Coaches Return With College Knowledge

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

February 24, 2016

North Farmington boys basketball coach Todd Negoshian is not so vain to believe he’s at the top of his profession.

After all, he’s nearing just his fifth season running what is considered one of the top programs in the Oakland Activities Association.

What Negoshian is certain of is that he is a better coach now than he was during the early 2000s when he entered the profession as an assistant at North Farmington under his father, Tom Negoshian.

In addition to Todd Negoshian’s years as a high school coach, he spent three seasons (2004-07) as an assistant coach at Oakland University under coach Greg Kampe. Having worked at the college level has not only added to his knowledge as a coach but also given him an opportunity to work with different people under different circumstances but with similar goals.

“I learned a lot from Kampe,” Negoshian said. “I learned a lot about relationships. He has the uncanny ability to (scold) a kid and then 30 seconds later have your arms around him. It’s about building relationships.

“It’s his approach to coaching. There’s so many things you learned outside of coaching.”

This brief stint at the collegiate level gave Negoshian, 35, a whole new perspective on how to coach and how to be a coach. Building relationships takes time, and to those committed to being a coach who cares about his or her players, it’s paramount to allow for that time.

Some coaches, like John Beilein at University of Michigan, start out coaching at the high school level, move on to college and remain there. A number of others statewide have taken paths similar to that of Negoshian.

LaMonta Stone at River Rouge and Steve Hall at Detroit Cass Tech started coaching at the high school level and have recently returned to their roots after each spent several years as a college coach.

Stone played for the legendary Lofton Greene at River Rouge and then coached the Panthers to a Class B title in 1999. Stone ambitiously sought a position at the next level and was quite successful. He spent two seasons at Eastern Michigan, two at Ohio State and 10 at Bowling Green before returning to River Rouge last season as head coach.

And he has no regrets.

“At that point, I had goals,” Stone said of making the jump to college. “There were things I wanted to do. I still have goals. People ask me, would I go back to college? I don’t know. If the situation was right, I might.”

Stone, 49, returned for two reasons: family and community. Last season he was able to coach his oldest son, LaMonta, Jr., his senior year. Stone also has two other sons, ages 6 and 9.

Basketball is king in River Rouge. Greene won a record 12 MHSAA titles and the program has won two more since his departure. But the Panthers relinquished their claim as a state power soon after Stone left and haven’t been much of a factor in the tournament since. Stone intends on changing that.

“It’s a situation where, I’d been (coaching in college) for 14 years,” he said. “I’d reached all my goals. The only one I didn’t was to become a head coach. But you’re an assistant in the Big Ten. You can’t get much higher than that.

“The opportunity to come back to that community, I just couldn’t pass up. I get to be more of a part of my sons’ lives.”

In addition to the high school season, Stone said he enjoys coaching during the summer, in camps and individually.

“I can, within the (Michigan High School Athletic Association) rules, work with kids outside of Rouge,” he said. “I get calls all the time saying can you work with my son. I work with them but they can’t come to Rouge. I like it that way. There’s no pressure on me or them.”

Hall, 45, was one of the state’s top players when he graduated from Cass Tech in 1988. He played four years in college (Washington, Virginia Tech) before playing professionally overseas. In 1996 he became the head coach at Detroit Rogers, an all-boys school in the Detroit Public School League. Hall spent nine seasons there and won three MHSAA titles before the school closed.

Hall went to Detroit Northwestern in 2005 and spent three seasons there, winning one PSL title, before accepting a position as an assistant coach at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.  He spent four seasons there before becoming an assistant coach at Youngstown State. On Aug. 25, Hall officially came back to Detroit as athletic director and boys basketball coach at Cass Tech.

Like Stone, Hall was looking for a more stable lifestyle. Family came first, and the opportunity to coach his alma mater was too good to pass up.

“A lot had to do with my life at this stage,” he said. “I have two young boys (ages 7 and 4) and to be more a part of their lives is important. If I wanted to spend time with them, we’d go to a game where I was recruiting a kid and that would be our time together on that given day.

