EAST LANSING – No one from this season’s Saginaw team had played in an MHSAA Semifinals before this weekend. That’s saying something, given how the Trojans have made Breslin Center a regular March destination over the last two decades.
After a slow start Friday, they looked at home once more.
Saginaw made just 19 percent of its first-quarter shots, but then 51 percent the rest of the game to cruise into its first Final since 2008 with a 59-46 win over Macomb L’Anse Creuse North.
“(Breslin) was real big, and we had to get the feel of the court for the first quarter,” Saginaw senior Davario Gaines said. “After we got the feeling of the court, we started playing at our level.”
Saginaw (25-2), ranked No. 1 at the end of the regular season, will take on Rockford in the Class A Final at 4 p.m. Saturday.
The Trojans have been to the Semifinals eight times in the last 17 seasons and have won five MHSAA championships total during their history.
A lot of those teams – with guys like Draymond Green and Anthony Roberson of late – were led by big-time stars. But this Saginaw team is a little bit different.
Only two players have averaged at least 10 points per game this season, and none more than 15. Junior Julian Henderson scored a team-high 11 on Friday, with six teammates adding between six and nine.
“We’ve got a bunch of players that can step up at any time,” Saginaw first-year coach Julian Taylor said. “We’ve got a lot of interchangeable kids that have accepted the team concept. They are playing for each other, playing for team pride. That’s what we’re all about.”
L’Anse Creuse North, meanwhile, was making its first Semifinal appearance Friday and finished 10-11 just a year ago. Junior guard Tyler Conklin scored a game-high 22 points, and junior forward Ramone Griffin added 10 and nine rebounds.
This season came with an especially difficult moment for the Crusaders. District athletic supervisor Dave Jackson, who previously had served as the L’Anse Creuse North principal, died unexpectedly in mid-February. The basketball team became a rallying point amid the mournful times that followed.
“The biggest thing we experienced today with the send-off and community, the staff and our administration; it’s been a rough emotional ride, but we were able to create some diversion with this basketball run,” Crusaders coach Jay Seletsky said. “To bring the community together and see this support that we can have, and with a little diversion (from) emotional things, it’s been awesome. Besides the outcome, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.”
“We worked hard for it every day in practice,” Conklin said. “We’re all going to keep our heads up, work all offseason and come back next season and try to make it this far.”
PHOTO: Saginaw junior forward Julian Henderson swats a L'Anse Creuse North shot during Friday's Semifinal. (Photo courtesy of Terry McNamara Photography.)
A review of Harbor Light Christian’s boys basketball rosters over the last couple of decades would show a lot of familiar names.
That would be especially true of the coaching slots.
Or are the players now coaches?
The coaches’ names are extremely familiar, and nothing much has changed – except some of the former players are now coaches, and the head coaches have returned to assist the program.
Today, the head coach is Jason Roussin. He’s in his 12th season at the helm of the Swordsmen. Jeff Jakeway, who was the head coach during Roussin’s junior and senior seasons at Harbor Light, is back on the Swordsmen’s staff as an assistant coach. Roussin is also assisted by long-time coach William Henagan and previous head coach Clark Hewitt.
Hewitt also serves as the Harbor Light junior varsity coach. The JV squad went 19-1 this season and 18-2 the year before.
“In 38 years, really there’s been three consistent coaches and then Pat Collins who had done one year when the program started, and now we’re all back on the sidelines working together,” Roussin said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
The facilities Collins, Hewitt and Jakeway coached in are nothing like the Swordsmen have today – the newly-built Solid Rock Center in Harbor Springs. In fact, they used to play on a cement floor. A year ago, the Swordsmen played their first game in their new home.
A walk around the facility, five years in the making, provides the feeling of more like a small college program’s setup. Along with the new gym, the Solid Rock Center was equipped with a cafe and concession area, locker rooms, a film lounge and hangout area for the players, an upper-level full track around the gym, and three classrooms for art, music, science and more.
Jakeway served as project manager on the building — fully funded and debt-free through community support. He was the head coach of the Harbor Light girls basketball team when the facility opened.
Harbor Light’s boys suffered a 76-74 loss to hot-shooting Pellston in the facility’s first game Jan. 20, 2023, but haven’t been doing much losing since. The Swordsmen started this season 2-2, and after a heart-breaking loss to Traverse City Christian on Dec. 8 went on to share the Northern Lights Conference title with Alanson and have built that record to 20-4 heading into tonight’s District Final against St. Ignace.
The title game will be played at the Solid Rock Center. Another Jakeway, Jeff Jakeway’s son and freshman point guard Landon, will be getting his second chance to lead the Swordsmen to a District championship. He was the point guard as a seventh grader when Harbor Light won the District title two years ago. (Small schools like Harbor Light may request, for most sports, an MHSAA Executive Committee waiver to play eighth-grade students if the school’s enrollment is less than 125 and seventh-graders if the enrollment is less than 75. Harbor Light’s enrollment count for this school year is 61.)
Landon Jakeway is the team’s leading scorer, contributing 15 points per game. He scored 25 to lead the Swordsmen to a 67-31 win over Mackinaw City in Wednesday’s District Semifinal. That was Harbor Light’s third win this season over its league rival, allowing the Swordsmen to keep the Mack Light Ball, which goes to the winning team’s school after each victory in the rivalry. Wins over Mackinaw have been hard to come by in previous seasons.
David Chamberlin, at 13 points per game, and Corin Palus, scoring nine per contest, are the other leading scorers. Jakeway adds seven assists and four steals per game. Chamberlin kicks in seven rebounds per game, and Jackson Mesner and Kirk Rose contribute eight and five rebounds, respectively.
Chamberlin, Paulis, Mesner and Rose are all seniors.
“The team goal was really to ‘put the team before me’ mentality,” Roussin said. “We were going to work as a team, be loyal, be committed to one another and battle together.”
The Swordsmen also entered the season with their eyes on the Mack Light Ball, a conference championship and a long postseason run.
“We wanted to chase the conference and to battle for a District,” Roussin noted. “Obviously, we knew St. Ignace is in there and they are the favorite team.”
Senior leadership has been one of the keys to Harbor Light’s finishing atop the conference for the first time in more than a decade.
“We want to show up and play the best basketball you can to make your team the best they can,” Roussin said. “That’s what has been awesome with the leadership we’ve had on this team.
“Through all the guys is ‘it is not about me,’” Roussin continued. “It is about ‘what can I do to make the team better?’”
St. Ignace brings a 16-6 record into the Solid Rock Center. The Saints will have a chance to view some NBA history in addition to playing the final.
Above the main gym resides a mini court containing the Detroit Pistons floor from the Pontiac Silverdome. Before moving to The Palace of Auburn Hills, and most recently Little Caesars Arena, the Pistons played at the Silverdome from 1978-88.
Jeff Jakeway was able to get the court to Northern Michigan through connections in Novi.
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 [email protected] 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) Harbor Light’s Vaughn Henagan (23) gets to the basket during a 59-39 win over Kinross Maplewood Baptist on Dec. 21. (Middle) David Chamberlin (22) elevates over a Pellston defender as the Swordsmen work toward a 75-20 victory Jan. 19. (Photos by Billy Mac Photos.)