By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half
EAST LANSING — There was no need for Eugene Brown to sit quietly in the background and ease his way into a prominent role on Southfield Christian's basketball team.
One game was all it took for the freshman guard to prove he belonged on the defending MHSAA Class D Finals champion.
When Brown scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a season-opening overtime victory over traditional Class A power Orchard Lake St. Mary's, it justified coach Josh Baker's decision to put a ninth-grader in the starting lineup of a team with Breslin-or-bust aspirations.
"To come in as a freshman, that's a pretty good first game against a great team," Baker said.
Brown was a mere spectator at the Breslin Center when the Eagles won their first championship last season. He thrived under the bright\ lights on Saturday as Southfield Christian repeated as Class D
champion with a 65-46 victory over Wyoming Tri-unity Christian.
He jump-started the Eagles' championship victory, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the first half and helping Southfield Christian build a 16-point second-quarter lead. Brown shot 5 for 8 from the field,
3 for 3 from the line, grabbed nine rebounds, dished out four assists and had three steals.
Freshman jitters? Not in this kid.
"I just tried to come out and not be nervous," Brown said. "Just play the game like you know how, just go out and do your best."
Baker wasn't concerned how his freshman phenom would respond on the big stage, just as he was confident that Brown could handle making his high school debut against a team like St. Mary's in early December.
"He's usually pretty cool and casual under pressure," Baker said. "Part of that is his problem, because he's not aggressive enough all the time. We wanted him to be aggressive. We've been on him all year to be aggressive. He did it tonight, and he showed he can make plays. He's so skilled as a freshman. When he's aggressive and he keeps the ball low, he's really good."
As Brown started sinking shots during a decisive second quarter, the Southfield Christian student section chanted, "He's a fresh-man!" It was a warning to the rest of Class D that Brown will have to be reckoned with for three more seasons. For that matter, the entire program could dominate Class D for years to come.
It's not too early to begin speculation that Southfield Christian is a dynasty in the making. Winning back-to-back championships is an excellent start. All 65 of the Eagles' points against Tri-unity were scored by players who are eligible to return next season.
The team's only two seniors didn't play until a 58-40 lead had been built midway through the fourth quarter. The Eagles started a freshman, two sophomores and two juniors.
"We can only get better," said 6-7 junior Damarco White, who had 15 points and five blocks.
"The sky's the limit," added junior guard Lindsey Hunter IV, who scored 11 points.
A man who is an expert on Class D dynasties is Mark Keeler, who has coached four MHSAA Finals champions and four runners-up in his 26 seasons at Tri-unity.
"Seeing how young their team is, they're definitely going to be a force in Class D," said Keeler (499-142), who was trying to celebrate a Finals championship and his 500th victory on the same day.
The Eagles rebuilt on the fly after winning the title last year. Their returning players combined for only 12 points in last year's MHSAA Final, with Hunter scoring eight of them.
After a 3-4 start, Southfield Christian won its final 20 games.
"We knew we had the potential. It's just that early on we struggled with understanding the work ethic you have to put in," Baker said. "It's not just handed to you. Every game you play, every team is going to come after you. That's why we started off 3-4. We just got drilled by some guys. When they understood the work ethic and what it takes every game, we started to go on a nice run."
Tri-unity (25-3) got out to an 8-6 lead, but Southfield Christian took the lead for good by scoring the next nine points to ignite a 26-8 run. The lead reached 34-18 with 3:48 left in the second quarter. The Eagles didn't score the rest of the half, while the Defenders cut the margin to 34-23 at the intermission.
Matt Wachter's basket with 7:04 left in the third quarter trimmed the deficit to single digits at 34-25, but Tri-unity didn't put together consecutive scores again until Southfield Christian was comfortably ahead, 56-34.
Tri-unity forward Joey Blauwkamp, The Associated Press' Class D Player of the Year, was held to seven points on 2 for 9 shooting before fouling out with 2:38 left in the game.
"For us coming into halftime, being down only 11, I wasn't too concerned," Keeler said. "But when Joey picked up three and four (fouls) so quickly, it definitely messes with you."
Sophomore Bakari Evelyn scored 11 points for Southfield Christian, which shot 22 for 42 from the field and 17 for 21 from the line.
Daniel Cole scored 21 points and Wachter 11 for Tri-unity.
PHOTOS: (Top) Southfield Christian coach Josh Baker presents the championship trophy to his team Saturday at the Breslin Center. (Middle) Eagles freshman Eugene Brown goes up for a shot against Wyoming Tri-unity Christian's Joey Blauwkamp (4) and others. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
TEMPERANCE – The Bedford Mules are kicking up a special boys basketball season in southeast Michigan.
Temperance Bedford is off to a 10-1 start, the best for the school in a decade. Third-year coach Jordan Bollin is happy to bring a winner to his alma mater.
“Bedford has had good teams here and there and good players and coaches, but it never seemed to be anything that was sustained,” Bollin said. “I knew it was going to be a challenge.”
