Guy Guides Muskegon Hoops Rise

December 8, 2015

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

For many years, basketball was a letdown at Muskegon High School.

The Big Reds have been known for football ever since their first victory in 1895, racking up 806 more wins since then (most in the state), along with eight MHSAA championships – including recent titles in 2004, 2006 and 2008.

But as the snow slowly blanketed Hackley Stadium’s hallowed turf on an annual basis, Muskegon was never consistently able to transfer the energy, focus and success from the gridiron to the hardwood of Redmond-Potter Gymnasium.

That all changed in 2012, when nearby Muskegon Heights went through a period of upheaval, before eventually reconstituting itself as Muskegon Heights Public School Academy. During that time of uncertainty about the school’s athletic future, boys basketball coach Keith Guy made the move down Sanford Street to Muskegon High, and suddenly football was no longer the only show in town.

“I’ve always thought that there are enough great athletes and enough potential at city schools that they could be great in both football and basketball,” said Guy, who starts his fourth season as Muskegon’s basketball coach Friday night against visiting Rockford.

“I know we won’t ever be what the football program is here at Muskegon, but I feel like we now have a little identity of our own.”

That’s an understatement.

In the past two years, the Muskegon boys basketball program has won two Ottawa-Kent Conference Black titles, two Class A Districts, two Regionals, one MHSAA Finals title in an undefeated 2014 season, 51 of 53 games overall and produced back-to-back Mr. Basketball winners with DeShaun Thrower in 2014 and Deyonta Davis last year.

Thrower, as his name suggests, was a star quarterback for Muskegon coach Shane Fairfield in the fall and the star point guard for Guy in the winter. Thrower is now a sophomore guard for Stony Brook, a Division I school in New York which narrowly missed qualifying for the NCAA Tournament last year.

Guy’s handling of Thrower’s situation, essentially staying out of the way while football season was still going on, set the tone for Big Reds football and basketball programs that continue to encourage each other and push each other higher. While basketball has elevated itself among the state’s elite programs, Muskegon football has kept pace, advancing to MHSAA championship games three straight years in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

Guy, 40, a former standout point guard at Muskegon Heights, Muskegon Community College and Ferris State University, explained that situation after basketball practice on Nov. 30, after quickly changing from his sweat suit into formal attire to help run that night’s end-of-year football banquet as the athletic director.

“When one succeeds, all of us succeed,” said Guy, whose son, Christian Martinez, was the star quarterback of Muskegon Catholic Central’s Division 8 football championship team this fall. “Shane has gone and filmed games for me on the east side of the state before, and he knows that he’s got my support during football season.”

While this year’s Muskegon basketball team may lack the star power of the past two years, it hopes to make up for it with depth. At a recent practice, it was difficult to decipher the starting five from the reserves.

 “Last year, we ran a lot more set plays with DD (Davis) in there,” said Michael Littlejohn, a 5-11 senior guard who is the lone returning starter off last year’s team, which was stopped a game short of returning to the Breslin Center by Lansing Everett in the Class A Quarterfinals. “This year, it’s going to be more running, more showtime.”

Littlejohn will start at point guard and will be joined in the backcourt by smooth-shooting senior Linwood Lee and defensive stopper Jacarius Scott. The leaders up front are versatile juniors Jermayne Golidy (6-3) and Anthony Bethea (6-5), along with senior Desi Stephens (6-4).

The Big Reds also will get a boost of muscle and toughness from a couple of college football prospects in senior Terrion Hill-McKay and junior Jacorey Sullivan.

Guy also has three sophomores – Chris Murry, Willie Shanks Jr. and Antwan Reed – on the varsity roster, along with freshman DeAndre Carter. Reed (6-7, 286 pounds), considered one of the nation’s top sophomore offensive tackles, is improving his conditioning and footwork for football and could develop into a basketball force as well.

Muskegon’s playing rotation and style of play will take shape during back-to-back blockbuster tournaments over holiday break, when Muskegon will be the focus of prep basketball interest statewide – and give Guy an indication of whether this year’s group has the makings of another 20-plus win team.

“I won’t ever shy away from playing the best,” said Guy, who is assisted on the varsity level by his brother and former Muskegon Heights teammate, Maurice Sain, along with Louis Murray and Josh Wall. “I would rather find out the truth about my players in December and January than in March.”

The truth will start to be told Dec. 29 and Dec. 30, when Muskegon takes on Detroit Consortium and East Kentwood on back-to-back nights at the Meijer Hall of Fame Classic at Reeths-Puffer High School, a tournament which also features Lansing Sexton and Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills.

The challenge then gets ratcheted up later that same week, when Illinois power Chicago Whitney Young comes to Redmond-Potter on Jan. 2 for the featured event in the three-game Muskegon Basketball Showcase.

 “Our goal at Muskegon now is to win a state championship in football and basketball every year – it doesn’t always happen, obviously, but that’s always our goal,” explained Hill-McKay, who is a rare Class A three-sport athlete, playing baseball as well. “We’re not going to lower our expectations just because we don’t have a 7-footer.”

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 boys basketball coach Keith Guy, right, confers with Jordan Waire during the Class A Semifinal in 2014. (Middle) Guy works to get the attention of his players during the championship game win that season. 

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.)