D3 Preview: Challengers Lined Up as Beecher Seeks to Complete Repeat Run

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

March 23, 2022

Flint Beecher is one of three 2021 champions returning to the Boys Basketball Finals this weekend, and the Bucs are among the most frequent visitors to Breslin Center with Thursday’s to be their eighth Semifinal appearance over the last 13 years.

That’s a pretty imposing opener for describing any bracket. But this one could be especially loaded with Schoolcraft also making a return trip and Menominee and Ecorse showing strong credentials all season long.

DIVISON 3 Semifinals – Thursday
Menominee (22-3) vs. Ecorse (9-12), Noon
Schoolcraft (23-2) vs. Flint Beecher (22-2), 2 p.m.
FINAL  Saturday – 4:30 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 3 semifinals (with rankings by MPR at the end of the regular season, and statistics through Regional Finals):

Record/rank: 9-12, No. 148
League finish: Fourth in Michigan Metro Athletic Conference Black
Coach: Gerrod Abram, third season (39-20)
Championship history: Class B runner-up 1978, Class B Lower Peninsula runner-up 1942.
Best wins: 49-47 over Erie Mason in Regional Final, 73-71 over Riverview Gabriel Richard in District Semifinal.
Players to watch: Malik Olafioye, 6-2 jr. G; Kenneth Morrast Jr., 6-1 jr. G. (Statistics not provided.)
Outlook: Ecorse is headed to the Semifinals for the first time since 1980. It’s important to note the team’s MPR would have been much higher without 10 forfeits over the first two months of the regular season; the Raiders instead would be 16-5. And they’ve appeared to be Division 3 contenders from the start, with since-forfeited wins over Division 1 Brownstown Woodhaven (19-5) and Division 2 River Rouge (17-4). The District win over Gabriel Richard was the Pioneers’ only loss of the season. This group should continue to be strong; only one senior starts and there are only two seniors total on a roster that includes four sophomores and a freshman.

Record/rank: 22-2, No. 2
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference Red
Coach: Marquise Gray, first season (22-2)
Championship history: Nine MHSAA titles (most recent 2021), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 72-41 over No. 5 Reese in District Final, 84-68 over Division 2 No. 12 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, 75-69 over Division 2 No. 6 Grand Rapids Catholic Central, 63-60 over Flint Carman-Ainsworth.
Players to watch: Carmelo Harris, 6-0 sr. G; James Cummings II, 6-3 sr. F. (Statistics not provided.)
Outlook: The Bucs returned to win last season’s championship, their first since 2017, and have lost only to Division 1 Grand Blanc (20-5) and Detroit Martin Luther King (19-3) this winter while handing reigning Division 2 champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central (24-1) its lone defeat. Gray memorably starred at Beecher and Michigan State and played overseas before returning and serving as an assistant coach in advance of taking over the program. Harris and Cummings started on last season’s team, and 6-3 junior Robert Lee II was the only sub who saw more than two minutes of time in last year’s Final. Harris also is a returning all-state first-teamer.

Record/rank: 22-3, No. 1
League finish: First in Great Northern Conference
Coach: Sam Larson, fifth season (48-51)
Championship history: Class B champion 1967
Best wins: 60-56 (2OT) over No. 19 Benzie Central in Regional Final, 74-57 over Ishpeming Westwood in Regional Semifinal, 83-45 over Iron Mountain in District Final, 77-44 and 65-62 over Division 2 No. 1 Escanaba, 51-26 and 72-40 over Division 4 No. 4 Powers North Central.
Players to watch: Aidan Bellisle, 6-2 sr. G (15.4 ppg, 4.8 apg); Cooper Conway, 6-4 sr. F (12.6 ppg, 7.0 rpg); Brady Schultz, 6-6 sr. F (12 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.6 bpg).
Outlook: The Maroons have improved from 4-17 just three seasons ago to making the Semifinals for the first time since 2008. The only two in-state losses this winter came over the last five weeks, to Escanaba in the teams’ third meeting of the season (after Menominee won the first two, and by a point to Division 4 semifinalist Ewen-Trout Creek. Five seniors start, with three sophomores playing the most prominent roles off the bench. Larson was a sophomore on the 2008 team that lost to Lansing Catholic in Class B at Breslin.

