D2 Preview: Formidable Foursome Expected to Make for Memorable Matchups

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

March 23, 2022

This weekend’s final four contenders for the Division 2 boys basketball championship make up a high-echelon group, to say the least.

On one side of the bracket, reigning champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Ferndale will meet in a Semifinal rematch after both played many of the state’s best on the way to East Lansing. On the other side? Just the only two undefeated teams playing at Breslin Center this weekend.

Additionally, Ferndale's Treyvon Lewis (Loyola of Chicago signee) and Grand Rapids Catholic Central's Jack Karasinski (William & Mary) were two of four finalists for the Mr. Basketball Award this week. 

DIVISION 2 Semifinals – Thursday
Grand Rapids Catholic Central (24-1) vs. Ferndale (21-3), 5:30 p.m.
Williamston (25-0) vs. Freeland (25-0), 7:30 p.m.
FINAL  Saturday 6:45 p.m.

Tickets for this weekend’s games are $12 for both Semifinals and Finals and are available via the Breslin Center ticket office. All Semifinals will be broadcast and viewable with subscription to MHSAA.tv, and all four Finals will air live Saturday on Bally Sports Detroit, with the Division 4 and 1 games on BSD EXTRA and the Division 3 and 2 games on BSD’s primary channel. All four will be broadcast live as well as on the BSD website and app. Audio broadcasts of all Semifinals and Finals will be available free of charge from the MHSAA Network.

Here’s a look at the four Division 2 semifinals (with rankings by MPR at the end of the regular season, and statistics through Regional Finals):

Record/rank: 21-3, No. 4
League finish: First in Oakland Activities Association Red
Coach: Juan Rickman, fourth season (62-26)
Championship history: Class A champion 1966 and 1963.
Best wins: 68-55 over No. 12 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep in Quarterfinal, 60-55 over No. 18 Detroit Country Day in District Final, 57-46 over Division 1 No. 9 Muskegon, 63-52 over Division 1 No. 5 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, 56-49 over Division 1 No. 13 North Farmington, 63-52 and 58-47 over Division 1 No. 14 Oak Park.
Players to watch: Jason Drake Jr., 6-2 sr. G (16.8 ppg, 6.7 apg); Treyvon Lewis, 6-5 sr. F (22.4 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 4.3 apg, 2.1 bpg); Chris Williams, 6-5 jr. F (10.2 ppg, 9.8 ppg).
Outlook: After making the Semifinals last season for the first time since 1985, Ferndale is making the trip for the second season in a row after navigating one of the strongest schedules in the state. Four of five starters are back from the team that lost 81-55 to Grand Rapids Catholic Central last year at Breslin, with junior guard Cameron Reed (9.1 ppg, 4.9 apg, 2.9 spg) joining Drake, Lewis and Williams. Drake made the all-state second team last season, and Lewis earned an honorable mention. The Eagles’ losses this season were all to Division 1 teams that won Regional titles – Grand Blanc, Warren De La Salle Collegiate and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.

Record/rank: 25-0, No. 14
League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference 10
Coach: John Fattal, third season (49-15)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 67-47 over Cadillac in Quarterfinal, 55-52 (OT – Regional Semifinal), 68-47 and 69-57 over Alma, 82-59 over Flint Hamady in Regional Final, 63-57 over Division 3 No. 17 Pewamo-Westphalia.
Players to watch: Josh Elliott, 6-3 sr. F (18.5 ppg, 70 3-pointers); Bryson Huckeby, 6-4 sr. F (14.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 6.4 apg); Alex Duley, 6-4 sr. C (13.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 3.4 apg).
Outlook: After winning its first Regional title since 1971, Freeland will make its first trip to the Semifinals and after playing only three single-digit games during this season’s undefeated run. Huckeby earned an all-state honorable mention last season and guides a high-scoring offense that’s gone over 80 points in three of five postseason games. In addition to the three double-digit scorers, junior Cullum LeBaron added 8.3 points per game and had 63 3-pointers entering the week. Both he and Elliott connect on 44 percent or better of their attempts from beyond the arc, with Elliott nearing 50 percent.   