“And I have a passion for this school. This whole year has been learning on the fly. At Rogers there was a lack of numbers. Here football is huge. We didn’t have a football team at Rogers. And here I have a surplus of numbers. It’s a different dynamic. Rogers was the smallest school in the PSL by enrollment. Cass is the biggest.”

Hall said he doesn’t miss the hours of travelling on the road, going into countless gymnasiums recruiting players and trying to convince them and their coaches that his university was the right one. It’s not that his responsibilities as athletic director and coach are less demanding. But being able to go home every night and see his children and sleep in his bed has its rewards.

Hall said he had more than a few conversations with Stone on returning home.

All three coaches agree that experience has its benefits. It’s not that coaching is any easier at this time. The challenges are still there and in many ways demand different approaches.

“Every stop makes you better,” Negoshian said. “Anytime you coach kids, the more you are around them, it helps.

“The game has changed. Society changed. Kids don’t want to fight through tough times. That’s why you see so many transfers. Everybody wants to be the hero. They want the focus on them. And it’s just not them. It’s the family. I’m not sure all of the parents are committed. They don’t want to go to A, B and C to get to D.”

Hall said the expectations for incoming freshmen and their parents are so different than it was when he was in high school. Then students went to a certain school, whether it was a power like Detroit Southwestern or a neighborhood school like Detroit Mumford, to be a part of an established program.

“It’s a trickle down from college,” Hall said. “It’s not, ‘I want to send my kid to a great program.’ There’s the attitude that if my son isn’t a part of it as a freshman, I’ll go somewhere else instead of being part of the process.”

Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Current River Rouge boys basketball coach LaMonta Stone returned to his alma mater after serving as a college assistant including at Bowling Green. (Middle) Todd Negoshian, LaMonta Stone, Steve Hall. (Top photo courtesy of LaMonta Stone.)

Championship Experience from Coach's Point of View Unimaginable, Unforgettable

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

April 4, 2024

WYOMING – As the final buzzer sounded, it was all I could’ve imagined – and more.

West Michigan

In the weeks leading up to March 16 and the Division 4 championship game, I experienced every emotion possible as I envisioned what it would feel like to be an assistant coach on the bench at Michigan State’s Breslin Center as the Wyoming Tri-unity Christian boys basketball team achieved its ultimate goal.

In my first year as the junior varsity coach at Tri-unity, I had been on the varsity bench for a majority of the season, assisting legendary coach Mark Keeler and fellow assistants Brent Voorhees, Bob Przybysz and Mike Kaman.

I was there encouraging, motivating and supporting the varsity team. It was a role I embraced, and had become accustomed to over my almost 30 years coaching high school basketball.

I started coaching in 1995 as Jim Ringold gave me my first opportunity as the freshmen girls coach at Wyoming Kelloggsville High School. I would then coach Kelloggsville’s freshmen boys team for eight seasons, while also coaching the freshmen girls at Grandville High School. I would also coach the junior varsity teams at both schools.

I love coaching. I have a passion for it. I’ve always enjoyed getting the most out of my players while creating a bond between player and coach.

When girls basketball season moved from fall to winter joining the boys in 2007-08, I stayed at Grandville. I spent 21 seasons there before stepping down.

I still wanted to coach, and I heard that the Tri-unity junior varsity position was available. I had always respected and liked Keeler and was excited for the prospect of joining a perennial powerhouse.

I didn’t really know about Tri-unity growing up in the Wyoming Park school district. But as a young kid, I would rush home and eagerly await the afternoon delivery of the Grand Rapids Press. I would quickly find the sports page and read it from front to back, hoping one day to see my byline.

I began writing for the Press’ sports department in 1997. It was my dream job. And that’s also when I first started covering Tri-unity boys basketball.

I remember watching eventual NBA all-star Chris Kaman, along with Bryan Foltice and others play for this little Christian school and have unbridled success under Keeler.

MHSAA Tournament runs became the norm for the Defenders. They won their first Finals title in 1996, and they would claim four more over the next 26 years. They also had six runner-up finishes.

Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action.I was sitting on media row writing for in 2022 when Brady Titus led Tri-unity to its fifth state championship.

I never thought that two years later I would be on the coaching staff as the Defenders pursued another one. But there I was.

