By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
A team that appeared in last season’s Class D championship game will be back at the Breslin Center this weekend – but not three-time reigning champion Powers North Central, which was eliminated in a District Semifinal earlier this month.
Instead, 2017 runner-up Buckley will return with nearly an identical cast to the one that lost only one game a season ago – in the Final. Back as well is Southfield Christian, an annual power which put a huge scare into North Central – the Jets beat the Eagles on a buzzer-beater in last year’s Semifinal.
But to play for a championship, those two repeat contenders will face tough challenges. Southfield Christian takes on another Upper Peninsula power in Dollar Bay, while Buckley faces Hillsdale Academy and its formidable frontcourt.
Class D Semifinals – Thursday
Dollar Bay (26-0) vs. Southfield Christian (21-4), 5:30 p.m.
Hillsdale Academy (24-2) vs. Buckley (20-5), 7:30 p.m.
Class D Final – Saturday, 10 a.m.
Tickets cost $10 per pair of Semifinals and $10 per two-game Finals session (Class D and Class A). All Semifinals will be streamed live on MHSAA.tv and viewable on a pay-per-view basis. The Class D, A and C championship games will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Detroit, while the Class B Final will be shown on Fox Sports Detroit on a delayed basis at 10:30 p.m. Saturday. All four championship games will be streamed live on FoxSportsDetroit.com and the FOX Sports Go! app. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on MHSAANetwork.com.
Below is a glance at all four semifinalists. 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.)
Record/rank: 20-5, No. 8
League finish: Tied for first in Northwest Conference
Coach: Blair Moss, fifth season (73-24)
Championship history: Class D runner-up 2017.
Best wins: 67-50 over No. 3 (tie) Hillman in Quarterfinal, 79-34 and 68-40 over honorable mention Onekama, 73-59 and 68-51 over Class C No. 5 Maple City Glen Lake, 62-60 over Class C honorable mention Manton.
Players to watch: Austin Harris, 6-3 sr. F (17 ppg, 4.8 apg); Denver Cade, 6-3 sr. F (16.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 4.1 apg); Joey Weber, 5-11 sr. G (14.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.5 apg, 3.0 spg).
Outlook: A trio of 1,000-point career scorers (listed above) have Buckley back at Breslin after they led the Bears to their first Semifinal and championship game run a year ago. In fact, senior forward Brock Beeman and junior forward Ridge Beeman fill out a starting lineup identical to the one that took the floor against Powers North Central in last year’s Final. Buckley started 3-3 this winter against a loaded schedule and shared the Northwest Conference title with Glen Lake and No. 6 Frankfort. During the postseason, Hillman is the only opponent that has come closer than 20 points of catching the Bears.
Record/rank: 26-0, No. 2
League finish: First in Copper Mountain Conference Copper Country
Coach: Jesse Kentala, 11th season (85-132)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 74-68 over honorable mention Cedarville in Quarterfinal, 63-60 over No. 10 Rapid River in Regional Semifinal, 51-42 over No. 5 Ewen-Trout Creek.
Players to watch: Devin Schmitz, 6-0 sr. G; Jaden Janke, 6-5 sr. C. (Statistics not submitted).
Outlook: Dollar Bay has made quite a march to emerge as a possible heir apparent after North Central’s three straight Class D titles coming down from the Upper Peninsula. This will be the Blue Bolts’ first trip to the Semifinals after they played in their first Quarterfinal since 1979. Only 10-10 two seasons ago, Dollar Bay improved to 19-5 last year before falling to North Central by two points in a Regional Semifinal. Schmitz is considered arguably the top player in program history and broke the career scoring record this winter.
Record/rank: 24-2, No. 9
League finish: First in Southern Central Athletic Association East
Coach: Tim Wells, fourth season (72-24)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 56-49 over honorable mention Adrian Lenawee Christian in Regional Final, 56-46 over No. 3 (tie) Bellevue, 58-42 (District Final), 60-39 and 57-40 over Camden-Frontier.
Players to watch: Peter Kalthoff, 6-7 sr. C (21.9 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.7 bpg); Michael Craig, 5-11 sr. G (13 ppg, 2.6 apg).
Outlook: Hillsdale Academy’s first trip to the Quarterfinals and now Semifinals has included the win over Lenawee Christian – to avenge one of the Colts’ two losses – and no other game closer than 16 points. Their only other defeat this winter came to neighbor Hillsdale High, a Class B school. Kalthoff is a force, making 67 percent of his field goals tries, but six players have scored at least 13 points in a game this season. Senior forward Nolan Sullivan and sophomore forward Lukas Tharp both add about eight points per game.
Record/rank: 21-4, No. 1
League finish: First in Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue
Coach: Josh Baker, seventh season (132-23)
Championship history: Class D champions 2014, 2013 and 2012.
Best wins: 88-53 over Flint International Academy in Quarterfinal, 79-50 (Regional Semifinal), 72-22 and 56-39 over honorable mention Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, 68-45 over Class B No. 4 River Rouge, 65-60 over Detroit Martin Luther King.
Players to watch: Bryce Washington, 6-3 jr. G (21.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg); Harlond Beverly, 6-4 jr. G (16 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 5.4 apg).
Outlook: Southfield Christian’s return to the Semifinals last season after a two-year hiatus ended with a one-point overtime loss to eventual champion North Central. The Eagles’ return three starters from that game – Washington, Beverly and junior guard Caleb Hunter (13.2 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.4 spg, 57 3-pointers.). Again playing a schedule loaded with larger schools, Southfield Christian lost this winter only to Class A West Bloomfield, Class B Detroit Country Day and Class C Detroit Edison and Detroit Pershing; all but West Bloomfield won at least District titles this month.
PHOTO: Buckley’s Joey Weber brings the ball upcourt during last season’s Class D championship game at the Breslin Center.
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, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)