High 5s: 3/27/2012

March 27, 2012

Every Tuesday, Second Half honors 2-4 athletes and a team for its accomplishments.

Have a suggestion for a future High 5? Please offer it by e-mail to [email protected]. Candidates often will have accomplished great things on the field of play -- but also will be recognized for less obvious contributions to their teams, schools or the mission of high school athletics.

Monte Morris

Flint Beecher junior


Morris, a 6-foot-3 guard, scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds in both his Class C Semifinal and the championship game and had a combined 13 assists over both in helping Beecher to its first MHSAA title Saturday since 1987. Beecher beat reigning champion Schoolcraft 65-45 in a Semifinal on Thursday before downing Traverse City St. Francis 74-60 in the Final. The Buccaneers finished 28-0, becoming the 12th boys basketball team in MHSAA history to win that many games.

Up next: Morris is one of the state’s most sought-after juniors and was named The Associated Press’ Class C Player of the Year for the second straight. He averaged 18.3 points, 6.4 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game entering the final week of the season.’

I learned the most about basketball from: “Coach (Mike) Williams. I started playing with him in second grade. I just stayed in the gym and kept working hard every day.”

Besides teammates, among all the finalists at the Breslin Center, I’d most like to play with: Denzel Valentine (Lansing Sexton).

In my dream game, the four NBA guys I’d most like to play with are: “Dwight Howard down low. Then I’d have to go with Kevin Durant, Kobe (Bryan) and LeBron (James).” Where does that put you? “At the one,” Morris chuckled.

Live at Breslin Center: “I like playing on the big stage. It’s a treat. It’s a blessing that I get this opportunity, so I try to cherish it every time we get here.”

My favorite subject in school is: “I’ll have to go with chemistry/science, because it’s really not that boring. You learn about a lot of stuff.”

Denzel Valentine

Lansing Sexton senior


The Associated Press Class B Player of the Year and Mr. Basketball runner-up missed triple-doubles by one and three assists, respectively, in helping the Big Reds to their second-straight Class B championship this weekend. Valentine, a 6-6 point guard, had 12 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and five steals in Sexton’s 74-59 Semifinal win over Detroit Country Day on Friday, and the next night had 15 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in the 67-32 championship game win over Stevensville Lakeshore. He was a combined 10 of 17 shooting from the floor and made both 3-point tries over those two games. Valentine was a four-year starter for the Big Reds and came back after tearing a knee ligament as a freshman.

“When you win two state championships, it just shows the dominance and how good you are during your high school career. Winning those back-to-back championships, I was just trying to build a legacy."

Up next: Valentine has signed with Michigan State. He is unsure what he’ll major in, but is considering something in athletic training. He’ll join a Spartans team that must replace another former two-time high school champion, Saginaw’s Draymond Green. “Day Day won two basketball championships, and he helped State to two Final Fours. So hopefully I can do that too. … It’s just a winning mentality I have, and I hope it leads on to college."

I learned the most about basketball from: His father and Sexton High coach, Carlton Valentine, who also was a captain on Michigan State’s 1987-88 team.

I modeled my game after: His brother Drew Valentine, a 6-5 forward who also was an all-stater at Sexton and just finished his junior season at Oakland University.

If I could play with four others, they’d be: His Sexton teammates Bryn Forbes and Anthony “Sapp” Clemmons and the Heat’s James. “Sapp and I would just give it to LeBron and Bryn.”

Sexton boys basketball

The Big Reds get the honor this week after completing a run that has drawn comparisons to some of the best in MHSAA history. Sexton won its second-straight Class B championship in its third-straight MHSAA Final, and over the last three seasons amassed a record of 74-9. Those wins tie for sixth-most in MHSAA history over a three-year span.

The Big Reds beat all of their opponents by at least eight points and won every game during the postseason by at least 10. They finished 27-1, with that lone loss to Class A then-No. 1 Detroit Pershing.

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.)