I knew this year’s team had the potential to be special.

Tri-unity had returned four of its five starters from a year ago, after suffering a heart-breaking two-point loss to Munising in the Division 4 Final.

Eight seniors were on the roster. The team had a mix of talented guard play, senior leadership, size and depth. We had shooters and we played great defense, a trademark of Keeler’s teams.

This was the year, and that heaped lofty expectations on Keeler and the team. It was basically “state championship or bust.” Anything less would be considered a disappointment.

Keeler wanted it badly, and I knew the players did as well. I think they felt the pressure at times of living up to the expectations that had been set.

We had several lopsided wins, but also had a few tough losses to Division 2 and Division 3 teams – Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Wyoming Lee, Grandville Covenant Christian and Schoolcraft – all talented teams that I think made us better despite falling short.

As the postseason started, there was anxiety and excitement.

We were one of the favorites, but it wouldn’t be easy. We would have to earn each of the seven victories needed to win it all.

First came a District title, but then we had to play a quality Fowler team in its home gym in the Regional Semifinal. This was a game we knew would be a challenge – and it was.

We led by only one at halftime after a 7-0 run to end the second quarter. The score was tied 33-33 in the fourth quarter before senior Lincoln Eerdmans made a key 3-pointer to spark our victory.

As we went through the handshake line, several Fowler players said, “Good luck in the Finals.”

Our defense played extremely well in the Regional Final and state Quarterfinal to secure our team another trip to the Breslin.

St. Ignace was our opponent in the Semifinal, and we had to face a senior guard who could do it all – Jonny Ingalls. He lived up to the hype. He was good, and we didn’t have any answer for him in the first half. We trailed by one, only to fall behind by seven late in the third quarter.

Was this the end? Were we going to fall one game short of our goal?

Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. We were down by five points in the fourth quarter, but junior guard Keaton Blanker, and others, rose to the occasion. We rallied to win a tight one, and now we were one win away from a Division 4 title.

The night before the championship game, we stayed at a hotel in East Lansing as we had the first game of the day at 10 a.m. We had a team dinner, and the players seemed relaxed and eager to close out the season the way they had intended.

There was one thing that worried me. We were playing Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. A team we had played in the second game of the season and defeated by 30 points.

Would we be overconfident? I had no idea. They were a different team now, but so were we. Anything could happen.

Keeler gave a spirited and emotional pregame speech. In last year’s loss to Munising, he felt like the team played not to lose, and this season his big thing was “I want to win.” He said it to every starter that Saturday morning during the final moments in the locker room before tipoff, asking all five individually to say it back – which they did, the first one quietly but followed by teammates replying louder and louder as everyone got fired up and “I want to win” rang through the locker room. I think it inspired all of us.

After a competitive first quarter, we started to find our rhythm and expanded the lead. We were ahead by double-digits at the half, and a state title was within our grasp. Senior Wesley Kaman buried a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the third quarter to give us a 20-point cushion. It was at that point I knew we were going to win.

All five starters reached double-figure scoring, led by Jordan VanKlompenberg with 19 points and Owen Rosendall with 14. That balance was intentional and a successful sign for our team all season.

The exhilaration of winning was intoxicating. I loved watching the boys celebrate something they had worked so hard to accomplish. I will never forget their faces. I looked to my right from my seat on the bench and watched them running onto the court, just wearing their joy. They were just elated.

I was so happy for Keeler, a devout Christian who is respected by so many people in high school basketball circles. I learned so much from him this season. The way he approaches each game, his competitiveness. He instills his strong faith in his players and understands that the game of basketball is a bridge to a higher purpose.

Keeler is the fourth-winningest coach in state boys basketball history with a record of 694-216, and will be the winningest active coach next winter as all-time leader Roy Johnston retired from Beaverton at the end of this season.

The tournament run was one of the best coaching experiences I have had, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of a state championship season.

Dean HolzwarthDean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) The Wyoming Tri-unity Christian bench, including the author (far right) and head coach Mark Keeler (middle), celebrate a 3-pointer late in the Defenders’ Division 4 championship win over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. (Middle) Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action. (Below) Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)