Record/rank: 23-2, No. 6
League finish: First in Southwestern Athletic Conference Valley
Coach: Randy Small, 17th season (329-67)
Championship history: Class C champion 2011, runner-up 2009.
Best wins: 60-57 (Quarterfinal) and 61-32 over No. 17 Pewamo-Westphalia, 45-31 over No. 14 Watervliet in Regional Final, 59-31 (District Final), 51-40 and 54-41 over No. 18 Kalamazoo Christian, 49-45 over Division 2 No. 5 Parchment.
Players to watch: Tyler DeGroote, 6-7 sr. F (16.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg); Shane Rykse, 6-3 soph. G (13.1 ppg, 53 3-pointers); Ty Rykse, 6-7 sr. F (12.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.3 apg).
Outlook: Schoolcraft is making a repeat appearance at Breslin and fell by just four in overtime in last season’s Semifinal against Iron Mountain. The Golden Eagles are a combined 63-4 over the last three seasons. DeGroote and Shane Rykse were main contributors last season as well – DeGroote earned an all-state honorable mention – and Ty Rykse also started in the Semifinal. The defeats this season came to Division 1 Hudsonville and Parchment, and Schoolcraft avenged the latter. Senior point guard Asher Puhalski adds another 7.2 points, four rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.

PHOTO Flint Beecher’s Keyonta Menifield goes to the basket during Tuesday’s Quarterfinal win over New Haven. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)

Little Provides Major Stride as 1st Woman to Officiate Boys Hoops Final since 1995

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

April 13, 2023

Delonda Little was already a trailblazer to many before this year’s MHSAA Boys Basketball Finals.

Greater DetroitBut what happened last month at Breslin Center made her even more of one on a statewide level.

A referee and assigner for 20 years in the Detroit area, Little is a female boys and girls basketball official who mentors both male and female referees – no matter the gender or level, as she officiates high school and college games.

Officials often go to Little for guidance, direction and assignments, which has made her respected for years throughout Metro Detroit in the prep basketball community. Then, her status as a trailblazer grew even more.

Little was assigned as an official for the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis, and she became the first female referee to officiate an MHSAA Boys Basketball Final since Traverse City’s Barb Beckett 1995.

“It was a very good feeling to know I was the one selected,” said Little, who officiated the Final with Matt Olson and Zach Porritt.  

In fact, while attending a Semifinal game the Friday before the Final, Little received a phone call from an area code she didn’t recognize.

She answered, and it was Beckett.

“At first I didn’t know the name,” Little said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t know you, but that’s fine.’”

Beckett then explained she was the first female referee to be assigned a Boys Basketball Final, and just wanted to offer support to Little.

At that point, Little became excited and thankful she answered the call.

“It was very nice to hear from her because she wanted to reach out and if not pass the torch, to congratulate me,” Little said.

Little, 51, said she found out she was going to be refereeing the Division 3 boys championship game just before the start of the postseason when she received an email from the MHSAA.

“I’m looking at the email and I’m like, boys?” Little said. “I was shocked.”

But she was shocked in a good way, and obviously excited for the honor.

Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.Little didn’t find out until a couple of days before the St. Francis/Beecher contest that she would be officiating that specific championship game, but the Monday of boys championship week was when she really started to receive congratulations from friends and colleagues.

That’s when an article came out in the Detroit News detailing her selection, which led to countless calls, texts and congratulatory messages on social media.

“I couldn’t even (keep up with the comments),” she said. “That’s how overwhelming the actual tags were. It came from all across the state with officials, men and women, because I do women’s college (games). Some of the college ladies were reaching out. I was getting all the hoopla before the game.”

Little said she normally doesn’t get nervous for games, but not having some nerves became a bit harder once so many people knew of her achievement.

However, she settled into a normal routine quickly once the game started.

“I wanted to get it done, get it over with and do well,” she said.

Little did do well, which is no surprise to everyone who knew her before she officiated on the boys championship stage.

It was just another feather in the cap for Little, who in 2016 became the first woman to officiate a boys Detroit Public School League championship game.

“Delonda is one of the top officials in the Detroit area, and our staff doesn’t look at Delonda as a female working a boys game – we see one of the top officials in Detroit working a basketball game,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said. “There are females officiating in the NBA and female officials in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The aspect that made Delonda’s selection for this MHSAA championship game nearly unique will soon be the norm at all levels of athletics.”     

Little graduated from Detroit Osborn in 1989 and starred on the basketball court at Wayne State, earning induction into WSU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.

Her day job is as an officer for the Michigan Department of Corrections, but her passion is officiating. She’s been an MHSAA-registered official for basketball for two decades and also was registered for volleyball for four years. This past fall she registered for football for the first time.

“I get something from it because it keeps me in shape, I love the people I work with and I like the kids,” Little said. “You are always teaching, and I like training the newer officials. I just enjoy it. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t refereeing.”

Going forward, Little hopes her championship game assignment will now be an inspiration for other female referees.

“There aren’t very many women who would like to work boys basketball or feel comfortable,” Little said. “If that’s something they desire, I’m hoping more women are selected to work the games if they feel comfortable.”

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties

PHOTOS (Top) Delonda Little takes her position on the court during the Division 3 Boys Basketball Final on March 25 at Breslin Center. (Middle) Little monitors the action between Flint Beecher and Traverse City St. Francis.