HILLSDALE – Every time Jordan Bollin would prepare his Dundee Vikings boys basketball team to play Hillsdale, he would rename all of his plays. That’s because Brad Felix, the longtime Hillsdale coach, knew them all.
“He had his teams so prepared,” Bollin said. “We’d call out a play and they would know exactly what we were doing. I had to rename all my plays, then quiz my kids over them before we played them. He’s such a great coach.”
Felix stepped down this week as the Hornets’ head coach, ending a coaching career that spans more than 30 years.
“I think he is the best coach I’ve coached against,” Bollin said. “When I got the job at (Temperance) Bedford, the first thing I did was call him up and basically interview for an hour, asking about practice plans and this and that.”
Citing a health issue as one of his reasons for retiring, Felix said it was still a difficult choice to make.
“It is a decision I don’t take lightly,” Felix said. “I feel like there has been a death in my family. The sadness I am feeling is pretty intense.”
Felix didn’t come to Hillsdale from the Upper Peninsula to turn around Hornets boys basketball. But, over the past couple of decades, Felix has helped transform Hillsdale boys hoops into a program known for adding hardware to its trophy case on a regular basis.
The Bessemer native was a four-sport athlete in high school, but that’s where his playing days ended. He graduated from Northern Michigan University in Marquette and landed a job teaching in Hillsdale, at the opposite end of the state, within a few miles of the state line.
It was the Hillsdale athletic director who approached him about coaching.
“He came to me and said, ‘We need a freshmen girls coach and freshmen boys coach; are you interested?’” Felix said. “The rest is history.”
Felix coached both boys and girls at freshmen and junior varsity levels for several years before landing the varsity girls job with the Hornets. He guided that program from 1998 to 2002. His final season with the girls he also became the boys head coach. He’s coached the Hornets boys for the past 19 seasons.
His teams had success early. Capturing the District title in 2005, in his third season, was a first for the school since the mid-1960s.
He said reviving the boys basketball program was the carrot in front of him.
“No one would last this long if he or she was not experiencing some success,” Felix said. “That surely had a great deal to do with me hanging on this long. I was determined to change the mindset and the culture here, so that was a driving force. Our basketball history here was not very glorious, and I thought I could change that path.”
He certainly did that.
During his 19 seasons, Hillsdale won nine league championships, eight District titles and two Regional championships. The Hornets were consistently ranked among The Associated Press top 10 and if they weren’t on top of the league, they were competing for league championships.
His boys teams went 20-0 during the regular season three times and won 20 or more games seven times. In 15 seasons, his teams won at least 14 games. His record as the boys coach was 318-104. Counting his girls varsity tenure as well, he won 369 games. He was a three-time statewide Coach of the Year.
Opposing coaches have long had a ton of respect for Felix and the Hillsdale program.
“His impact on Hillsdale basketball is something many coaches, like me, only could hope for when we are done,” said Onsted boys basketball coach Brad Maska. “The battles we had, Hillsdale vs. Onsted, were some of the best. I will miss that. He made Hillsdale one of the toughest places to go play. He’s a great coach and person.”
Ida boys basketball’s Jared Janssen coached against Hillsdale at least twice every year in the Lenawee County Athletic Association.
“He had an answer for everything you would try to throw at him,” Janssen said. “He is the toughest coach to prepare for.”
Hillsdale had to overcome its share of obstacles. The Hornets played in four conferences during Felix’s tenure, meaning he often had to learn a new set of opponents. With relatively few schools Hillsdale’s size in that area of the state, the Hornets had to go on the road a lot.
“It is not easy to go to Ida on a Tuesday, get home at 11, hit school the next morning, and then go to Dundee on that same Thursday – only to be back in school again Friday morning,” he said. “Those are taxing weeks for sure.”
There were many great memories on the court, such as coaching seven players who scored 1,000 career points, some surprising District wins, buzzer-beaters and epic defensive battles. The 2013-14 team also appeared in a Class C Quarterfinal. His 24-2 Hornets lost to Muskegon Heights, 59-57.
“We played some really good teams to make it there and then fell two points shy in a game where we were huge underdogs,” Felix said.
The 2004-05 team that went 25-1 also played in a Quarterfinal, in Class B. The lone defeat came that night to eventual champion Grand Rapids South Christian.