Record/rank: 24-1, No. 6
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold
Coach: TJ Meerman, ninth season (141-64)
Championship history: Division 2 champion 2021, Class B runner-up 2018.
Best wins: 86-60 over No. 9 Benton Harbor in Quarterfinal, 69-44 (Regional Final) and 48-45 over Grand Rapids Christian, 68-48 over No. 2 Hudsonville Unity Christian in District Final, 64-59 over Division 1 No. 8 Grand Blanc, 80-66 over Division 1 No. 1 Detroit U-D Jesuit.
Players to watch: Jack Karasinski, 6-6 sr. F (16.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.1 ppg); Kaden Brown, 6-0 jr. G (21 ppg, 65 3-pointers, 4.2 apg); Durral Brooks, 6-2 soph. G (14.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4.5 apg).
Outlook: The reigning Division 2 champion has lost just one game over the last two seasons – to 2021 Division 3 champion Flint Beecher, 75-69 on Jan. 8. Otherwise it’s been all wins despite a loaded schedule, but with four starters back from last season’s undefeated title earner. Karasinski made the all-state first team last season, while Brown made the second and Brooks earned honorable mention, and senior Jorden Brooks (11 ppg, 59 3-pointers) joins them as a returning starter. No opponent, including previously-undefeated Unity Christian, has come closer than 11 points since the Beecher loss.

Record/rank: 25-0, No. 7
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference White
Coach: Tom Lewis, sixth season (record N/A)
Championship history: Lower Peninsula Class C champion 1940.
Best wins: 70-54 over No. 20 Detroit Edison in Quarterfinal, 57-38 over No. 3 Onsted in Regional Semifinal, 66-29 over Chelsea in District Final, 66-37 over Division 1 No. 7 East Lansing, 49-32 over Division 1 No. 13 North Farmington.
Players to watch: Jacob Wallace, 6-4 sr. G (13.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg); Mason Docks, 6-0 sr. G (16.2 ppg, 4.8 apg, 3.8 spg); Max Burton, 6-10 sr. F (13.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg).
Outlook: Williamston will be playing in its first Semifinal since 2016, led by a pair of 1,000-point career scorers in Wallace and Docks. The Hornets have had one single-digit game all season, against Lansing Everett, and they’ve won their five postseason games by an average of 27.2 points per. Wallace made the all-state second team last season, and with Docks and Burton is part of a group of 10 seniors.

PHOTO Freeland, including Alex Duley (42), defends the lane during Tuesday’s Quarterfinal win over Cadillac. (Photo courtesy of the Freeland athletic department.)

E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage

By Jason Juno
Special for MHSAA.com

June 28, 2024

Ewen-Trout Creek graduate Jake Witt is playing for a spot on the Indianapolis Colts’ 53-man roster. The memories of high school sports, and the impact they’ve had on his journey to the NFL, have stuck with him through his college days and even now as a professional.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosThe 300-plus receiving yards he went for in a game against the eventual 8-player state champion back in 2017. 

The regular-season basketball game where 3,276 fans turned out to watch his Panthers play just a few months later.

The teamwork prep sports taught him. The family atmosphere he got to be a part of on the high school football team.

“Football was definitely the sport I felt the most family-type feeling with it,” Witt said earlier this week after fishing on Erickson Lake while back in the Upper Peninsula before training camp begins next month. “That’s what drew me back to wanting to play football in college, was my opportunity in high school to play and getting that feeling with the guys and that family-oriented feel.”

Witt played two years of high school football. He lined up exclusively at wide receiver for Ewen-Trout Creek as a junior and then was more of a blocking tight end when E-TC and Ontonagon joined forces as a co-op program when he was a senior.

He ultimately decided to play basketball first in college, at Michigan Tech. But two of his three finalists were football opportunities.

“Obviously playing basketball from second grade on, people would probably assume that I would want to play basketball in college,” Witt said. “I think that just goes to show that football in those two years had a big impact and obviously it led me to where I am when I played at Northern and where I am today.”

Witt played only one year of basketball at Tech. He transferred to Northern Michigan University to attend as a student only before being talked into playing football. 

He was initially a tight end there before moving to tackle because of injuries during a game against Ferris State. He dominated, not allowing a sack or even a quarterback pressure against what was considered the best Division II defensive line in the country. 

