By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Adam Mercier had a clear message when he reassembled his Powers North Central boys basketball team for its first meeting last spring.
This is a new team, the coach said. But it sure looked like last season’s MHSAA champion with another dominating Breslin Center performance.
In case anyone south of Mackinac Bridge forgot about the phenomenon that has been the Jets’ run over the last two seasons, they offered plenty of reminders with a 64-23 win over the Pirates that upped their winning streak to 54 straight and earned them the opportunity to repeat as best in Class D on Saturday.
All 15 Jets saw the floor in the Semifinal, eight scored and 10 had at least one rebound.
“That’s been our mentality all year, is to get everyone involved, everyone a piece of the glory here,” North Central junior Jason Whitens said. “We have a lot of players out there that have worked hard for this moment. To get out there and get everyone the ball and share the glory in this, it’s really special to do it with this group of guys.”
The top-ranked Jets (27-0) will take on No. 3 Waterford Our Lady at 10 a.m. Saturday with a second straight title – and an opportunity for more – on the line.
One more win would give North Central 55 straight, tying it for the most by any team over two seasons and with Saginaw Buena Vista’s 1992-94 teams for fourth-longest winning streak in MHSAA boys basketball history. The Jets would then have to win their first 11 games next winter to break Chassell's record streak of 65 set during the 1956-59 seasons.
North Central has had two games decided by fewer than 12 points this season – a four-point win over Class B Menominee and another close call against rival Crystal Falls Forest Park. The 23 points allowed Thursday were a season low.
And yet, none of this seems to press on a team that still has only three seniors. A number of these players were part of the 8-player football championship team in the fall, and the theme of that run was keeping it light and having fun, despite the serious nature of playing at the highest level. It’s an attitude that’s seemed to follow these athletes into the winter as well.
“We don’t try to do anything different. They have expectations for themselves; we don’t follow anybody else’s expectations, and there’s no pressure on these kids,” Mercier said. “This is a game of basketball, and it’s meant to be played with a lot of passion, a lot of fun and a lot of energy. … And when they play it, they play it so well.”
After scoring the first nine points of the game Thursday, the Jets built an 18-4 lead after a quarter and never looked back.
Whitens led with 23 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and senior Morgan Cox added 12 points. Junior Dawson Bilski had 11.
Fulton senior Colton Antes added two more 3-pointers to a career total that will rank among the highest in MHSAA history, finishing with six points. Fulton ended 19-7 after also making the Semifinals and then falling to North Central in 2015.
The Boys Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.
PHOTOS: (Top) Jason Whitens fires a jumper over Fulton defenders during Thursday’s Semifinal win. (Middle) Morgan Cox buries a dunk.
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.
MHSAA.com's weekly “Breslin Bound” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
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.)