'Petoskey Brand' Shines On Under Past Star

December 20, 2018

By Chris Dobrowolski
Special for Second Half

PETOSKEY — Dennis Starkey was the face of Petoskey basketball for 32 years.

Now the Northmen have turned to a new, but familiar face to lead them into the next era on the hardwood after Starkey announced his retirement following the 2017-18 boys basketball season.

John Flynn, who suited up for Petoskey from 1996-98 and is among the school’s all-time greats, has taken over for his former coach after spending the last two seasons as a varsity assistant on Starkey’s staff.

“It’s kind of been surreal,” said Flynn. “I guess I never really thought about being Petoskey’s next coach just because when you think of Petoskey basketball you think of Dennis Starkey as the varsity coach. It wouldn’t exist without him. It never really crossed my mind that he would ever step down. He’s been there for so long. That’s all I’ve ever really known.”

Starkey felt like it was time to step down after last season, however. Not because the Northmen weren’t having success. In fact, last season’s 19-3 record was the 14th consecutive season that Petoskey had finished above .500. Starkey, who had already retired from teaching three years ago, was simply ready to enjoy other aspects of life that had been on the backburner during a 36-year coaching run during which he won 553 games — with 515 of those coming at Petoskey — and earned spots in both the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan and Michigan High School Coaches Association halls of fame. Starkey won 17 Districts and 14 conference championships while turning Petoskey into a model of consistent excellence on the basketball court.

Flynn was one of nine candidates who applied to replace Starkey. He was familiar with the program and seemed to be a natural fit, given the amount of time he had been a part of it. After going through the process with all the candidates, the school felt the same way.

“There were definitely some quality guys (who applied),” said Petoskey athletic director Dave Smith. “We were looking for someone who was going to be around for a while, and that was John.

“It’s nice to have one of Dennis’ former players. (John) certainly learned from one of the best.”

Starkey was pleased when Flynn was announced as his successor last spring and sees Flynn as having a bright future as a head coach.

“I thought it was a great choice,” said Starkey. “He’s a hard worker and he’s got a great personality. John’s always been a student of the game, and I think it’s been a real good fit. Nobody is going to outwork him, and that’s the No. 1 (trait), and he has good relationships with the kids. The combination of his work ethic and his ability to relate to the kids will make him special.”

Coaching basketball comes naturally to Flynn. His dad Joe was a longtime coach at Harbor Springs and had great success there. John Flynn started his high school career as a freshman at Harbor Springs but transferred to Petoskey as a sophomore and — along with backcourt mate Trevor Huffman — helped the Northmen win three straight Class B Regional titles, including getting to the MHSAA Semifinals twice. In 1997 Petoskey lost to Detroit Country Day, which went on to win its third straight Class B championship. In 1998 it was Marshall that ousted the Northmen.

“John was a very intense player — loved a challenge,” said Starkey. “Also really enjoyed the game. John just loves the game.”

That passion took Flynn all the way to Grand Valley State, where he became the all-time leading scorer with 2,220 points as well as the all-time leading scorer in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with 1,531 points. Now it’s shining through on the sidelines during games or with a whistle during practice.

“John understands how important basketball is to this community,” said Smith. “He has quite the drive and passion for the sport. That’s just something I don’t think many coaches can match. It’s not just necessarily about winning (to him), but certainly he holds our guys very accountable for doing things the right way. There’s no letdown with any of that. He just demands that they’re going to work hard and do their best.”

Flynn is a new voice on the bench, and he’s added a few wrinkles to Petoskey’s look, but the Northmen still have the basic tenets that were established under Starkey and remain the backbone of the program.

“We’re going to focus on the fundamentals, hold guys accountable, talk on defense, just be tough-nosed — the Petoskey brand,” said Flynn. “I got that from Coach Starkey, and that’s never going to change. We’re going to give 100 percent. We’re not going to make excuses. We’re going to leave it on the floor, and if we lose some, we lose some. If we win some, we win some, but you can go home at night and go to sleep saying, ‘Hey, we laid it all on the line.’ I know Coach Starkey, that was true to him for more than 30 years and that doesn’t change.

“There might be some different stuff as far as Xs and Os that we do, but he and I both adapt with the talent we’re given each particular year. I’m just trying to give these kids a platform to give them the best chance to succeed. This year that style is a little bit different than what we’ve played in the past, but there’s still some of that core values and beliefs from a program perspective that’s never going to change.”

The results on the floor have so far been consistent amid the transition, too. Flynn’s squad started the season by winning four of the first five games, including a 57-52 win on the road over previously-unbeaten Alpena in the Northmen’s Big North Conference opener.