“Walking on the court at Grand Valley to play that game was a sight I’ll never forget,” he said. “It was just a sea of maize pom-poms with a sea of opposing white ones on the other side. There were 4,000 fans there. That was a just fun.”
Felix said the love of basketball kept him going year after year.
“The strategy and the relationship with the players have kept me in the game,” he said. “The winning helped, but I loved coaching the game and looked forward to each and every season. The most rewarding part of this job has been the relationships I've built with my players that have extended into their adult lives.”
Two of his former players reside in Colorado, where one worked for the Denver Broncos and the other served as an Olympic trainer.
“They flew me out there for a football game and a tour of the Olympic training center,” Felix said. “I was on the field for an NFL game.”
Felix and his wife, Heather, have been married for more than 25 years and have two children, Claire and Adam. He coached Adam. The end of his son’s career was marred by injury, but Brad Felix said having him be a part of the program was a great experience.
“I did get to coach him in at least one season,” Felix said. “His presence on my bench for 12 seasons was so heartwarming for me – he was in the gym and on our bus since he was 5. I swung him through the air on numerous occasions after big wins. He saw a lot.”
It was in June that Felix had a health scare that he says still isn’t over. He said health impacted his decision but wasn’t the ultimatum.
“This will be with me for the rest of my life, unfortunately,” he said. “It weighed into my decision based on all the appointments that I may or may not have in the future, missing practices or games and just the added stress is more than likely not advantageous for me right now.
“I’d be in (coaching) longer if the circumstances had allowed me to.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Hillsdale boys basketball coach Brad Felix, right, hugs his son Adam after Adam’s final game last season. (Middle) Brad Felix and his 2013-14 team celebrate a big win during their tournament run. (Below) Felix huddles with his players during another game over his 19 seasons guiding the boys basketball program. (Top and middle photos courtesy of the Hillsdale Daily News; bottom photo courtesy of the Hillsdale athletic department.)
Foster Loyer’s four-season career at Clarkston from 2014-15 through 2017-18 certainly must be considered among the most accomplished in state history as he led the Wolves to back-to-back Class A championships in 2017 and 2018 and is listed in the record book 25 times.
Among Loyer’s most notable entries were 2,325 career points (12th most), 272 career 3-pointers (tied for ninth), records of 119 consecutive free throws and 634 career free throws, a .921 free-throw percentage as a junior (tied for fourth) and .900 career percentage (second), 589 career assists (sixth), 278 career steals (15th) and 102 games played (tied for sixth).
Loyer went on to play at Michigan State and then Davidson.
See below for more recent record book entries for boys basketball.
Four Onaway standouts were added for single-season and/or career records. Jager Mix, who graduated in 2022, was added for 92 steals last season and 225 over his four-season career. Kevin Pearson, a 2021 grad, was added for 81 steals as a senior and 247 over his career. Joe Sigsby, a 2016 grad, was added for 127 steals, and Jadin Mix was added for 124 in 2021-22. Their totals rank ninth and tied for 10th, respectively, on that all-time list. Jager Mix also was added for 967 career rebounds, and Onaway as a team was added for tying the record for most points in a quarter with 49 during the first quarter of a win over Fife Lake Forest Area on Feb. 3, 2022. Jager Mix is playing at Alpena Community College, and Jadin Mix is a senior this school year.
Uchenna Amene was added for 11 steals in a March 7, 2022, game against West Bloomfield Frankel Jewish Academy and for 97 steals total over 25 games. He was a sophomore at Southfield Christian that season and now is a senior at Detroit Catholic Central.
Owen Franklin graduated from Oscoda in 2021 as the school’s all-time leading scorer, and nearly 44 percent of those 1,477 points came on 3-pointers. Franklin made the state career 3-pointers list with 216 over four seasons. He’s playing baseball at Northwood.
Traverse City Christian sophomore Reece Broderick became one of the state’s most accomplished long-distance shooters in just his second year of high school this past winter, drilling 104 3-pointers – good for third-most for one season all-time – over 23 games. He connected on 42 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
A pair of Rudyard four-year varsity standouts entered the record book after their graduations in 2022. Tate Besteman made the career rebounds list with 762 over 89 games, and EJ Suggitt made the career 3-pointers list with 215 over the same 89 contests. Besteman played this past season for Mid Michigan College, and Suggitt is playing baseball at Spring Arbor.
