'Football Guys' Play Big Roles for Big Reds

February 6, 2020

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Cameron Martinez is not done having fun in high school.

Martinez, MLive’s two-time Michigan High School Football Player of the Year, signed his national letter of intent to play football at Ohio State during a midday event Wednesday at Muskegon High School.

But unlike the rest of the Buckeyes’ incoming class, who are either specializing in only football or have already left their high schools and early-enrolled in Columbus, Martinez is playing a key role for the Big Reds’ state-ranked basketball team.

“I want to enjoy being a high school kid as long as I can,” said Martinez, who rushed for 6,491 yards and 145 touchdowns during his four-year varsity football career, with his first two years at Muskegon Catholic Central and the last two at Muskegon High.

“I really do enjoy playing basketball, and we want to make a long run. We still haven’t played our best game yet.”

Martinez is not the only Division I football signee who chose to honor his commitment on the hardcourt for Muskegon.

Billie Roberts and Jordan Porter, who both will play defensive line at Bowling Green, provide valuable muscle inside for the Big Reds, who are ranked No. 7 in Division 1 in the latest Associated Press poll.

Muskegon is 10-1, with its only loss coming Jan. 4 against visiting Chicago Curie, the top-ranked team in Illinois. In addition to being perfect in Ottawa-Kent Conference Black play, the Big Reds have pulled out tight nonleague wins over Rockford, East Kentwood, Ferndale and, most recently, Saginaw on Saturday at the Redhawk Showcase in Grand Rapids.

Muskegon coach Keith Guy, who also happens to be the stepfather of Martinez, shudders at the thought of not having the three Division I football recruits on his team.

“We do things a little different around here,” said Guy, explaining the symbiotic relationship between the Big Reds’ football and basketball programs. “I am thankful that these guys play football. They bring physical toughness, leadership and just an expectation of winning.”

Martinez, a 5-foot-11, 190-pound guard, averages 3.2 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, but his big contribution is as the team’s defensive stopper. While in football he electrified the crowd with his offense (Exhibit A: His seven rushing touchdowns in this year’s playoff opener against Marquette), in basketball he brings the fans to their feet by locking down on the opponent’s best player.

“It’s a lot like playing defensive back, where you are guarding someone 1-on-1,” explained Martinez, who is projected as a defensive back and kick returner at Ohio State.

Roberts, a 6-5, 270-pound post player, has been slowed and often sidelined by a lingering stress reaction in his fibula, and is averaging just one point and one rebound per game.

Guy, who led Muskegon to the Class A championship in 2014, said his big man is starting to get healthier, which will be critical as the team chases its ultimate goal of another Finals title.

Porter, a 6-4, 240-pound forward, brings size and versatility off the bench. He averages 2.5 points and four rebounds per game.

“Basketball helps me so much,” said Porter, who is projected as a defensive end and hybrid lineman/linebacker at Bowling Green. “Obviously, it helps me conditioning-wise. But it really helps with footwork and moves.”

Muskegon High School gets more than its fair share of visits from college football coaches, and many ask to watch basketball practice to get better looks at their prospects’ athletic abilities. Those coaches especially like to see how well linemen prospects like Roberts and Porter can move.

“I got my first offer from Indiana in my sophomore year because of basketball,” said Roberts, who went 52-4 during his four-year varsity football career and played in four MHSAA championship games at Ford Field. “They knew I had good size, but they saw that I could run and move and I think that’s why they offered me.”

Roberts is starting to move better every day, according to Guy, and Guy said that’s a big reason for his team’s improved play of late. After a narrow win at Ferndale on Jan. 20, the Big Reds blew out four straight conference opponents before Saturday’s dramatic win over Saginaw.

Guy sported an Ohio State football T-shirt during Wednesday’s signing event, but his mind was on this weekend’s big back-to-back games – Friday at Grand Rapids Union and Saturday at home against Grand Blanc.

He expects Muskegon’s historic Redmond-Potter Gymnasium to be rocking and rolling Saturday, when Grand Blanc, 10-3 and an honorable mention in Division 1, rolls in with standout 6-5 sophomore Ty Rodgers.

Muskegon will counter Rodgers with a veteran team, including five senior starters and one of the state’s best backcourt duos in Jarvis Walker and Vernon Nash III. Walker, a Mr. Basketball candidate, averages 21.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game, while Nash averages 14.8 points.

The X-factor in Saturday’s showdown might be the Big Reds’ “football guys,” who Guy hopes will give his team a physical and mental edge.

Roberts can’t wait.

“There’s nothing like high school,” explained Roberts, flashing a big grin. “I could have early enrolled, but I didn’t want to miss my senior basketball season and prom and all that. I want to stay a kid a little bit longer.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Muskegon’s Cameron Martinez, right, walls off a Chicago Curie ball handler during their teams’ Jan. 4 matchup. (Middle) The Big Reds’ Billie Roberts works to gather a loose ball. (Below) Jordan Porter makes a move to the basket. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)

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

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

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 MHSAA.com 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.)