“The guys I have this year — they’re such good kids, and they work so hard,” said Flynn. “That right there keeps me fired up and motivated to do my best as a coach, because they’re receptive. Now they’re starting to see my method to my madness as far as what I’m saying works. They’re starting to see the fruits of their labor.”

Starkey has purposely tried to keep his distance to give his former player all the space he needs, even scheduling a trip to Florida to coincide with the start of the regular season. The two have spoken a number of times, however, as Flynn continues to glean information from his former coach and mentor.

“We have great conversations,” said Flynn. “It’s great to bounce ideas off of him. I hope he enjoys it as much as I do because he still has that coach mentality that’s been interwoven into his fabric for the last 36 years. I’m glad we’ve got such a great relationship. I respect him and his knowledge so much.”

Flynn may not have specifically set out to become Petoskey’s basketball coach, but the timing of the vacancy, his love for the game and the opportunity to carry on the rich Petoskey basketball tradition made for a perfect match.

“I just felt like there was a need and I had to fill that need because I know I could try to do as good of a job as Coach Starkey and carry on his legacy,” said Flynn. “This is the baton. Now it’s my turn to keep this going. Kind of like, ‘Coach, I got this.’”

Chris Dobrowolski has covered northern Lower Peninsula sports since 1999 at the Ogemaw County Herald, Alpena News, Traverse City Record-Eagle and currently as sports editor at the Antrim Kalkaska Review since 2016. He can be reached at sports@antrimreview.net with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Petoskey boys basketball first-year head coach John Flynn directs his players during a practice this season. (Middle) The Northmen celebrate one of many encouraging moments early this winter. (Photos courtesy of the Petoskey News-Review.)

Breslin Bound: 2022-23 Boys Report Week 9

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

February 6, 2023

We are down to the final four weeks of this MHSAA boys basketball season – and while the entertaining part is detailed below in our regular Monday report, there’s some major data crunching underway behind the scenes as well.

MI Student Aid

Seeding the top two teams in every District requires thousands of data points – and a season-long process of collecting them all. More than 720 varsity teams are playing this winter, and we’re in the midst of a process of checking their schedules one by one – about a 24-hour task by itself to make sure all scheduled games are showing, league standings are set up correctly, etc.

Additionally, daily we’re sorting through disputed scores, changes to schedules because of weather or teams that have discontinued their seasons, and other adjustments. But we’re always striving for perfection – and when Districts are drawn and those top teams seeded Feb. 26, we hope to have every schedule up to date and every score filled in.

“Breslin Bound” is powered by MI Student Aid and based on results and schedules posted for each school at MHSAA.com.

Week in Review

The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:

1. North Farmington 68, Muskegon 55 These two have lived at or near the top of Division 1 MPR all season, making this win by the Raiders (12-1) at the 2K23 Showcase at Aquinas College arguably their best, especially considering it also was the first loss for the Big Reds (13-1). 

2. Saline 57, Ann Arbor Huron 47 The Hornets (11-4) saw an eight-game winning streak end three days later, but in this one handed Huron (13-1) its lone defeat of the season. 

3. Ann Arbor Huron 67, Benton Harbor 55 The River Rats, meanwhile, rebounded immediately with a 13-point win over Dexter and then a 67-55 victory over Benton Harbor (13-3) at Aquinas. 

4. Warren Lincoln 52, Grand Rapids Northview 37 The Abes (12-3) just keep impressing, this time with a big win over a Northview team matching their 12-3 record, also during the 2K23 Showcase. 

5. Iron Mountain 64, Powers North Central 58 This matched arguably the best in the Upper Peninsula in Divisions 3 and 4, respectively, with the Mountaineers moving to 13-1 and the Jets to 11-2.

A Montabella player gets to the basket during his team's 43-28 win last week over Carson City-Crystal.

Watch List

With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:

DIVISION 1

Detroit U-D Jesuit (14-2) The Cubs have won outright or shared the last two Detroit Catholic League Central championships, and they’re hoping to run that streak to three by winning Friday’s rematch with first-place Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (14-1). A 68-53 defeat to the Warriors on Jan. 24 and a 67-64 loss to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s on Jan. 6 have left Jesuit a game back, but the Cubs do have a sweep of reigning Division 1 champion Warren De La Salle Collegiate plus early impressive nonleague wins over Clarkston and Ferndale.

