this time would have been their second-highest total of 2022-23.
Adrian Lenawee Christian (2-0) Lenawee Christian finished last season on an 11-5 run after a 2-7 start, and might be rolling that right into this season as well after opening with a 74-60 win over Blissfield and 73-58 overtime victory over Hanover-Horton. Blissfield was among teams to deal the Cougars a loss during last season’s tough early stretch. Lenawee Christian is playing in the Tri-County Conference this winter after playing previously as an independent.
Wakefield-Marenisco (2-0) The Cardinals were a solid 13-10 last season, with the final week including a third win over Bessemer as they faced off in a District Semifinal, followed by a third loss to Ironwood in the District championship game. This season’s first week saw the same schedule, but a better outcome – Wakefield-Marenisco edged Bessemer 60-57 and this time defeated Ironwood 48-30. Ironwood was first and W-M third last season in the Copper Mountain Conference Porcupine Mountain.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – River Rouge (1-0) at Ferndale (1-1) – As noted above, Ferndale was last season’s Division 2 champion, and defeated Rouge 72-60 in last winter’s meeting.
Friday – Kalamazoo Central (0-0) at Battle Creek Central (0-0) – These longtime rivals finished first and third, respectively, in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East last season.
Saturday – Detroit Cass Tech (0-0) at Holt (1-0) – The Rams host the reigning Division 1 champion Technicians in the 4:30 p.m. game of the Moneyball Classic.
Saturday – Grand Rapids South Christian (0-0) vs. Rockford (1-0) at Calvin University – This will be the 10 a.m. opener of The Invite at Calvin University, with the reigning Division 2 runner-up Sailors taking on a Rockford team coming off an 18-win season.
Saturday – Grand Rapids Catholic Central (0-0) vs. Grand Rapids Northview (1-0) at Calvin University – This will cap off The Invite tipping approximately 7:35 p.m. and pitting last season’s Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold co-champion and White outright champion, respectively.
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PHOTOS (Top) A Westland John Glenn player gets to the basket during U-D Jesuit's season-opening 83-48 win over the Rockets. (Middle) Bath defenders surround a Charyl Stockwell player during the Sentinels' 63-55 victory. (Top photo by Olivia B. Photography; middle photo by Click by Christine McCallister.)