Bollin played varsity basketball at Bedford, graduating in 2006. He went into coaching almost immediately after high school and was named head coach at Dundee in 2015. After 68 wins in five seasons, Bollin was named head coach at Bedford.
“I talked it over with my wife, with the athletic director, with (assistant coach) Mark Hubbard,” Bollin said. “I always, in the back of my mind, thought that I would want to come back to Bedford and coach one day. I wanted to do it while I was still relatively a young coach who still had the passion for all of this. It’s the right time.
“I felt like, leaving Dundee, I had an opportunity to build something myself.”
Wrestling has been the winter sports king at Bedford for decades as the Mules spent years at the top of Class A/Division 1 wrestling circles. The boys basketball team has enjoyed its moments, such as a three-year span when it went 18-6, 18-5 and 14-8 across 2012-2014, but there have been down years, too. Various coaches have tried their hand at the helm, including former NBA player Dennis Hopson.
Bollin himself played for coach Bill Ryan, who led the boys team for seven years but has found ultra-success with Bedford’s girls basketball program.
Bollin knew that when he took over the varsity, he wanted to incorporate the entire program.
“No program is one coach,” he said.
He brought multiple assistants with him from Dundee, including longtime Monroe County coach Hubbard, a Bedford graduate, and former head coach in the county himself. The two have formed a bond.
“We talk every day on the phone before practice,” Bollin said. “We go to lunch once or twice a week. He’s a mentor and someone I talk to all the time.”
Bedford has posted wins over a variety of teams this season, from Southeastern Conference teams like Dexter and Monroe to Ottawa Lake Whiteford, Adrian Lenawee Christian and Stockbridge. Ten of the Mules’ final 11 games are against SEC schools, including two against 8-3 Saline.
Bollin knows the toughest is yet to come.
“We get Ann Arbor Huron at home,” he said. “We lost to them by three on the road. We had the ball, down two in the final seconds and had the ball and were called for a travel. It was close.”
Six-foot-7 Andrew Hollinger is the team’s top scorer and rebounder. Four years ago, he played five games on the varsity, then was a starter in Bollin’s first season. He’s now closing in on 1,000 career points and is one of the best rebounders in southeast Michigan.
“He’s phenomenal,” Bollin said. “He plays so hard, and he’s a great kid. He’s a 4.0 student and very humble. You’ll never hear him talk about himself; it’s always about the team.”
While he’s proven to be a great scorer and free throw shooter this season, Hollinger is also a relentless rebounder.
“I’ve always been one of the tallest out on the court, so I know that I can really use that to my advantage in order to rebound,” he said. “Once the shot goes up, I try to chase down the ball or box someone out in order to give my team the chance to get the ball back.”
Bollin said Hollinger’s intensity shows.
“I use him as an example to the other kids all of the time,” Bollin said.
Twice this season Hollinger has set the school record for most consecutive free throws made in a game. He went 15-for-15 once and 16-for-16 another time. Hollinger averaged a double-double last year at 18.2 points and 10.8 rebounds and has topped those numbers through 11 games this season.
Hollinger is one of eight seniors on the roster. Like Bollin, he’s a homegrown talent, having made his way up from the Bedford Community Education program in the fourth grade to middle school, JV and varsity.
“I fell in love with basketball when I played in the local community ed program,” he said.
Hollinger said all of the seniors had a feeling this was going to be a great season.
“I think the success from our team comes from how hard we play every game and how much experience we have,” he said. “We knew coming into the season that we were in pretty much every game the season before and just had to find a way to start winning games.”
Bedford won six games during the COVID-19 shortened 2020-21 season and four a year ago – losing several games that came down to the final minute. Bollin has matched the win total in those first two years at Bedford in two months.
Ironically, Bollin said, it was the 2020-21 season during which most of this year’s seniors learned to play varsity basketball.
“We had so many games where we had players out for COVID that we had to bring a lot of them up to the varsity to play,” he said. “A lot of the seniors this year got a ton of playing time that year.”
The other current seniors include Griffin Wolf, Tommy Huss, Jimmy Fackelman, Simon Eighmey, Caleb Kochendoerfer, Evan Campbell, and Leo Wagenhauser. They are complimented by a couple sophomores and juniors plus freshman Carsen Behnke.
Hollinger is hopeful the first-half success will continue.
“We all believed in each other in the offseason, and that belief still continues through the start of the season,” he said, deflecting any attention from himself. “I love how basketball is a team game and how you need the whole team to be playing hard in order to win. It’s not just about one person, but it’s about everyone.”
Bollin said he could sense this summer that this season had the makings of being something special.
“I thought we’d have a nice season, but, no, I wasn’t expecting 10-1,” he said. “But, in the summer, I knew when everyone was there and together, we were tough to beat.”
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 DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Bedford’s Andrew Hollinger works for an opening while surrounded by Monroe defenders last season. (Middle) Bedford boys basketball coach Jordan Bollin. (Below) Hollinger brings the Mules up court during a 63-43 win Friday. (Action photos by Tom Hawley and Mike Doughty, respectively, and courtesy of the Monroe News.)