Success from 3-point range played a significant role in Mesick finishing 21-1 in 2021-22, as the team made 195 of its 578 attempts – with game highs of 15 twice in wins over Baldwin and Pentwater.
Then-senior Tristan McFolley earned the first listing under single-game rebounds since 2013 with 30 in Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy’s game with Hope of Detroit Academy on Dec. 8, 2022.
Tawas found its groove from long range Jan. 10 against Oscoda, drilling 22 3-pointers in an 86-31 win. The total tied for fifth-most in one game.
Although Norway felt just short, 40-37, in its District loss to Crystal Falls Forest Park on March 8, Alex Ortman kept the Knights close scoring 20 of his team-high 25 points in the fourth quarter to make the single-quarter scoring list. He’s now a senior.
Kobe Clark has listings in two MHSAA record books, with three for boys basketball joining those he earned for football during his Schoolcraft career. He was added in hoops for 531 career assists and 290 career steals over 94 games from 2016-17 through 2019-20, and also for 82 steals as a senior. Tyler DeGroote also was added to the record book, for scoring 20 points during the first quarter against Delton Kellogg during Schoolcraft’s Jan. 11, 2022, victory. Clark began at Saginaw Valley State for football and now plays basketball and Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and DeGroote is continuing at Rockhurst (Mo.).
Past Detroit Cooley star Larry Fogle has added a seventh record book listing a half-century later. Fogle grabbed 33 rebounds on Jan. 18, 1972, during a win over Detroit Mackenzie. He went on to play at Louisiana and Canisius, and then briefly with the New York Knicks.
Trevon Gunter scored 42 points in Kalamazoo Central’s 84-56 win over Richland Gull Lake on Jan. 17, 2020, including 31 during the third quarter – second-most and just one shy of the record for points during one period. A senior that season, Gunter plays currently at Grand Valley State.
Mark Wittbrodt held the record for consecutive free throws at 70 until 2008, and that entry in the record book has been joined by several others from the Bay City Western star. He was added for his 192 3-pointers, 436 free throws, .842 free-throw percentage and 266 career steals over three seasons from 1991-93, as well as for six single-season accomplishments. He went on to play at Michigan Tech.
Ellsworth’s Jacob Jenuwine tied for 12th on the single-game 3-pointers list when he connected on 11 as part of scoring 39 points total in his team’s Feb. 14 win over Alanson. Jenuwine graduated this spring.
Bellevue senior Dawson Wing capped his three-season varsity career last winter with three entries in the record. He was added for 12 blocked shots in a 2021-22 game against Colon, 107 for the season last winter and 203 blocks over his career. Teammate Caleb Betz, a senior this fall, was added for 12 steals in a game against Athens.
Logan Mansfield capped his Morenci career in a big way last winter. The senior drilled 90 3-pointers over 24 games to earn his school’s first individual record book entry in boys hoops since the 1987-88 season, when John Craig had 132 blocked shots that would have been the second-most recorded at that time. They currently rank 13th.
New Haven earned a pair of record book entries during its March 10 win over Memphis. The Rockets bested their previous single-quarter school record with 41 points during the opening period, and they also made the statewide single-game 3-pointers list with 16.
Whitehall’s Camden Thompson, a junior this fall, earned his first record book entry last winter – and the first for his school in boys basketball. He grabbed 303 rebounds over 21 games.
Grand Rapids Wellspring Prep junior Zeekeal Jackson earned his school's first boys basketball record book entry this past season as well. He made the single-season steals list with 106, over 22 games, and just missed the single-game list with a high of 10.
Jonesville’s Brady Wright was among his team’s leading scorers during his three varsity seasons ending this past winter, but he also was a major contributor defensively. He made the records with a season-high 101 steals over 25 games as a senior, and made the career list with 232 steals over 61 games.
Sophomore Christopher McLavish Jr. made a memorable impact last season with a pair of record book entries. He made the single-quarter points list with 20 in a Feb. 21 game against Flint Powers Catholic, but even more memorable were his 97 3-pointers over 25 games for the season – tying him for 11th all-time on that list.
PHOTO Foster Loyer directs Clarkston's offense during its 2018 Class A Semifinal.