Joplin Always Has Known Value of Home

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

July 9, 2020

It is no accident that Stan Joplin has never ventured too far from his hometown of Milan on the border of Monroe and Washtenaw Counties in extreme southeast Michigan.

In fact, that has been by design.

“Mr. (Phil) Barnes once told me that you never want to get too far from home,” Joplin said recently, recalling one of his high school administrators. “If you are close by your home, people will remember you.”

It has been more than 40 years since Joplin played basketball at Milan, and no one is forgetting him anytime soon.

A coach at the high school and Division I collegiate levels and then high school again over nearly 40 years, the 63-year-old Joplin is two seasons removed from his last tenure leading the program at Sylvania Southview. But those decades of wisdom continue to be passed on to Southview students as Joplin serves as an assistant principal at the high school.

“The farthest I ever lived from Milan was when I was coaching at Kent State,” he said. “I’ve remained in southeast Michigan or northwest Ohio all of these years. I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to stay close to home and receive a good education. You can’t put a price on education. Sooner or later, basketball was going to come to an end.”

It gave him a running start at the beginning.

One of the first four-year starters in Monroe County Region history, Joplin grew up around the game. People like Barnes, coach Ron Dingman and Ann Arbor’s Sandy Sanders all played key roles in Joplin’s early success.

Barnes was a mentor, offering advice and some key life lessons. Dingman was the coach who inserted Joplin into the starting lineup as soon as he could and kept him there as he led the Big Reds in scoring and was named team MVP four consecutive seasons. Sanders was a local basketball guru with connections from Ann Arbor to Detroit.

“Mr. Sanders was umpiring a baseball game and saw me shooting over at the elementary school,” Joplin said. “He invited me to come up to Ann Arbor to play.”

Sanders saw the basketball talent in Joplin and put him on the court in Ann Arbor with other prep talent and some University of Michigan players.

“That’s where I met guys like Campy Russell and Joe Johnson,” Joplin said.

Sanders took area players – including Joplin – to Detroit to play at the famed St. Cecilia Gym. St. Cecilia is well-known in basketball circles for hosting standouts like George Gervin, Magic Johnson and, more recently, Jalen Rose.

“You can imagine what kind of eye-opening experience that was,” Joplin said. “It showed me how hard I had to work. That was huge for me. That really exposed me to basketball.”

Growing up, his neighbor played basketball at Milan, and Joplin would get to go to all the games to watch him. Joplin read about Milan and other local basketball players in the Ypsilanti Press, Ann Arbor News and Monroe News, soaking up everything he could about the game.

“I just wanted to be an athlete,” he said.

He was more than just an athlete. An all-stater, he scored more than 1,500 career points – still a Milan record – and was recruited to play at the University of Toledo for Bobby Nichols.

“It was the perfect situation,” Joplin said of growing up where he did. “Milan was a small town. A lot of the students I went to elementary school with I spent my whole time in school with. I knew everyone in the city.”

At Toledo, Joplin blossomed into an all-around player with a knack for elevating his game during key moments. He was named second team all-Mid-American Conference in 1977-78 and 1978-79. The 1979 Rockets won the MAC championship and made the NCAA Tournament. It was there that Joplin had the biggest moment of his career when he knocked down a 20-foot jumper to beat Iowa, 74-72, in the first round. The Rockets would lose a close game in the second round to a Notre Dame team that included four future NBA players. During Joplin’s four years at Toledo, the Rockets went 82-27.

While making national headlines, Joplin also was earning his education, something that Barnes encouraged along the way.

“I followed in his footsteps, went to college, got my degree and went into administration,” Joplin said.

After graduating from UT’s College of Education in 1979, Joplin began coaching at the high school level and was soon head coach at Toledo Start High School. He went on to become an assistant at Kent State University then joined the Rockets’ coaching staff during which time he earned a Master of Administration degree. He would later join the Michigan State University staff with Jud Heathcote and Tom Izzo.

In 1996, Joplin was named head coach at his alma mater, where he remained for 12 years, going 203-155 overall and making the NIT field four times. After he was let go following the 2007-08 campaign, Joplin reached into his education background to become an administrator in the Toledo area. He probably could have landed an assistant coaching job somewhere because of his connections in the sport, but chose not to go that route. He remained close to home.

He coached for a few seasons at Holland (Ohio) Springfield and one year at Sylvania Southview but is enjoying being a basketball fan these days.

“Basketball is the one thing I’ve done my whole life. I miss coaching, but I don’t need it,” he said.

Joplin goes to most of the Southview games and will go on the road occasionally to watch games in which some of his former players are coaching. He gets back to Michigan State University every now and then to watch the Spartans practice and relishes friendships he’s made in the game with people like former University of Michigan head coach Tommy Amaker and former Boston College head coach Al Skinner.

“I’ve got a lot of close friends that I stay in touch with,” he said.

He is not ruling out a return to the sidelines, but is not planning on it, either.

“I watch a lot of basketball. The game has changed,” he said. “The 3-point shot has taken the center out of the game. But, the game itself, is fine.”

Joplin is in the hallways more than the gym these days at Southview. His students know more about Mr. Joplin the school administrator than Stan Joplin the legendary basketball player from Milan – and he is fine with that.

“Every once in a while, someone will say something or bring me a video and say, ‘Hey, Mr. Joplin, I didn’t know you played.’ I just tell them that’s not me, that is just some guy with a lot more hair. It’s become kind of a running joke.”

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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) Milan basketball legend Stan Joplin serves as an assistant principal at Sylvania Southview High School. (Middle) Joplin still owns the career scoring record at Milan. 

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.)