By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half
CHELSEA – Is anyone more excited about the start of prep basketball season than Josh Tropea?
With the calendar turning to November soon, we are only days away from the first boys basketball practice of the 2018-19 season. One of the biggest hardwood stories in southeast Michigan is that Tropea is back at Chelsea High School for his second stint as the head varsity coach there.
He wasn’t gone long – he stepped away for just two years to coach at Spring Arbor University – but Tropea has brought his high energy and passion for basketball, and his whole family, back to the high school ranks.
“I’m thrilled to be back,” Tropea said. “I love being in a packed gymnasium on a Friday night. I’m so looking forward to battles with Dexter and playing Ypsilanti and going on the road for games. I love it.”
Tropea said he stepped away from the college job for several reasons – including the time he was spending away from his family on the weekends and because the timing was right to come back. Mark Moundros resigned after two years when he moved from the area. Tropea said he wanted to ensure the program continued its upward path.
“I have two sons at Chelsea,” he said. “If Mark had stayed I would not be here. But, when Mark left, and they didn’t have a viable candidate at the time, I felt like I didn’t want to let my two years here, the two years I had invested before leaving, to fall apart. Mark did a great job. I’d love it if he stayed, but I felt like I owed it to the kids to come back and see this through.”
The college experience has changed his approach to the game.
“I loved my college experience – loved it. Absolutely no regrets,” Tropea said. “But, I tell you, they have a much better version of me now. My temperament is better. I think I see the bigger picture better. Spring Arbor is all about being the best person you can be. I think I’m better now, not just in the Xs and Os, but as a person, as a coach.”
Tropea was already pretty good.
A South Lyon native, he’s been a basketball junkie for years. He got his first high school coaching job at Walled Lake Western while still in college. He made stops at Whitmore Lake and Howell while looking for a permanent teaching job, then landed at Milan in what turned out to be a made-for-each-other job. In short time, he rejuvenated the Milan Big Reds program from two wins the season before he took over the varsity to a surprise run to the Class B championship in 2013-14.
It wasn’t so much of a surprise that the Big Reds won the title that season, but how quickly Tropea built them into a powerhouse. During the summer before the title run, Tropea had his troops playing games all over the state, lining up scrimmages and playing in shootouts and tournaments that exposed the Milan players to some of the other elite.
“We had a lot of kids come from struggling homes or from tough situations,” Tropea said of his time at Milan. “Those kids were not entitled kids. As a family, we were able to make an impact in so many ways. Team dinners were a big deal. That’s what made leaving Milan so hard.
“It was maybe the best five years of my life for my wife and I,” he added. “It was such an exciting time, and we were just so embraced by the community.”
During his time there, the Big Reds went 92-27 and won three Huron League titles. The Class B title run was led by future college players Nick Perkins and Latin Davis. The Big Reds’ state championship was the first in boys basketball in the Monroe County Region in more than 60 years.
Tropea left Milan, he said, because of the teaching and coaching opportunity in Chelsea. Frankly, he said, the job paid more, and, for a young family, that was a big deal.
“It was a very difficult decision, but it was right for my family,” he said. “I was on a pay freeze for five straight years at Milan. Plus, we loved the Chelsea community. My wife wanted to come here.”
Although he was there just two seasons, Chelsea’s basketball program also came a long way in a short time.
The Bulldogs improved from 3-18 the year before he was there to 9-13 in 2014-15 and 16-6 in 2015-16, tying for second place in the Southeastern Conference White his second season. More importantly, Tropea laid the groundwork for the future. He started by getting into the lower levels of the school and teaching basketball to the younger students – and trying to let his passion for the game pass on to them.
“It’s rolling now,” he said. “The first year I had a summer camp, we had 17 kids. This past summer, we had 121. Everybody knows you have to have a youth program.
“We won 16 games my last year here, we won a District title two years ago and the team went 12-8 last year,” he said. “The program is in great shape.”
Tropea never has been afraid to adapt his game or the way he interacts with his players. He draws on his experiences working with other coaches every chance he gets.
“The game is constantly changing, and so are the kids,” he said. “You have to. You have to change.”
In today’s world that means using social media, such as Twitter, to set the tone of the program.
