As Francis Fills it Up, Adrian Record Falls

January 17, 2020

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

ADRIAN – It’s hard to imagine a 15-year-old having a better week on the basketball floor than Joe Francis had last week.

In the span of seven days and three games, the Adrian High School sophomore scored 33 points in a victory over East Jackson, hit a half-court buzzer-beater to force overtime and scored 32 points in a victory over Monroe and broke the 20-year-old Adrian single-game scoring record with 42 points against Manchester.

On the doorway that leads into the Adrian Gymnasium, the school lists all the Maples’ basketball record holders. It may hold off a while before switching Francis’ name with the previous record holder for single-game points, Chris Howard. That’s because Francis has his eyes on breaking that record again. And again.

“I’m not really worried about it right now,” he said. “I’m not satisfied. I’ve got a lot I have to work on still. I feel like I can beat that record, but I just have more work to do.”

Jordan Kelly, an Adrian graduate, became coach of the Maples before last season. One of his first decisions was to put the then-freshman Francis on the varsity. Francis had a steady season with the Maples, concluding it with a season-high 11 points in their Division 2 District loss to Chelsea.

That set the tone for this season.

“Over the summer we had a team meeting,” Francis said. “We set goals and talked about what we wanted to accomplish this year. The seniors and the captains are just stepping up. We were missing the communication part, but we are better now.”

The three-game win streak was Adrian’s first in what has been a trying couple of seasons. But the Maples are 4-4 this winter, and Francis is leading the way. 

“He’s the epitome of a gym rat,” Kelly said. “He gets guys together to play. He always wants to be in the gym. We sometimes have to make him take a rest day.”

Francis is from Adrian. His dad, Joe, played college basketball in Missouri and is an assistant coach with the Maples. His mom, Tammy, ran track at Saginaw Valley State University and is the boys and girls track coach at Adrian. Athletics always have been important in the Francis house.

“They’ve always pushed me hard,” Francis said. “That’s what I need.”

Francis has played summer travel ball for a couple of seasons now. Playing on the varsity last year as a freshman didn’t faze him.

“For my teams, I’ve always played up,” he said. “We played against some of the best players in the state.”

Francis not only has matured, he’s also grown up. He was listed at 5-foot-9 on Adrian’s roster last season. He’s almost 6-3 now.

“He’s maturing so much, even since September,” Kelly said. “He’s learning. He’s working on his leadership skills. It’s been very cool to watch him grow.”

Francis gives a lot of credit for his success to Kelly.

“We’re trying to start a new standard,” Francis said. “Coach Kelly keeps talking to us about turning Adrian basketball around, to turn it back to what it used to be. That’s very important.

“He works us hard. He knows how good we can be if we just do the little things and play together. I give a lot of props to him.”

Despite reaching double figures in three of Adrian’s first four games, Francis felt the start to his season wasn’t what it should have been. So, he did what he knows best – got into the gym.

“Over Christmas break I worked a lot with my dad on my shot,” he said. “I had been struggling with my 3. We got into the gym, and I found my groove again.

“We’d start with ball-handling, using the heavy balls for about 15 minutes, then we’d work on spot shooting and then shooting 3-pointers.”

Against East Jackson, Francis made 15 field goals – including two 3-pointers – in the first game back from the break. It was impressive, but four nights later he popped in 42 against Manchester, making 18 field goals, including four triples. Oddly enough, he didn’t score in the first quarter.

He went to the Adrian bench in the fourth quarter with 39 points, but came back in, converted a pair of fastbreak layups to break the record, then went back to the bench. Three days later, he had perhaps his finest performance on the road at Monroe.

He got off to a slow start but came to play in the fourth quarter and overtime, scoring 22 of his 32 points during the last 12 minutes. The halfcourt shot to tie the game brought Adrian back from what looked like a certain loss.

“I got the ball on an out-of-bounds play,” Francis said. “I knew I could hit that shot. I had a lot of confidence. I broke the press, and when I saw there was just two seconds left on the clock, I just shot it.”

The Maples were down 11 and missing three starters who fouled out, but got on Francis’ back and won the game in overtime.

Kelly said Francis has always had a lot of confidence in himself. Now, his teammates have that confidence and he has that same feeling about his teammates.

“He’s going to have a lot of success because of his work ethic,” Kelly said. “This is what he’s worked for. He gets guys playing. We challenge him. We have some good defensive players go up against him because we want to make him better.”

Playing in the rugged Southeastern Conference helps, too.

“There’s definitely some top-tier talent in the league,” Kelly said. “If he can hold his own in our league, he can play anywhere.”

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) Adrian’s Joe Francis elevates to get a shot up over a Chelsea defender Tuesday. (Middle) Francis works to find an opening from the top of the key. (Photos by Mike Dickie.)

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.)