Promise Kept, Dream Continues for Morenci

March 26, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

EAST LANSING – Every summer, Morenci boys basketball coach Jim Bauer comes up with a catchy, aspiration-filled slogan for his kids basketball camp T-shirts.

Pathway to Breslin. Small Town, Big Time. “Breslin is on every shirt,” Bauer said, “but deep down, you’re thinking, am I ever going to get there?” 

Three years ago, a freshman named Austin Sandusky made a promise he and his teammates kept Thursday. And now they’ve got an opportunity to carry it one step farther.

Morenci will play for its first MHSAA championship after handing Waterford Our Lady its only loss this season, 53-52, in a Class D Semifinal on Michigan State University's home floor.  

“We started in fourth grade, and it seemed every tournament we’d be in the championship game,” Sandusky said. “Every year our coaches told us it wasn’t for this championship game, it’s for when we’re juniors and seniors on the varsity level trying to get to the (MHSAA) championship game. We knew they wouldn’t say that unless they truly believed it.”

Morenci (25-2), unranked when this tournament began, will face top-ranked Powers North Central in the 10 a.m. Final on Saturday. 

Bauer has coached four 20-win teams over two tenures measuring a decade at Morenci, with this year’s his second straight to reach that milestone win total. But he’s also had three teams finish with sub-.500 records, including only two seasons ago.

No Morenci player measures taller than 6-foot-3, and senior guard Alex Thomas said he and his teammates always knew they’d be a little smaller than their opponents. But the Bulldogs returned four starters after falling to eventual MHSAA runner-up Adrian Lenawee Christian in last season's District Final. Two weeks ago, Morenci won its first Regional title since 1954, and the Semifinal was the first in the program’s history.

But the run nearly ended there – even though the Bulldogs led Thursday for all but 3 minutes and 55 seconds.

They were ahead from the middle of the first quarter until Our Lady senior Nick Robak hit a go-ahead jumper to make the score 38-37 with 7:08 to play. 

Morenci took the lead back and pushed it to six points three times, including with 14 seconds remaining. But Robak hit another big shot – a 3 pointer to cut the deficit in half with eight seconds left – and after a steal by junior teammate Adam Kline was fouled on another 3-point attempt with less than a second to go in regulation.

Robak was faced with making all three free throws to tie the score. An 86-percent free-throw shooter, he connected on the first two – but missed the third. 

“Layups and free throws, they matter. And they probably came back to bite us in the end,” said Our Lady coach Paul Robak, also Nick’s uncle. “Thirty-two minutes were played, and we lost our opportunity a long time before (the final second). We would’ve never gotten here without the efforts of Nick. … There are lessons in everything, and although we came here to win and not get a lesson, I hope we can find that lesson down the road.”

Robak scored a game-high 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to go with four assists. Kline added 12 points and five assists and junior forward Clay Senerius had nine points, 11 rebounds and four assists. But the team made only 6 of 14 free throw attempts and missed some shots from the lane that usually have fallen. 

The Semifinal was Our Lady's first since 1993. The Lakers finished with a school record for wins in ending 25-1.

Thomas had 19 points and seven rebounds as the only player in double figures for Morenci. Sandusky added seven points, five rebounds and five assists as all five Bulldogs starters scored at least six points, and eight players saw at least nine minutes of action. 

They didn’t play an opponent this season that received votes in the final Associated Press rankings. But they did avenge both of their losses and had won all of their tournament games by at least 12 points before Thursday’s nail-biter made what might’ve seemed like an unrealistic Sandusky dream continue to come true.

“You never discourage a kid from having a dream,” Bauer said. “You go along with it and hope for it. 

“That’s what I wanted too.” 

Click for the full box score and video from the postgame press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) Morenci players celebrate their first MHSAA championship game berth. (Middle) Waterford Our Lady’s Nick Robak gets past a defender for an open look Thursday.  

St. Clair County Celebrates 1st Mr. Basketball Winner, PHN's Jamison

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 29, 2023

The Jamison family has spent plenty of time over the years driving long distances as Tyler chased his basketball dreams.

Bay & ThumbAfter the Port Huron Northern senior achieved one of the biggest ones, they had to put some more mileage on the family vehicle.

As the newly-crowned Mr. Basketball, Jamison was invited to a special presentation during the Boys Basketball Finals this past Saturday afternoon at the Breslin Center. It was an invitation Tyler and his family didn’t hesitate to accept, and the drive from Port Huron to East Lansing was nothing.

But it did cause a pretty big change to some other travel plans.

Tyler and his family were scheduled to fly to Florida on Friday for spring break. That flight had to be canceled, though, and instead, the family made the drive down later.