The @ChelseaBoysHoop Twitter feed, for example, regularly includes messages about workouts, inspirational quotes from some of game’s great players and encouragement to other Bulldogs athletes.
— ChelseaBoysHoop (@ChelseaBoysHoop) October 23, 2018
“I feel it can be a great tool if it is done right and positive,” he said of Twitter.
His wife, Alicia, is an integral part of the program, as are his children, Luke and Zack.
“This is definitely a family deal,” he said. “We are all in. I know no matter what, my wife will be in the third row and she’s so supportive. She’s all-in all the time. She supports me and my passion. You have to have that.”
Years from now, he said he might get back into the college game. But for now, being back at the high school level fits more his love of teaching the game.
“I’m a teacher at heart,” he said. “I love teaching the game. I love the four-player workouts and teaching the kids footwork and the importance of passing the ball with the seam. That’s what it’s all about – making an impact on the kids’ lives.”
The SEC can be a brutally tough league, and this year it’s only going to be stronger with the addition of Jackson to the division. With boys basketball season starting a week earlier this year and Chelsea’s football team alive in the MHSAA Playoffs, Tropea is employing somewhat of a different strategy than normal. The emphasis on the season, he said, will be to get his team ready for the Class B tournament come late February. He doesn’t want the players to peak too soon.
“We have one game before December 15,” he said. “We back-loaded the heck out of our schedule. I don’t care how good we are in November and December. I want to be playing our best basketball in March. We’re playing for March.”
Chelsea will have seven or eight seniors and five or six juniors on this year’s squad, Tropea said. Many of those seniors were part of a group that went 20-0 as freshmen and won 16 games as sophomores.
“We have some experience, and not just athletes but basketball players,” he said. “They are leaders. I’m so excited for this season. I’m happy to be back.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTO: Returning Chelsea boys basketball coach leads his Milan team to the Class B championship in 2014 at Breslin Center.
Foster Loyer’s four-season career at Clarkston from 2014-15 through 2017-18 certainly must be considered among the most accomplished in state history as he led the Wolves to back-to-back Class A championships in 2017 and 2018 and is listed in the record book 25 times.
Among Loyer’s most notable entries were 2,325 career points (12th most), 272 career 3-pointers (tied for ninth), records of 119 consecutive free throws and 634 career free throws, a .921 free-throw percentage as a junior (tied for fourth) and .900 career percentage (second), 589 career assists (sixth), 278 career steals (15th) and 102 games played (tied for sixth).
Loyer went on to play at Michigan State and then Davidson.
See below for more recent record book entries for boys basketball.
Four Onaway standouts were added for single-season and/or career records. Jager Mix, who graduated in 2022, was added for 92 steals last season and 225 over his four-season career. Kevin Pearson, a 2021 grad, was added for 81 steals as a senior and 247 over his career. Joe Sigsby, a 2016 grad, was added for 127 steals, and Jadin Mix was added for 124 in 2021-22. Their totals rank ninth and tied for 10th, respectively, on that all-time list. Jager Mix also was added for 967 career rebounds, and Onaway as a team was added for tying the record for most points in a quarter with 49 during the first quarter of a win over Fife Lake Forest Area on Feb. 3, 2022. Jager Mix is playing at Alpena Community College, and Jadin Mix is a senior this school year.
Uchenna Amene was added for 11 steals in a March 7, 2022, game against West Bloomfield Frankel Jewish Academy and for 97 steals total over 25 games. He was a sophomore at Southfield Christian that season and now is a senior at Detroit Catholic Central.
Owen Franklin graduated from Oscoda in 2021 as the school’s all-time leading scorer, and nearly 44 percent of those 1,477 points came on 3-pointers. Franklin made the state career 3-pointers list with 216 over four seasons. He’s playing baseball at Northwood.
Traverse City Christian sophomore Reece Broderick became one of the state’s most accomplished long-distance shooters in just his second year of high school this past winter, drilling 104 3-pointers – good for third-most for one season all-time – over 23 games. He connected on 42 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
A pair of Rudyard four-year varsity standouts entered the record book after their graduations in 2022. Tate Besteman made the career rebounds list with 762 over 89 games, and EJ Suggitt made the career 3-pointers list with 215 over the same 89 contests. Besteman played this past season for Mid Michigan College, and Suggitt is playing baseball at Spring Arbor.
