GRAND RAPIDS – Drew Neitzel is a self-proclaimed basketball junkie.
So when the opportunity arose to reconnect with the high school basketball scene, the former Mr. Basketball and Michigan State standout didn’t think twice.
Neitzel, 35, has spent the past five years as a high school basketball radio analyst alongside longtime broadcaster Bret Bakita.
“It was a natural fit for me coming back to Grand Rapids, and I’ve known Bret since he was broadcasting my games at Wyoming Park,” Neitzel said. “He was looking for a partner and reached out to me.
“I didn’t have the time or desire to maybe get involved with coaching locally, so the high school broadcasting was the perfect fit to keep me around the game and feed my appetite for the game. Friday night hoops is one of the best atmospheres with the student sections and great crowds, and there’s a great following in West Michigan. It’s great to be a part of that high school action again.”
Bakita has been a staple in the West Michigan sports scene and has been a mentor to Neitzel.
“Bret is a true professional and a great guy to work with and learn from,” Neitzel said. “It’s been a great fit and a great team, and hopefully we have a season this winter.”
Neitzel and Bakita were broadcasting a boys District Semifinal in Holland the night before the Covid-19 pandemic started affecting the landscape of sports.
NCAA conference tournaments were canceled, and soon after March Madness and the remainder of the high school winter and spring seasons as well.
Netizel currently lives in Grand Rapids with wife, Kristi, and their son, Drake, who turns 1 in August.
The recent pandemic has changed the lives of many around the world, but Neitzel has tried to take everything in stride.
“It’s certainly been different, and my wife and I are both working from home, which has been good since we have a 1-year-old,” said Neitzel, who works as a financial advisor in Grand Rapids.
“We try to see the positives with everything going on and the craziness in the world, and working from home allows us to spend extra time with our little guy.
“It presents its own challenges, but overall we’re doing well and we’re trying to be smart and responsible by social distancing and staying outside. Not putting ourselves in harm’s way if we don’t have to.”
The pandemic and enforced precautions has put a damper on summer activities, which included Neitzel’s annual basketball camp.
The popular Drew Neitzel Basketball Camp has been running for more than a decade, but likely will be halted due to the pandemic.
“This would’ve been our 12th year, and it has been very successful and continued to grow,” Neitzel said. “It’s the one week in the year that I get to get back in the gym with the kids and my dad and 15 of my good buddies who help coach.
“It’s disappointing that we haven’t had the chance to run the camp, and we haven’t officially canceled it, but it looks more like that’s going to be the outcome with everything going on and the gyms not being allowed to open.”
His stellar high school career at Wyoming Park included becoming the school’s all-time leader in points and assists, while winning the Mr. Basketball Award and taking his team to the Class B Semifinals as a senior in 2004. In one of the most memorable games in MHSAA Tournament history – and before a capacity crowd at the Breslin Center – Neitzel scored 36 points but saw his team fall 79-63 to a Detroit Renaissance eventual champion that included major Division I college prospects Malik Hairston, Joseph Crawford and Tajuan Porter.
Quickly, Neitzel made an impact in East Lansing as well. He was a starting point guard for a majority of his time as a Spartan, and helped Michigan State reach the Final Four as a freshman.
“I couldn’t have written a better college career,” Neitzel said. “You wish you would’ve won more games and went to more Final Fours, but when I look back, to step in and start halfway through my freshman year for Coach Izzo and for him to give me the reins with a senior-heavy team was a great experience.
“That 12 months of my life was absolutely crazy. My senior year of high school going to the Breslin Center, winning Mr. Basketball and then earning a starting spot and going to the Final Four was a wild ride. It was an awesome year for me, personally.”
After not being selected in the 2008 NBA Draft, Neitzel played professionally in Germany and France for five years while also being invited to NBA summer leagues and training camps with Minnesota, Portland and Dallas.
His last taste of the NBA came in 2011 during training camp with the Mavericks. He was eventually cut, and finished the season in the G League.
“That was a great experience,” Neitzel said. “They were a first-class organization and Mark Cuban and Rick Carlise were great. It was the year after they beat Miami in the NBA Finals so they were still on cloud nine from the championship.
“The guys in that locker room were Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter, Delonte West, Shawn Marion and Lamar Odom. I was a fly on the wall, and to be around those NBA greats and veterans was definitely one of the highlights of my career.”
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Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for four 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) Drew Neitzel attempts a free throw before a packed Breslin Center during the 2004 Class B Semifinals. (Middle) Neitzel, with wife Kristi and son Drake. (Top photo by Gary Shook; middle courtesy of Drew Neitzel.)
We've got a long way to go before the stories of this season conclude with four MHSAA boys basketball champions crowned March 15 at Michigan State University's Breslin Center.
But the first week of the 2023-24 regular season gave us plenty to fill our first installment of “Breslin Bound” – our official tip-off to following more than 700 boys basketball teams through those final buzzers in East Lansing.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Flint Carman-Ainsworth 46, Flint Beecher 44 This was their first meeting since January 2022 and it provided a memorable start as the Cavaliers downed the reigning Division 3 champion.
2. Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 75, Ferndale 66 These two both have several new contributors, but big things will be expected again as well as Brother Rice regularly contends in Division 1 and Ferndale is the reigning Division 2 champion.
3. Lansing Waverly 58, Detroit Martin Luther King 57 Waverly took major strides last season doubling its win total from 2021-22 and could be on the verge of more coming off this impressive victory at the Detroit Douglass Tip-Off Classic.
4. Norway 49, Munising 48 After the Knights gave Munising a tough final regular-season test last season, the Mustangs went on to claim the Division 4 championship. Norway will attempt to build off back-to-back 15-7 seasons starting with this win.
5. Wyoming Tri-unity Christian 64, Grandville Calvin Christian 44 These two combined to finish 46-9 a season ago, when Calvin defeated Tri-unity 63-42 in the regular-season finale (although the Defenders rebounded to finish Division 4 runners-up).
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Rochester Adams (2-0) The Highlanders provided one of the best late-breaking stories of last season, reaching the Division 1 Quarterfinals after finishing fourth of five teams in a strong Oakland Activities Association Red that also featured North Farmington and Ferndale. The momentum started rolling again with wins last week over Milford 52-48 and Macomb L’Anse Creuse North 74-59.
Utica (2-0) Last season’s co-champion in the Macomb Area Conference Blue defeated MAC White reigning champion Port Huron Northern 68-49 in their opener and then Utica Eisenhower 56-41 at the MAC Champions of Champions event at Center Line. Utica improved to 15-7 last season after finishing 7-14 in 2021-22.
Dundee (2-0) After holding its own last season in a strong Lenawee County Athletic Association and finishing 13-12 overall, Dundee is hoping to turn a fast start last week into a climb up the standings with league play starting Friday. The Vikings doubled up East Jackson 52-26 and downed Milan 67-37 to start things off.
Goodrich (1-0) A 22-5 finish last season included a shared championship in the Flint Metro League Stars and a run to the Division 2 Quarterfinals, where the Martians fell by only five to eventual champion Ferndale. The second-to-last of those five losses came to Flint Beecher, 70-55, but Goodrich avenged it Friday with a 58-55 win over the Bucs.
Hillsdale (2-0) The Hornets finished just 4-19 last season, their second sub-.500 in a row. But the turnaround may be starting. Hillsdale is halfway toward last year’s win total after defeating Union City 53-45 and Jonesville 50-40 – and after losing to Union City 52-36 and Jonesville 39-23 last season, with Jonesville going on to finish 19-6.
Royal Oak Shrine Catholic (2-0) This is another team well on its way to bettering last season’s success by Jan. 1. After going 3-19 last winter, Shrine defeated Bloomfield Hills Roeper 48-30 and Utica Ford 55-52 in overtime last week. Ford had defeated the Knights 63-50 last season, and the 55 points Shrine scored this time would have been their second-highest total of 2022-23.
Adrian Lenawee Christian (2-0) Lenawee Christian finished last season on an 11-5 run after a 2-7 start, and might be rolling that right into this season as well after opening with a 74-60 win over Blissfield and 73-58 overtime victory over Hanover-Horton. Blissfield was among teams to deal the Cougars a loss during last season’s tough early stretch. Lenawee Christian is playing in the Tri-County Conference this winter after playing previously as an independent.
Wakefield-Marenisco (2-0) The Cardinals were a solid 13-10 last season, with the final week including a third win over Bessemer as they faced off in a District Semifinal, followed by a third loss to Ironwood in the District championship game. This season’s first week saw the same schedule, but a better outcome – Wakefield-Marenisco edged Bessemer 60-57 and this time defeated Ironwood 48-30. Ironwood was first and W-M third last season in the Copper Mountain Conference Porcupine Mountain.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – River Rouge (1-0) at Ferndale (1-1) – As noted above, Ferndale was last season’s Division 2 champion, and defeated Rouge 72-60 in last winter’s meeting.
Friday – Kalamazoo Central (0-0) at Battle Creek Central (0-0) – These longtime rivals finished first and third, respectively, in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East last season.
Saturday – Detroit Cass Tech (0-0) at Holt (1-0) – The Rams host the reigning Division 1 champion Technicians in the 4:30 p.m. game of the Moneyball Classic.
Saturday – Grand Rapids South Christian (0-0) vs. Rockford (1-0) at Calvin University – This will be the 10 a.m. opener of The Invite at Calvin University, with the reigning Division 2 runner-up Sailors taking on a Rockford team coming off an 18-win season.
Saturday – Grand Rapids Catholic Central (0-0) vs. Grand Rapids Northview (1-0) at Calvin University – This will cap off The Invite tipping approximately 7:35 p.m. and pitting last season’s Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold co-champion and White outright champion, respectively.
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PHOTOS (Top) A Westland John Glenn player gets to the basket during U-D Jesuit's season-opening 83-48 win over the Rockets. (Middle) Bath defenders surround a Charyl Stockwell player during the Sentinels' 63-55 victory. (Top photo by Olivia B. Photography; middle photo by Click by Christine McCallister.)