“There were some jokes about just leaving me and letting me find my own way down there,” Jamison said.

While they joke, there’s nowhere the Jamisons would have rather been Saturday than at the Breslin. As a true basketball family – Tyler’s dad Brian is also the coach at Northern, and his brother Alex was a standout freshman for the Huskies – they have a great appreciation for the Mr. Basketball Award and its significance.

“I had said a while ago, ‘Hey, if we’re still in the tournament, we’ll be playing Friday,” Brian Jamison said. “I even mentioned that it would be a miracle, but Tyler could win Mr. Basketball. Now we’re eating plane tickets and driving down to Florida. But it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we’re not missing this.”

Jamison was the overwhelming winner of the award, which is named after Hal Schram and given out by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan. He received 3,058 points in the vote to become its 43rd winner. Curtis Williams of Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (2,004 points), Kaden Brown of Grand Rapids Catholic Central (1,918), Sonny Wilson of Detroit U-D Jesuit (1,883) and Ryan Hurst of North Farmington (1,811) were the other finalists.

“It was just insane,” Tyler Jamison said. “I can’t even really put into words how I felt – it was just a dream come true, a culmination of all the hard work that’s been put in over the years. My mom was in the other room (when his dad called to tell him), and I just hugged her and we were kind of screaming. The dog was getting riled up. It was fun. There were a few tears shed.”

Jamison throws down a dunk.Jamison, who signed with Fairleigh Dickinson in December, finished the season averaging 26.7 points, 11.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.3 steals per game. He was named the Macomb Area Conference White division MVP after leading Northern to the league title and a 20-4 overall record.

Even with all that, winning the most prestigious individual basketball award in the state didn’t seem like a reality.

“We purposely try to play a tough schedule, and we purposely got into some showcases because we wanted people to see, not only him play, but us play,” Brian Jamison said. “We had beaten Skyline and Hamtramck, and went up to Croswell-Lexington and won up there, and I thought, ‘OK, now he’s done it against some of the better teams.’ Up to that point, when we played those tougher teams, he’s always showed out well, but it’s different when you’re not winning them. But at that point, I thought he had a chance. Really, I was just hoping he would get on the list. To win it was kind of above and beyond what I had hoped for.”

On the court, Tyler’s impact on the program was pretty obvious and immediate.

He’s the program’s all-time leading scorer – a record he set as a junior – with 1,763 career points. He also holds Northern records for career rebounds (825), points in a game (59), rebounds in a game (28), career field goals made (638) and career free throws made (439). As a junior, he was named MAC Blue MVP.

Northern did not lose a league game in either of the past two seasons.

But Northern is likely to see future success because of Tyler’s non-statistical impact.

Leading a young team, including a group of star freshmen – his brother Alex, Cam Harju and Amir Morelan – was a major part of Tyler’s job this season.

Northern’s home games were must-see events this winter, as the Huskies were one of Division 1’s top teams, and Tyler was providing nightly highlights and must-see performances. Even in his final game, a loss against Macomb Dakota in the District Final, Jamison treated the standing-room crowd with a 46-point performance and a halfcourt shot at the third-quarter buzzer in a valiant effort.

“That’s the big thing, you want the students and the school community to support you, and they did an amazing job,” Tyler Jamison said. “We also had people from the community that wanted to support us and watch us play. Port Huron High had a really good season, too, and I think both schools in the city had that public support. That’s huge. It makes you feel like you’re playing for more than yourself.”

Among those crowds were the next generation of Huskies, some of whom were coached by Tyler in youth basketball. As he’s the first Mr. Basketball winner from St. Clair County, those kids now have a hometown example of someone who has reached the highest heights.

“I think interest gets sparked when the little kids come to the gym, like, ‘Hey, I want to do that,’” Brian Jamison said. “They want to play for Northern or (Port Huron) High. And with him winning Mr. Basketball, I think it gives kids a little bit of ‘Hey, why not me?’ I do think it helps motivate younger people. We’ve had great crowds at our games. I think the area is excited about basketball. It really is a great basketball area.”

With all of that excitement surrounding him, Tyler had one more challenge after the season – keeping the secret that he had won. He found out six days before the award was announced.

“It was terrible – especially when it’s something of that magnitude,” he said. “You want to tell everyone. You want to tell your friends and family. It was hard to be like, ‘No, I don’t know.’”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Tyler Jamison, second from left, with his parents and brother, stands with his newly-received Mr. Basketball Award trophy during the ceremony at the Detroit Free Press. (Middle) Jamison throws down a dunk. (Photos courtesy of the Jamison family.)