He stayed at tackle for what was left of that season and then all of his final year at Northern. Despite his limited time at the position, he had the attention of NFL scouts and entered the draft. The attention reached a fever pitch during his pro day at Central Michigan when he wowed with his athleticism. His 9.92 Relative Athletic Score, a way to measure players’ athletic testing while accounting for their size, was one of the best for an offensive tackle prospect since it began being used in 1987.

Witt, right, umpires a baseball game last summer.He was drafted with the 236th pick, in the seventh round, by the Colts in 2023. 

His first training camp was cut short due to a hip injury, and he was then placed on season-ending injured reserve. But he’s back healthy and ready to go. He practiced at second-string left tackle during the offseason camp this spring and now hopes to earn a spot on the 53-man roster with training camp set to begin in a month.

“I want to go into training camp, play well and then play well enough to where they can’t release me off the 53,” Witt said. “The next goal is to play in a game. And I think that will start with special teams, that will start with field goal. And then from there, obviously, everybody is one week of great practice away from playing with the offense, one injury away from playing in a game with the offense.”

Those who watched him during his high school days in the U.P. likely wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that happen.

Witt is still the only receiver to go for 300 or more receiving yards in 8-player football in state history, according to the MHSAA record book. And he did it twice, a 325-yard game against Eben Junction Superior Central as a junior and the 305-yard performance against Crystal Falls Forest Park as a senior.

The Ontonagon co-op team had mostly stuck to running the ball that season, but looked for Witt through the air against the eventual state champion Trojans.

“I think it was 345 (yards), I think they sent in the wrong number,” Witt said. “That was one game where we switched things up with our offensive attack and threw the ball a lot more, and it ended up paying off for us very well. We were down big at halftime, and we pushed back and we were in a battle with them in the second half. It was a great game. We didn’t end up winning, but it was a lot of fun.”

He enjoyed both years of high school football – even while mostly blocking on the line as a senior despite having shown previously to be a more-than-capable receiver.

Witt warms up during the Indianapolis Colts’ rookie camp in May 2023.“A lot of the offense wasn’t focused on me anymore, which was great,” Witt said. “It made me a much more well-rounded football player. It made me a much better athlete, it gave me a better perception on things as a football player versus just being a receiver. I think both years were great for different reasons.”

Witt said every sport he played in high school was beneficial to him going forward. Basketball, for example, taught him teamwork and coordination. 

“And just relationship building is huge; for me, it helped me move on to the professional football level,” he said.

No high school game was quite as memorable for him as that regular-season basketball game at Michigan Tech on a chilly Wednesday night in Houghton.

Ewen-Trout Creek and Dollar Bay were tied atop the U.P. small-school poll. With that type of matchup, and the chance for fans in the Copper Country to see the 6-7 Witt and his above-the-rim play that’s pretty unique in the U.P., the game was moved from Dollar Bay’s tiny gym to Michigan Tech. (He wasn’t quite 300 pounds like he is now, but he was close – and he came into that game averaging 27 points and 16 rebounds per game with no one able to match his size and strength.)

They expected a crowd; they got 3,276. The latest arriving fans had to sit on the floor on the baseline.

“You don’t see that very much in Division 4 basketball even in the playoffs,” Witt said. “Just having that atmosphere, and especially having it between two of the best U.P. teams at the time, and having the storyline that was behind the game was great – and one of the most memorable events to this day still for me.”

Witt is looking forward to the challenge of training camp and achieving his goals in Indianapolis. But he’s not rushing away a U.P. summer. 

He helped out at last week’s U.P. Football All-Star game. He was happy to provide insight for any players headed off to play college ball, and they helped the Marquette County Habitat for Humanity with the finishing touches on one of their houses.

Over the next month, he’ll still be training, going over the playbook and doing position skill work. As happy as he was to help out last week, he’s happy to be on the lake again, too, fishing like a normal Yooper.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do, that and train,” Witt said. “Just trying to destress before I get back into it.”

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Jake Witt played for Ewen-Trout Creek during a 2018 basketball game at Michigan Tech, and at right Witt takes a photo with area youth baseball players last summer. (Middle) Witt, right, umpires a baseball game last summer. (Below) Witt warms up during the Indianapolis Colts’ rookie camp in May 2023. (Photos by Jason Juno.)