Kalamazoo Central (13-2) After just missing the Division 1 Semifinals a year ago – losing to Northview by two in a Quarterfinal – the Maroon Giants are ahead of their 16-win pace from that finish with their only losses to Brother Rice and Battle Creek Lakeview (11-3), the latter by a point. They also defeated Lakeview in the teams’ first meeting, handed Mattawan its only loss and most recently defeated Detroit Renaissance at the 2K23 event. 

DIVISION 2

Ferndale (7-6) Few if any have played a tougher schedule, especially considering Ferndale is Division 2 playing most of the Division 1 powers. The Eagles are No. 5 in Division 2 MPR despite a 1-5 start including losses to Brother Rice, Jesuit, St. Mary’s and Muskegon, and then a two-point loss to North Farmington last week. Meanwhile, Ferndale has defeated Grosse Pointe South (13-3), Flint Beecher (12-3), Clarkston (11-5) and River Rouge (10-5). The North Farmington rematch is Feb. 24, and a Feb. 11 matchup with Port Huron Northern should also boost MPR.

Grand Rapids Christian (10-4) The Eagles may be in fourth in the Ottawa-Kent Conference White, but they are No. 6 in Division 2 MPR. Three of the four losses were to league opponents, but Christian is coming off a 55-53 double-overtime win over Warren Michigan Collegiate (13-2) on Saturday at Aquinas. An early win over Grand Rapids Catholic Central and a Jan. 21 victory over De La Salle also stand out.

DIVISION 3

Flint Beecher (12-3) The Bucs are off to another big start after last season’s finish at the Division 3 Semifinals, losing only to Detroit Cass Tech (17-0), Benton Harbor and Ferndale as Beecher also has loaded up its nonleague schedule. Beecher also has four wins over teams with double-digit victories, with an 80-71 defeat of Flint Hamady (14-2) on Jan. 10 putting the Bucs in first in the Genesee Area Conference Red. The Hamady rematch is Feb. 18, before a major regular-season finish against Goodrich (13-1) and Grand Blanc (14-2).

Napoleon (14-0) The Pirates aren’t sneaking up on anyone after going 19-3 last season, but they are dominating nonetheless. All but one win have been by eight points or more, and Napoleon leads the Cascades Conference after finishing second last year with a pair of losses to Vandercook Lake. The Pirates not only defeated Vandercook in their first meeting, by 40, but next defeated Michigan Center by 17 after the Cardinals ended their season last winter. Napoleon also has a 63-45 win over Big 8 Conference co-leader Concord.

DIVISION 4

Baldwin (13-1) The Panthers are coming off an 18-5 finish and second place in the West Michigan D League, and they lead it this time by two games and with a win over Mesick after losing both meetings to the eventual league champ a year ago. Baldwin also has avenged a 2021-22 loss to Mason County Eastern and could avenge another hosting Traverse City Christian on Tuesday. The Panthers also have given Marion (11-4) half its losses.

Powers North Central (11-2) As noted above, the Jets are at least among the handful of elite small-school Upper Peninsula teams, No. 4 in statewide Division 4 MPR although second in D4 in the U.P. with Painesdale Jeffers in the top spot. Those two wouldn’t see each other until a Regional Final, where North Central’s 19-5 run ended last season. The Jets only defeats this time are to Division 2 Kingsford and Division 3 Iron Mountain, which stand a combined 25-3.

Can’t-Miss Contests

Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up: 

Tuesday – Goodrich (13-1) at Corunna (12-2) – They’re tied atop the Flint Metro League Stars with Goodrich winning the first meeting 69-54 on Jan. 10.

Friday – Detroit U-D Jesuit (14-2) at Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (14-1) – As noted above, the Detroit Catholic League Central title will be on the line, as Jesuit can force a shared championship.

Saturday – Hamtramck (10-5) vs. Kalamazoo Central (13-2) at Benton Harbor – The Cosmos have faced their share of statewide elite as well, and will be seeking what would be one of their most notable wins in this Wilson Chandler Shootout matchup.

Saturday – Flint Hamady (14-2) at Davison (10-5) – Old rivals meet again as Davison is coached by longtime Beecher leader Mike Williams.

Saturday – Saginaw Arthur Hill (7-9) at Saginaw (14-4) – They’ll still have 2023-24 left before one the best rivalries in state history ends with a school merger, but this year’s rematch comes after Saginaw won 57-55 on Jan. 14.

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 Saginaw player gets to the rim during Friday's 59-54 loss to Mount Pleasant. (Middle) A Montabella player goes to the basket during his team's 43-28 win last week over Carson City-Crystal.(Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)