By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Xavier Tillman stood taller, literally, than anyone else on the court during his team’s Class A Semifinal on Friday at the Breslin Center.
Figuratively as well, the Grand Rapids Christian senior has stood as tall as any of the giants who have dominated the floor in Michigan this season.
But if Christian wins its first MHSAA championship Saturday since 1938, just as much credit will belong to his supporting cast – even as he called himself not the star, but rather the distributor after they beat Romulus 74-52 to advance to the Final.
Five teammates scored more than Tillman on Friday. But that doesn’t mean the 6-foot-8 forward’s presence was negligible. He took only three shots, scored only five points, but also had eight rebounds, six assists and seven blocks and drew plenty of attention from Romulus to help Christian make its first championship game in 80 years.
“I have a team full of scorers,” Tillman said, “so my job is to facilitate on my team.”
“We’ve always said we have to get the ball in to Xavier and let him make a play, whether it’s for himself or his teammates, or at least draw attention,” Grand Rapids Christian coach Mark Warners added. “Xavier said it; you don’t know who is going to score, and with these guys what’s been great all year is they don’t care.”
Grand Rapids Christian (27-0), No. 1 in Class A at the end of the regular season, will face No. 3 Clarkston at noon Saturday for its first MHSAA title since winning the Lower Peninsula Class B championship in 1938 (from 1932-47, one champion was awarded from each peninsula in Classes B, C and D; in 1943 no statewide champions were awarded).
Romulus (21-5) last had been to Breslin much more recently, winning Class A in 2013. But although it gave a strong challenge into the third quarter this time, no one has stood in Christian’s way for the entirety this season.
Christian opened the third quarter on a 15-3 run over five minutes, as senior James Beck II had six of his game-high 24 points.
“He did keep us in it,” Warners said. “He gets the points where it’s off a rebound or putback, or he gets an and-one on the break and makes the free throw, or he gets the dump down from a guard or Xavier and can score around the rim in so many ways. It’s a really nice thing to have.”
For the game, Beck connected on 11 of 17 shots from the field as Christian made 54 percent as a team.
Romulus hit only 35 percent of its shots from the floor and 31 percent from 3-point range, hindering a team that already had a tough time matching up with more sizable Christian.
“It’s kind’ve a shock. We’ve never gone 8 for 26 from the 3-point line,” Romulus coach Jerret Smith said. “We prided ourselves on hitting shots this year, and when you can’t hit shots it’s hard – especially when you have the kid who’s 6-8, 260 in the lane. It’s very hard to get him out of the lane if you’re not hitting shots.”
Junior guards Duane Washington, Jr., and Setrick Millner, Jr., added 15 and 11 points, respectively, and senior guard Thad Shymanski had 10 for Grand Rapids Christian. Washington also had six assists and senior guard Emmett Warners had five.
Junior Kaevon Merriweather had 18 points to lead Romulus, and senior forward Jaren English had 17 points and eight rebounds. Senior forward Dylan Price added 12 points and nine boards.
Three starters and the top-playing sub from Friday should be back for Romulus next season. Romulus entered the postseason an honorable mention in the Class A poll, but eliminated reigning champion Detroit U-D Jesuit in the Quarterfinal.
“The good thing about this is the foundation has been laid,” Smith said. “We hadn’t been here in four years, and that was a long time for us. I’m so proud of these seniors; all around, they put a lot of work in. … When you get tough losses, you’ve gotta except those too. Grand Rapids Christian was a better team today. We’re not going to make excuses. We’ll just come back and get in the gym, and hopefully next year will be our year.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Christian’s Setrick Millner, Jr., goes in for a dunk during Friday’s Class A Semifinal win. (Middle) Christian’s Xavier Tillman works for position against a pair of Romulus defenders.
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.