By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – For the last three seasons and 83 straight games, Powers North Central’s boys basketball team has been perfect.
And for the first eight minutes Saturday, as these Jets played together for the last time, they couldn't have been much better.
Buckley never recovered completely from one of the most impressive opening barrages in recent Finals history. But the Bears did make North Central work to add this latest win, a 78-69 victory to claim a third straight Class D championship.
In their last game together, Jets senior starters Jason Whitens, Dawson Bilski, Bobby Kleiman, Marcus Krachinski and Seth Polfus all contributed as the team made its first 15 shots. Bilski tied the MHSAA championship game record for points in a quarter with 18 in the first as North Central as a team fell just shy of making the list for most points in a quarter, putting up 38 total – enough of a run to help them survive a nearly-as-epic comeback by the Bears, who also were undefeated heading into the day.
“Over the past couple of years, kids like me and Seth and Marcus, we never had the starting spots coming up. We had to wait a little while. We had to play our role,” Kleiman said. “But having two players like Jason and Dawson, that makes us just as good a players as them. They help us every day. They’re the ones who make us better. When things get tight, we look to them.”
“(But) we’re a team. And that’s where a lot of teams lack, is the team part. They have individuals, but us, we’re family. We love each other. And this whole ride has just been crazy, and we’ll never forget it.”
The Jets finished 28-0, and sit 83-0 over the last three seasons after again extending the nation’s longest active winning streak. Whitens capped his high school career with a 108-1 record over four varsity seasons, giving him not only a state record for wins but also breaking the record by four for most varsity boys basketball games played in MHSAA history. Bilski also started on all three championship teams and joined Whitens earning Class D all-state honors earlier this week. On Jan. 27, with their 66th straight win, they broke the MHSAA record for consecutive wins previously set by Chassell from 1956-58.
Coming off Thursday’s one-point, buzzer-beating Semifinal victory over Southfield Christian, Saturday’s start made it seem like a Jets victory lap was about to begin. At the end of the first quarter, North Central led 38-20 and had made 15 of 17 shots from the floor.
But much to Buckley’s credit, it didn’t show a sign of folding. The Bears were dominated by star juniors and will surprise no one if they make another run in 2018. Despite entering Saturday with a 26-0 record, they weren’t expected by most to win – but never let that sink in, even while staring up at a double-digit deficit less than four minutes into the game.
“I was just thinking man, they’re shooting the lights out. They’ve been here before, they’re all seniors, they want it that bad. We’ve just got to match their intensity,” Buckley junior Denver Cade said. “Sometimes they’re just putting them up there, going in, and you’re holding on. After that’s done, you’re just right back going at them, so we did.”
Buckley won the second and fourth quarters and tied North Central 10-10 in the third, taking advantage in part as Bilski left the game for an extended period after picking up his fourth foul just 1:32 into the second half.
But his absence may have only kept the Jets from increasing the lead – he re-entered with 6:30 to play and the Jets up 13, but from there Buckley launched a 13-3 run over four minutes to pull within 68-65 on Ridge Beeman’s basket with 2:41 to play.
“If we score 38 points in a quarter, typically teams kinda roll over,” North Central coach Adam Mercier said. “That didn’t happen today, and that’s a credit to those Buckley kids. We had to fight tooth and nail with them in the fourth quarter. I was just so proud of our kids, the way they finished this game.
“For these guys, it just comes with the territory. I sat here two or three years ago, trying to explain this group of boys – now they’re men – we just talked about that ‘it’ factor. It starts with these seniors and the seniors we had in the past, and that ‘it’ factor rings through with all of them.”
And as Kleiman said, when things got tight, the Jets turned to their accomplished stars.
Bilski and Whitens combined to score nine points during a 10-4 run to finish the game and a legacy that may not be approached for another half-century.
“You don’t think a team’s going to back down. You always have to keep coming back at them,” said Whitens, who also quarterbacked two straight undefeated football teams. “Respect to them for just keeping coming at us. It makes the game more fun. That’s what it’s all about, opponents going head to head, and they didn’t quit. We just had to keep going at it, and had a lot of fun doing it.”
Saturday's Final was the first featuring two undefeated teams since Shelby downed Stockbridge 71-57 in the 1971 Class C championship game. It was the first Class D Final pitting undefeated teams since Covert beat Ewen-Trout Creek 84-70 in 1966.
Bilski, who will continue his career at Michigan Tech, scored 25 points in just 20 minutes, making 8 of 9 shots from the floor. Whitens – a Mr. Basketball Award finalist this season – had 23 points on 8 of 11 shooting, while Kleiman added 12 points and Krachinski had 11 and seven assists.
Cade also scored 25 points with seven rebounds, and junior center Austin Harris had 22 points and nine rebounds. Junior guard Joey Weber added 15 more points and seven rebounds for the Bears.
All five Buckley starters should return next season.
“We’re going to use that as fuel. When we see them holding up that trophy, we’re not going to pout and cry about it,” Harris said. “We’re going to get really, really mad, get back in the gym, and do it really hard and see if we can win next year. You haven’t seen the last of us.”
PHOTOS: (Top) North Central’s Bobby Kleiman drives to the basket during Saturday’s Class D Final. (Middle) The Jets’ Marcus Krachinski tries to block a shot by Buckley’s Denver Cade.
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.