Success from 3-point range played a significant role in Mesick finishing 21-1 in 2021-22, as the team made 195 of its 578 attempts – with game highs of 15 twice in wins over Baldwin and Pentwater.
Then-senior Tristan McFolley earned the first listing under single-game rebounds since 2013 with 30 in Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy’s game with Hope of Detroit Academy on Dec. 8, 2022.
Tawas found its groove from long range Jan. 10 against Oscoda, drilling 22 3-pointers in an 86-31 win. The total tied for fifth-most in one game.
Although Norway felt just short, 40-37, in its District loss to Crystal Falls Forest Park on March 8, Alex Ortman kept the Knights close scoring 20 of his team-high 25 points in the fourth quarter to make the single-quarter scoring list. He’s now a senior.
Kobe Clark has listings in two MHSAA record books, with three for boys basketball joining those he earned for football during his Schoolcraft career. He was added in hoops for 531 career assists and 290 career steals over 94 games from 2016-17 through 2019-20, and also for 82 steals as a senior. Tyler DeGroote also was added to the record book, for scoring 20 points during the first quarter against Delton Kellogg during Schoolcraft’s Jan. 11, 2022, victory. Clark began at Saginaw Valley State for football and now plays basketball and Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and DeGroote is continuing at Rockhurst (Mo.).
Past Detroit Cooley star Larry Fogle has added a seventh record book listing a half-century later. Fogle grabbed 33 rebounds on Jan. 18, 1972, during a win over Detroit Mackenzie. He went on to play at Louisiana and Canisius, and then briefly with the New York Knicks.
Trevon Gunter scored 42 points in Kalamazoo Central’s 84-56 win over Richland Gull Lake on Jan. 17, 2020, including 31 during the third quarter – second-most and just one shy of the record for points during one period. A senior that season, Gunter plays currently at Grand Valley State.
Mark Wittbrodt held the record for consecutive free throws at 70 until 2008, and that entry in the record book has been joined by several others from the Bay City Western star. He was added for his 192 3-pointers, 436 free throws, .842 free-throw percentage and 266 career steals over three seasons from 1991-93, as well as for six single-season accomplishments. He went on to play at Michigan Tech.
Ellsworth’s Jacob Jenuwine tied for 12th on the single-game 3-pointers list when he connected on 11 as part of scoring 39 points total in his team’s Feb. 14 win over Alanson. Jenuwine graduated this spring.
Bellevue senior Dawson Wing capped his three-season varsity career last winter with three entries in the record. He was added for 12 blocked shots in a 2021-22 game against Colon, 107 for the season last winter and 203 blocks over his career. Teammate Caleb Betz, a senior this fall, was added for 12 steals in a game against Athens.
Logan Mansfield capped his Morenci career in a big way last winter. The senior drilled 90 3-pointers over 24 games to earn his school’s first individual record book entry in boys hoops since the 1987-88 season, when John Craig had 132 blocked shots that would have been the second-most recorded at that time. They currently rank 13th.
New Haven earned a pair of record book entries during its March 10 win over Memphis. The Rockets bested their previous single-quarter school record with 41 points during the opening period, and they also made the statewide single-game 3-pointers list with 16.
Whitehall’s Camden Thompson, a junior this fall, earned his first record book entry last winter – and the first for his school in boys basketball. He grabbed 303 rebounds over 21 games.
Grand Rapids Wellspring Prep junior Zeekeal Jackson earned his school's first boys basketball record book entry this past season as well. He made the single-season steals list with 106, over 22 games, and just missed the single-game list with a high of 10.
Jonesville’s Brady Wright was among his team’s leading scorers during his three varsity seasons ending this past winter, but he also was a major contributor defensively. He made the records with a season-high 101 steals over 25 games as a senior, and made the career list with 232 steals over 61 games.
Sophomore Christopher McLavish Jr. made a memorable impact last season with a pair of record book entries. He made the single-quarter points list with 20 in a Feb. 21 game against Flint Powers Catholic, but even more memorable were his 97 3-pointers over 25 games for the season – tying him for 11th all-time on that list.
PHOTO Foster Loyer directs Clarkston's offense during its 2018 Class A Semifinal.